Let me preface my Statement by quoting the Former US President Franklin D. Roosevelt who once said, “We cannot always build the future for our Youth, but we can build our Youth for the future”. A genuine inclusive society needs to ensure that its youth participate in all its affairs; that young people’s views are included in policy development and that young people develop leadership skills. When talking about rejuvenating democracy we must focus on providing the necessary conditions for the full participation of young people in the nation’s social, economic and political development. The Government of Botswana is strongly committed to empowering the youth as demonstrated by the setting up of the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture in 2007, with the explicit mandate of addressing Youth issues (by the way I was the second Minister of this Ministry in 2008). The Revised National Youth Policy of Botswana defines a young person as someone between the ages of 15 – 35 years. Following the amendment of the Interpretation Act of 2010, the age of majority was revised from 21 to 18 years. However, political parties in Botswana have different definitions of a young person.While some define a young person as someone below 35 years, some define a youth as someone below 39 years.
However, notwithstanding how political parties define a young person, a national referendum that was conducted in 1997 revised the voting age from 21 years to 18 years. With this development, more young people started voting during the 1999 General Elections. Furthermore, the Government of Botswana established the Botswana National Youth Council (BNYC) as the central coordinating body for youth non-governmental organizations. The objectives of BNYC were to articulate the interests of the youth so that they can have an input in the policy and decision making process. BNYC also played a key role in providing leadership training skills to young people through the Botswana Youth Centre. Currently the BNYC is undergoing major reforms and restructuring. The youth currently constitute over 60 percent of the population of Botswana. A total of 352, 579 (against a population of 2 million) young people registered to vote in the 2014 General Elections. Despite these statistics and other developments aimed at empowering the youth, young people remain marginalised from the mainstream political, social and economic processes of society.
It is my take that as we seek to tap into the potential of the youth and promote their voice and political participation, we should be mindful of the fact that giving young people a voice should not only be confined to traditional politics and political engagement. Rather, we should be mindful of new forms of participation that appeal to them, and most importantly concerns associated with contemporary youth culture. As I conclude, I wish to highlight that participation and inclusion of young people in the democratic process will promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development. The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a global action call to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all human beings enjoy peace and prosperity. That said, the youth have a critical role to play, and their involvement is essential in the implementation of the SDGs. In other words, the success of the SDGs will depend on how well we engage and include young people in their implementation. Their involvement is pivotal at national, regional and global level.
Gladys Kokorwe’s address to the 134th Inter Parliamentary Union Assembly meeting held in Lusaka, Zambia this week