Among Ghana’s population of 30.8 million, approximately 57% are under the age of 25, according to the Ghana Statistical Service data for 2020. This proportion has been increasing year-on-year over the last three decades. If the country seeks to build its human capital, it is imperative to have policies and programmes targeted at training and nurturing these young people to build and maintain its democracy and governance.
The Youth Leadership Parliament (YLP) initiative is aimed at developing the next generation of national leaders. It seeks to foster relations with the older generation, in particular by allowing the emerging leaders to learn from the first-hand experience of incumbent political figures. It will provide them with opportunities to share their stories and those of their communities, implement projects, hold town hall meetings and build bridges for conflict resolution.
Ghana’s legal framework makes it easy to establish initiatives that can give a voice to the voiceless in society and provide youth with an environment that enables them to share their thoughts and concerns on current affairs issues. The National Youth Policy 2022-2032 and the National Youth Authority Act of 2016 allow for the setting up of a youth engagement initiative to train young people and provide them with the right skills and opportunities. Other policy instruments, such as the National Youth Charter and Policy 2010 or the First Youth Global Programme for Sustainable Development and Peace – Youth-GPS 2016-2020, have an established dynamic of constructive cooperation between the state institutions and youth groups.
The Youth Leadership Parliament (YLP) initiative benefitted from the support of mainstream political leaders, heads of state agencies and the private sector. YLP’s official launch on 30 March 2016, for example, saw the participation of leaders of the Youth Wings of all the major Political Parties, as well as directors of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and high-profile political figures.
The YLP initiative operates as a leadership hub designed to boost the skills and capabilities of young leaders who are passionate and interested in democracy, politics, leadership and governance. They learn the key principles of leadership and how it should translate into strengthening the country’s political institutions. It focuses on where they can make a difference, the problems they can solve and the positive impact they can make to people’s lives and in society as a whole.
The appeal of the YLP initiative is based on its key elements: career guidance, certification, leadership skill training, networking and exposure to the political sphere and public opinion. Its debates are broadcast on national television, radio, tabloids, and social media (WhatsApp, Telegram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube), which feature the policy ideas, projects and parliamentary debates of the thousands of young people who have joined the initiative.
The YLP initiative has built up the confidence of thousands of young people across the country. Graduates of the YLP can be found in every sector of Ghana’s political system. Some have been able to run for positions in their various political parties, won elections and became Presidents of the Student Representative Council in their universities and tertiary schools across the country. Others even won elections to become President of the National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS).
Sustained policy engagement
The initiative offers young leaders a permanent platform for sustained engagement and advocacy on youth issues. This covers the national level – with the National Youth Authority (who, in 2016, had already awarded YLP the legal mandate to operate in Ghana) – and the international level, within the framework of global policy initiatives such as the United Nations Youth Summit in 2019 or Youth Democracy Cohort of the Summit for Democracy.
The YLP initiative has empowered its members to spread the wordof its achievements in their schools, communities and societies via outreach campaigns in universities, market squares, music festivals, flyers and banners. This is creating awareness on the importance of youth political participation for the health of the democratic system.
Since its inception, the founder of this initiative has been successful in gaining access to traditional media, namely TV Africa, Joy Prime and Ghone EIB Network. It has weekly broadcasts, interview sessions, breakfast shows, mid-morning shows and invitations to participate in TV political programme activities. This access has been the biggest tool of our success; we push our initiative through these channels.
The YLP initiative is characterised by ethnic diversity and includes representatives from all the 16 regions, nine major tribes and 100 sub-tribes in Ghana. This has allowed it to contribute to countering polarisation and mitigating the adverse impact of partisan politics. Here, however, the YLP has had to tread carefully to avoid being co-opted by political parties or discredited through false rumours and fake news, but is currently perceived as being above partisan politics.
Bridging the generational divide
In a similar vein, the initiative has had to overcome a perceived conflict with the older generation of leaders, who understandably felt threatened and insecure. By involving them in its activities, the YLP made them friends rather than foes, as well as making them aware that young people make up the majority of the electorate and that youth empowerment is crucial for the future of Ghana.