Bek Dhuorjang Chol

By: Mr. Bek Dhuorjang Chol

1. Introduction

Young people are a major force in the contemporary world and are often at the front of global, social, economic and political developments. Young people are part of the solution to the difficulties developing democracies face. The paper looked at the role of youth and the challenges of their participation in leadership, democracy, and good governance. The paper presents a general overview of the situation of youth in South Sudan, youth development policy, the existing gap in the policy and then offers some recommendations. According to 5th housing and population census conducted in 2008, more than 72% of the population in southern Sudan are under 30 years of age, and 51% under 18th years respectively. With Regards to education, the literacy rate was 27%.

2. The Evolution and Inception of South Sudan National Youth Union

On 15/8/ 2011 the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports issued establishment order for the formation of South Sudan National Youth Union. Stephen Puoc was appointed as the first interim youth leader. During the interim period, due to lack of independent guiding principles the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports had the overall powers over the South Sudan National Youth Union (SSNYU) but after the order the union leadership was tasked to develop the constitutional policies and principles for the national youth union that democratically guide the leadership system.

Nevertheless, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports had genuine and unlimited powers over the interim leadership of South Sudan National Youth Union (SSNYU) during 2011-2014 of dissolving and appointing youth interim leadership. The inability of the interim leadership to organize the national youth convention, the Ministry issued an order relieving Mr. Stephen Puoc and replaced him with Mr. Manut Maluil as an interim youth leader with the same tasks. During his tenure, some chaos occurred in the interim youth leadership, as a result, the Ministry intervened and relieved Mr. Manut and appointed Mr. Agel Ring Machar. After the eruption of 2013 political crisis in the country, Mr. Agel joined the opposition movement hence, he was relieved and Mr. Lam Tungwar Kueigwong took over as interim youth leader. 

On March 2015, Mr. Lam became the first successful youth leader to organize the First Ever Convention for the Democratic establishment of the South Sudan National Youth Union supported by the National Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports and under the patronage of H.E Salva Kiir Mayardit, president of the Republic who had inaugurated the opening of the convention. Delegates were drawn from the former ten (10) states and Two (2) administrative areas. Each state was represented by fifteen (15) members. Abyei Administrative Area was represented by eight (8) members and Greater Pibor by seven (7) members.

This process resulted in the existence of the South Sudan National Youth Union. Youth across the country converged at Freedom Hall in Juba for the First Youth Convention. The drafted national youth union constitution was adapted for a four (4) year term and Dr. Albino Bol Dhieu Bol was elected as the first youth leader 2015-2019.  

3. The Desired Determination  

The desired aim for the establishment of the national youth body was to bring together all the youth in the country under one umbrella in order to promote peaceful coexistence and unity in diversity among the youth, create forums where youth can express their views, advocate for their rights, build their capacity and empower them with practical life skills, promote youthful talent and connect to their full potential, create opportunities for the youth in collaboration with the government and other stakeholders and mobilize funds to support the operations, activities, projects and programmes of the youth in collaboration with other stakeholders.

4. Challenges facing the youth in South Sudan

South Sudan as the world’s newest nation and country born out of a protracted conflict, was found to have the characteristics of its most young people being poor with high rate of unemployed, rampant insecurity, inter-and intra-communal fighting, limited engagement of youth in culture, arts and sports, lack of youth engagement in a productive work and lack of access to basic social services as education and health etc. hence, there was a need for the youth to come together under one umbrella as the country lacks youth development policy. It is said that idleness is a source of all crimes.

Many youths grew up and survived in a hostile environment without protection due to the long civil war in the country. There is a large number of youth across the country that is unable to find work. There are many reasons for the high unemployment rate among them lack of adequate education and other relevant job skills. Other reasons are rooted in job-related cultural values e.g. selling water, cleaning the land, doing construction works, cleaning buildings and outdoor areas, and working in hotels and restaurants, etc. invites scornful and humiliating criticism from peers, relatives, and elders. Culturally, if a girl works in a restaurant, she is considered spoiled that is no longer a virgin. Waitresses working at night are prone to abuse by men. Such works impacts on a female youth’s dowry price and marriage prospects. Young men seeking wives often resort to criminal activity, commonly known as cattle raiding to pay the dowry when no other options exist. Dowry is connected to early marriage but it is equally related to lifestyle and the power realized by owning more cows than a neighbour. Rape is another harmful practice that creates greater emotional vulnerability by perpetuating women and girls’ lack of control over their own bodies.

5. Youth Participation

Youth are the majority population in the country that can make a positive influence on the nation’s political, social and economic dynamics and development. South Sudan, a country with abundant natural resources (land, water, minerals, oil, forest, etc.) if properly exploited youth can make use of these natural assets for growth and development. Youth participation is the active engagement of young people throughout their communities. It is often used as a short-hand for youth participation in any many forms, including decision-making, sports, schools and any activity where young people get engaged.

The National Commission on Resources for Youth in the United States (1975) defined youth participation as:

“the involvement of youth in responsible, challenging action that meets genuine needs, with opportunities for planning and/or decision-making affecting others in an activity whose impact or consequence, is extended to others – i.e. outside or beyond the youth participants themselves”.

Other desirable features of youth participation are provided for critical reflection on the participatory activity and the opportunity for group effort toward a common goal. Participation requires that all groups, particularly those most vulnerable, have direct or representative access to the systems of government. This manifests as a strong civil society and citizens with the freedom of association and expression.

