A recent study by Kristdemokratiskt Internationellt Center (KIC)- a Swedish party-affiliated organization working for democracy assistance in East Africa has revealed that lack of access to campaign finance among the youth is one of the common barriers that hinder their representation and meaningful participation in politics. Despite Africa having one of the youngest populations on the globe, the continent’s youth remain marginalised with limited participation in decision-making processes posing a threat to good governance and democracy.
KIC’s study on “Challenges for Youth representation, participation, and promotion in political parties in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda” found that young people face multiple forms of discrimination, institutional, social-cultural, capacity related, and tools barriers.
According to this study, among the most common hindrances related to capacities and tools that deter youth representation and meaningful participation in political party activities, poverty stood at 57.9% of the 335 respondents interviewed.
Under institutional barriers, lack of nomination fees for candidates in elections stood at 32.5% whereas lack of money for campaigns under barriers related to political party infrastructure stood at 54.9%. SecretsKnown believes that lack of funds and resources negatively impacts election campaigns of the youth, thus making campaign finance a major barrier to their candidature.
Most youth often nurse an inferior feeling of lacking the requisite campaign funds to participate in politics as candidates. Without financial support to back up their often-insignificant political credentials, it has become nearly impossible for them to capture the attention of the electorate and win votes.
It’s no longer about the quality of one’s ideas but rather about how well one can buy voters or use money to protect votes during elections. This culture of transactional politics that is ingrained in Uganda’s electoral politics, stands out as a major barrier to participation of youth.
ACFIM’s report on Commercialized Politics and Captivity of State Institutions in Uganda indicates that election manifestos and ideas do not matter to the Ugandan voter, rather it is money that matters. As a consequence, the relationship between elected leaders and the electorate has become transactional.
The ballot has been commoditized with citizens/electorates selling their votes as if they are selling groceries, food, or meat on the market. In some electoral contests, vote-buying turns into an auction in which voters sell their votes to the highest bidder.
It has therefore become apparent that access to campaign finance is a key determinant of electoral outcomes in Uganda. In this regard, the chances for youth to successfully run for elective office largely depend on their ability to access to campaign money.
The commercialized nature of politics in the region is one of the major roadblocks to achieving meaningful political participation and representation of youth. And because money is an essential and unavoidable part of modern-day elections, it has progressively become too expensive for young politicians to afford.
It is the nuanced understanding of SecretsKnown that when money dominates politics, youth are disproportionately affected and often end up losing out, especially where electoral politics is highly commercialized.
Some of the incentives political parties have taken on to address lack of campaign resources among the youth as highlighted in the KIC’s study are commendable. These include waivers of party nomination fees and establishment of youth campaign funds in political parties.
SecretsKnown however contends that until campaign finance is regulated to level the electoral playing field to allow electoral players to fairly compete, meaningful participation of youth in electoral politics shall remain a challenge.