Published on 16 Jul 2012 at 09:40
Many youth organizations claim the Afghan government has not developed any strategies to ensure youth engagement in the country’s decision-making process. They say that government offices are full of older bureaucrats who lack enthusiasm, energy, and vision, and are not familiar with modern technologies. This inattention to youth, they argue, is a serious challenge to the country’s development.
According to the UN, 68 percent of Afghanistan’s population is under the age of 25. While youth movements in other corners of the globe are helping to forge democracies, Afghanistan’s educated and energetic young people say they too can play a vital role in building good governance and institutionalizing democracy.
In 2006, the Afghan government established the Youth Affairs Administration (YAA) under the Ministry of Information and Culture (MoIC) to address issues faced by youth. Since then, the YAA has conducted several training seminars and conferences, and provided young people with scholarships.
“In addition to other useful programs, the YAA established a countrywide Youth High Council (YHC) to address youth problems and seek solutions,” said Mustafa Saeedi, Program Director at the YAA. “The YAA established art, sport, and training federations where lots of young people are working.”
A Youth Parliament (YP) program was also initiated as a means of enhancing youth engagement. The program was implemented in 2008 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in cooperation with the MoIC, Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), the Ministry of Education and the Secretariat for the Upper House of the National Assembly.
The program’s main goal was to involve youth in the country’s decision-making process and governance, promote parliamentary culture, and familiarize young people with National Assembly procedures. YP members for the first two activity rounds were students selected from different schools in Kabul. The intent was for the Afghan government to incorporate YP decisions into action.
Hamdard Ghafori, Speaker for the Youth Parliament during its second round, asserts that youth participation in the country’s decision-making process is a vital issue. “Knowledge and awareness of politics in our society, particularly among its younger generation, is one of the main sources of political development,” he said.
Hamdard Ghafori, Speaker for the Youth Parliament during
its second round
“Though the Youth Parliament had effective programs and played a constructive role, it alone was unable to address all existing problems of youth,” said Ghafori. “We have visited young people across the country and listened to their opinions. We shared their problems with the Upper House of the National Assembly. But, the [YP] dissolved because of government and international community inattention.”
In addition to the Youth Affairs Administration (YAA) and the Youth Parliament, several other initiatives, including the establishment of a handful of youth focused associations and organizations, have popped up across the country. However, many of the initiatives are poorly supported, some argue.
The Reformist Movement includes itself among such initiatives. According to Abdullah Khodadad, Director of the Reformist Movement, its main goal is to ensure youth engagement in the country’s decision-making process. “Indeed, the Reformist Movement belongs to the new generation of Afghanistan and struggles to achieve [young people’s] goals,” he said.
Despite the Movement’s efforts, Khodadad warns a generation of educated young people is being gradually isolated because of inattention by the government and international community. “Though the old generation sees the young generation as a tool [to use for its own purposes], the power shift to the new generation is an irreversible process and no one can prevent it,” he said.
According to Khodadad, current government officials have no faith in the capabilities of young people. He further argues that a lack of rule of law and the country’s endemic corruption prevents motivated young people from joining the ranks of government. “Corruption in the present system prevents youth from engaging in power,” Khodadad believes.
Ghafori criticizes the government for not developing a strategy on youth engagement. “The government has not yet taken constructive measures to address youth’s problems,” he said.
Abdullah Khodadad, Director of the Reformist
Saeedi disagrees. “The YAA has a specific work strategy.” But, he acknowledges that there should be a national policy to strengthen youth participation in governance. “We have started working to develop a national policy for youth participation and this will be ready soon. The YAA has established youth committees in all governmental ministries. It has conducted different cultural programs and city clean up campaigns.”
Saeedi accepts that government’s traditional structure remains a challenge, but adds: “Compared to the past, the presence of youth in government positions has increased a lot.”
According to Ghafori, the YAA faces too many constraints to put forward more effective programs. “Youth conferences have released several statements, but no action has been taken so far,” he said. “In a meeting with the president, he [President Karzai] promised to establish an office in the Arg [presidential palace] to address youth’s problems. Nothing has happened with this yet.”
The Reformist Movement claims the inattention to youth issues is deep and organized inattention. “The government has no aspiration to support youth,” says Khodadad. Government entities, he argues, are too sidetracked by politics of the insurgency to prioritize youth and civil society issues.
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