Political greed fosters youth apathy

By Christine Davis, Africa Alliance of YMCAs volunteer

With almost half of Africa's countries undergoing presidential

elections during the 2010/2011 period, issues of voter education,

enthusiasm and investment become vital for a stable and fully

reflective political process. The voting system represents not only

the right of a citizen to choose, inherently a foundation of their

freedom, but also the investment citizens have in their own social

conduct, morals and value structures.
It is not just a political leader that voters elect; instead it is

the person who best reflects the core values a citizenry want to have

communicated to the country and to the international community at

large. It is the person the citizenry most want to have stand up as a

role model to the youth.
So then, what becomes of a country's psychological well-being, and

their ultimate belief in the power of choice and freedom as reflected

in their vote, when their politicians are unapologetically corrupt.

How much can citizens reinvest in the political process when the same

judicial and legislative systems that are meant to curb or penalise

transgressors, ultimately pardon, condone or dismiss the behaviour,

often without convincing justification?
For many, Africa has become synonymous with corruption, conflict and

entitlement of the victors. Freedom fighters who succeed, often

against an obviously oppressive and torturous regime, themselves

become power-seeking leaders who eventually fall from grace through

their own misadventures, greed, corruptibility and paranoid

Throughout Africa, presidents have been justifiably accused of a

multitude of crimes from rape, mass murder, censorship and

intimidation, the theft of millions of dollars, bribery and

corruption, and of running democratic dictatorships.

In all instances, it is not the legalities or truth behind the

allegations that matter most. In the end, the truth is lost in the

translations and the translators often have a clear bias. We, as

citizen observers are ultimately left with confusion, misinformation

and dissent. No, it is not the truth that matters but instead the

moral grey areas that leave a country, and the youth, most wounded.

Our presidents and politicians, as the moral barometer and directors

of our behaviour, should be beyond reproach. This is the key - their

behaviours should never come close to providing their critics even

the slightest excuse for accusation. Their failures should be slight

and understandable to their positions, just as we should be able to

see our own strengths, desires and faith in the goodness of human

behaviour reflected in their work.
We elect our officials, not because of their power and popularity,

but because we believe that they are the best of us... and that the

international community will see the best of our national identity

when they see our elected leaders. Is that ultimately not what we are

saying when we vote?
When our leaders fail us through their corruptibility and inability

to remember they serve us, they undermine our faith in the entire

political process. What is the point of being a committed voter when

you have already elected a leader who has undermined your confidence

in the choice you have made?
We will never know the true heart of our leadership, their true

desires and compulsions but the more they fail us, the more we begin

to realise that they serve their own interests to the detriment of

our combined social development needs.
The biggest concern, however, is not that our leaders are capable of

such things... instead it is that their moral ambiguity leaves a deep

scar in the development of a youth identity that little can soothe.

The youth learn from their leaders... model their behaviour and

identity on those people who are identified and entrusted with the

positions we most respect and admire. For African youth, politics

often means little more than a game of wrangling, corruption,

infighting and unethical struggles for power... and it leaves little

option for youth than to either develop a sense of irony or retreat

to the safety of apathy.
Apathy is defined as a general absence of emotion, motivation or

interest and it is an accusation largely levelled at the youth.

Theorists look to the influence of western export culture, youth

lassitude, or a corruption of youth value structures as the reason

but ultimately the answer is simple.
When you do not know who you can trust, when the people you have

believed in, trusted and admired, fail you... you protect yourself by

losing faith, trust and belief in those who you want to be able to

choose. It hurts us when someone we believed in fails us, and often

that hurt scars our core ability to have faith again.

As with other international non-profit organisations, the Africa

Alliance of YMCAs, through its Subject to Citizen (S2C) programme,

spent years conceptualising a way to undo the damage the political

corruption has done to youth faith in the political processes.

Initial results from the baseline survey conducted indicate that

civic apathy and pessimism in their testing areas is largest amongst

the more educated urban youth. This indicates that the most educated

and capable of analysing and evaluating legal and judicial process

have less faith in a government than the poorest and most illiterate.

Similarly, youth understand that they have a greater influence in the

lower levels of government and consequently care more about the

spheres they can influence. With the result that the highest echelons

of power are left without a powerful youth influence and are often

ignorant (at best) or dismissive (at worst) of youth issues. What the

powerful forget is that dismissing youth issues does more than just

undermine the social development and capacity of a generation; it

also serves to further entrench youth apathy and ultimately

undermines the entire political process and health of the political


Rider: This article is part of the Africa Alliance of YMCA News. For

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