Youths are the milestone for every emerging democratization process in the world. For the current political juncture, Ethiopia’s youth have given their unreturned souls to voice the people’s mutual concerns and bring about the transition. However, their meaningful participation and needs have not been prioritized, and they have been given little room to participate in formal decision-making. As a result, most young people are skeptical of the transition and pessimistic about the country’s overall social, economic, and political status. In this short article, a political representation of the youth, and their participation in the post-transition period will be discussed.
Nature of the Current Political Transition of Ethiopia
At the outset, there are three transitional paradigms. The first is a replacement or overthrow. In this model, political transition is triggered when armed opposition groups overthrew the incumbent government and hold the political power through war, and violence. The second is transformation or reform; it is when the transition is promoted by the incumbent government itself. It is a kind of inner-out political change. Lastly, Tran’s placement or compromise transition emerges from both existing government and opposition groups. There is a political bargain from both sides.
Ethiopia’s present political change does not appear to be a pure transformation model; rather, it appears to be a hybrid of both transformation and Tran’s placement models. It can be argued that some of the present reforms are being made to quell public outrage and maintain the status quo in the government. Of course, the incumbent government has made efforts to organize different dialogue and negotiation forums to discuss with some political parties. However, these discussions and negotiations were not fruitful as they were expected due to the competitive nature of negotiation than a collaborative one among opposition parties and the existing government. Therefore, the current political transition of Ethiopia is inconclusive, and as Mukerrem, stated it seems a “hybrid” or “grey zone, which is not trusted by most youths.
Who are the youth?
Youth can best be described as a phase of transition from childhood dependence to adulthood’s independence. Age-based categorizations are often used to frame policy interventions in areas such as education, health, and criminal justice in different countries. The United Nations defines those between the ages of 15 and 24 as youth. The African Youth Charter on the other hand defines youth as every person between the ages of 15 and 35 years. The Council of European Recommendation on the Participation of Children and Young People counts youth as below the age of 18. The Ethiopian National Youth Policy (NYP) is one of Ethiopia’s most significant youth-specific state documents and goes on to define youth as people between 15 and 29 years. Today in Ethiopia, young people are apprehensive at political participation, unlike their elders. Some of the factors that affect youth participation in political processes include the lack of political knowledge and adequate education, less political interest, and the economic factor. Youth have limited social and political power while the elder people tend to dominate decision-making at all levels.
Legal & policy framework for youth political participation
Basic human rights, such as the ability to fully engage in a country’s political and electoral processes, are recognized in a large body of international and regional legal instruments, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR, 1948) and ICCPR. Over the last decade, the international community has re-affirmed its commitment to youth participation in several resolutions, charters, and action plans, such as the African Youth Charter. Although FDRE Constitution does not contain an explicit article guaranteeing the political participation of the youth it contains provisions under Art 38 as youth can participate in the election on the attainment of 18 years. The reformed electoral law of Ethiopia is yet silent about youth political participation. The participation of youth in Ethiopia is more addressed through different youth policy frameworks. Hence, the first youth policy is the NYP. The objectives of the policy include: to bring about the active participation of youth in socioeconomic, political, and cultural activities.
Pathways for youth Political participation
The recent Ethiopian demonstration of the need for democracy, equality, justice, and human rights are fueled by young generations and still, they are to demand a voice in the decisions that affect their lives. The first pathway is their involvement in institutional politics: Although young people between the ages of 15 and 24 constitute about one-fifth of the world’s population their participation and influence on informal politics remain limited. Ethiopia is not an exception to this. Empirical research shows that in contemporary Ethiopia, young people are not meaningfully participating in the formal political system. Recent years have seen the power of youth mobilization in Ethiopia in which political parties have been able to mobilize youth for both constructive and destructive political agendas. However, their meaningful participation and their needs have not been yet prioritized and they have been offered little space in the 2021 election held by Ethiopia. The other way of their participation is their involvement in Protest activities, when frustrations have escalated youth groups have been turning to civil disobedience and violence. One of the recent pathways for youth political participation is the youth protest across the country particularly in Oromia which marks a change in Ethiopia’s political landscape. This protest is not ending up yet and it is the big question of whether the transition has achieved its goal and answered youth’s quests. Therefore Youth sector policy formulation requires the active engagement of young people. The third and last resort that youth will use is an armed struggle. It has been a pathway for youth political participation in Ethiopia since the Student Movement. Nowadays a more youth inclusive armed groups of OLA or as the government called them “OLF Shane” and TPLF is fighting with the government of Ethiopia on different fronts of the country causing the deaths of many everywhere.
Conclusion and Recommendation
The peaceful end of 2021’s election is expected to lay the foundation for genuine democracy and correcting political culture that has resulted in disrespect and hostility among Ethiopia’s ethnic groups. Moreover, the new government that comes to power should ensure formal political participation of the youth. It is expected to amend electoral and other laws to bring the equal participation of youth through reserved seats or Legal candidate quotas within the political parties to ensure that a minimum of young candidates is represented in the formal political system. The scarification of youth to advance a toxic political goal should be stopped. Because democracy is a multi-faceted process, accepting the result of the election while also encouraging debate to build a shared vision is well worth the effort. We are currently experiencing some of the most serious human rights violations in our country, and we urgently want healing, meaningful participation, national discourse, and a shared understanding among all major parties to stop the atrocities. The youth’s active role in closing this loophole is undeniable. The administration should pay special attention to youth to prevent them from participating in destructive protests and armed resistance which dejected the democratic process.
By – Befekadu Dereba