6. The Role of Youth

The role of youth is the most important in today’s time. It has underplayed itself in the field of politics. It becomes an aspiring entrepreneur rather than mere workers. It can play a vital role in the elimination of terrorism. Youth participation is important because youth are the country’s power. They identify problems and solve them or become part of the problem. They are strong forces in public activities such as educating the children about their rights; helping other young people attains a higher level of intellectual ability and to become qualified adults.

In the modern world of technology, the role of youth is of special importance. Young politicians are freer of association with excesses of the past and have often been prominent in demonstrations calling for an end to an undemocratic regime using various media outlets and platforms. The way in which governments develops is of special concern to young people. They foster and monitor the change. One of the main questions usually asks by most people is: Who is youth? Of course, the definition of youth varies from place to another. Youth is the time of life between childhood and adulthood (maturity). Definitions of the specific age range that constitutes youth also vary.

The age, in which a person is considered a “youth” and thus eligible for special treatment under the law and throughout society, varies around the world, in South Sudan youth are young people between the ages of 18 – 35.

7. Youth Activism

Youth activism is when the youth voice is engaged in community organizing for social changes. Around the world, young people are engaged in activism as planners, researchers, teachers, evaluators, social workers, decision-makers, advocates for student-led school change and education reform through student activism and meaningful student involvement.  

8. Youth Leadership

Youth leadership is the practice of teens exercising authority over themselves or others. It has been elaborated upon as a theory of youth development in which young people gain the skills and knowledge necessary to lead civic engagement, education reform, and community organizing activities. Countless programs around the world seek to teach young people particular skills associated with leadership, particularly those programs associated with youth voice or youth empowerment. Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal. Leaders carry out this process by applying their leadership knowledge and skills. This is called leadership process.

The leadership leads to youth development which is: “… the on-going growth process in which all youth are engaged in attempting to:

(1) Meet their basic personal and social needs to be safe, feel cared for, be valued, be useful and be spiritually grounded and;

(2) To build skills and competencies that allows them to function and contribute to their daily lives”.

A democratic leader sees his/her role as a facilitator; someone who brings out the potential in others. The democratic leadership style differs significantly from the leader-follower relationship built upon charisma, status, and coercion. Good group-centered leadership constantly creates opportunities for others to develop their leadership skills and talents. Youth are engaged in politics and do priorities leadership development skills and public speaking/communications as the most important skills for members to develop.

9. Democracy and Good Governance

Democracy is a form of governance in which all eligible citizens equally participate either directly or indirectly through representatives in a proposal, development, and creation of laws. Democracy encompasses social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination. Equality, freedom, and the rule of law have been identified as the characteristics of democracy.

Governance is the act of governing. It relates to decisions that define expectations, grant power or verify performance. It consists of either a separate process or part of decision-making or leadership processes. When discussing governance in particular organizations, the quality of administration within the organization is often compared to a standard of good governance.

Democracy and good governance are when the people freely involve in the design of their direct participation in managing their own affairs without the imposition of a third party’s influence. It is inclusive perfection in the decision making process between and amongst the society in governance. In other words, democracy must be based on the particular conditions of each society, but also on the shared values of the equal dignity and rights of all human beings.

Why are a democracy and good governance important factor for youth activities and organizations? In my view, it might be because it essentially allows free elections, functioning of youth organizations to operate freely for welfare and development of their members. As such democracies and governance is political, social and economic accountability of people in positions of power for their actions. On the other hand, the notion of good governance and democracy is center-stage for development. They also require transparency, good leadership, respect for human rights and the rule of law, and free and fair competitions for public offices. One is obviously to ask a few questions: where is the South Sudan youth with regards to these principles? Are they doing well or have they derailed from the trend?

Any attempt to ignore the ethnic realities on the ground on youth participation in the democracy and governance might result in conflict among youth and therefore appearances of negative impacts among youth. Already, youth in South Sudan is practically divided along acute tribal lines which have become the basis of associations with sharp prejudice and damaging social conduct leading to instability among youth.

10. Conclusion

Unfortunately youth participation in leadership and governance in South Sudan continue encountering tremendous challenges as mentioned above but most importantly, the highest illiteracy rate among the youth cannot allow full participation of youth in leadership and good governance as most of these activities are connected with literacy and this let to insufficient political space for youth participation resulting to lack of common youth agenda for participating in nation building. The other factors associated include poverty level but that as well is connected with insecurity and instability in the country due to ongoing political war which deprived the youth in participating in agricultural practices for self-employment and the social factors include excessive consumption of alcohol among the youth and other drugs related.  These factors and others mentioned above-derailed youth from effective participation in leadership and good governance.

The solution of these harmful traditional practices is obviously rooted in changing the attitude and actions of the youth and public through systematic, focused, and continuous programmatic intervention.

Establishment of inter and intra-state leagues, school and college sports competitions at the state, county, Payam and Boma levels. This is to encourage youth mobilization and participation in youth-related activities. Establishment of youth culture, arts, and sports centers are important with the provision of incentives to sports persons such as leaders, coaches, referees, administrators, outstanding sportsmen, and women, etc. catering for youth with special needs.

We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give. Volunteerism is a process of going beyond oneself and one’s needs and wants to think in society, beyond one’s immediate family and kin group. Coordination of youth participation in development activities such as adult functional literacy, planting trees, hygiene and sanitation, and peacebuilding initiatives barely happen. It is important to emphasize voluntary service as one of the potential mechanisms for youth to acquire knowledge and skills from the community and contribute to peace and socio-economic development.

NB: The Author received his BSc and PGD in Public Administration from the University of Juba in South Sudan and MEd in Comparative Education from the College of Teacher Education, Zhejiang Normal University People’s Republic of China

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