One of IRI President Mark Green’s oft-repeated observations is that the average age in Africa is 19 and the average age of African leaders is 65 years old.
It highlights one of the greatest challenges that developing democracies face as they work towards engaging young people to peacefully participate in their country’s political process and giving them a stake in their country’s future. Youth engagement is central to IRI’s programs in Morocco and around the world but I am often struck by the fact that many of the “Youth” we work with are as old as I am. And I’m 42 years old!
In 2011, the Kingdom of Morocco adopted a remarkably progressive new constitution and passed organic laws which enshrined quotas for women’s and youth representation in Morocco’s national House of Representatives. A national set-aside list was established for the 2011 legislative elections 60 women and 30 youth were elected to parliament. A gentleman’s agreement encouraged regional and communal councils to follow this lead, but they were under no legal obligation to do so at the time. Political parties created parallel youth wings and youth members spent the past five years participating in trainings, supporting their parties in the recent regional and communal election and getting ready to take their place as leaders. These changes sparked a national discussion regarding what should be the maximum age to define youth. The debate centered on the controversial, but ultimately successful, argument to reduce the upper limit from 45 years of age to 40. While Morocco has become regional leader by creating a youth quota in the first place, the 40 year old upper limit is still 10 years older than Tunisian and Jordanian views of youth.
Looking back, the best case interpretation of the high age limit for youth is that the broadest number of young people are afforded representation within political parties and quotas, effectively super-charging youth integration. The worst case interpretation is a lot less generous. In either case, the recently-adopted 2015 Organic Law on Regionalization enshrined in law the quota for women’s representation at the regional and communal levels of government but all references to a youth quota were removed. The informal “gentleman’s agreement” came to an end.
In addition, five years after the ground-breaking elections of 2011, the first generation of young people elected to the House of Representatives in 2011 on the youth set-aside list are expected to move aside and allow a new crop of youth to have their voices heard in the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, recent media reports have hinted that the youth quota at the House of Representatives level will also be eliminated before the October 2016 legislative elections, thereby ending guaranteed youth representation within all levels of Moroccan government.
Without the incentive to attract, train and promote young people to fulfill designated seats in legislative bodies, Morocco’s political parties will also face new challenges. The parallel youth wings are already seen to have minimal influence and restricted representation at senior management levels of the main party. Without a path towards electoral opportunity, older “youth” will cling to positions of leadership as there are little to no transition plans into the main party structure as they “age out”.
For this reason, instead of looking forward to voting for a new crop of young representatives, youth are witnessing the small political space that was guaranteed for them quickly disappear, shutting them out of important debates surrounding education reform, economic growth and national security. If the youth quotas are eliminated from the House of Representatives, it is fair to ask if young people will stay engaged in politics and public life until they are deemed old enough to have their turn.
The good news is that it is not too late. While quotas for youth representation may be falling by the wayside, political parties in Morocco can and should ensure that the electoral lists for the 2016 legislative elections reflect Morocco’s population: young, smart, capable and ready to lead. With 74% of the registered voters under the age of 44, political parties have ample incentive to select candidates that will appeal to this important demographic.
Youth are willing and able to take up this opportunity- we see this in our workshops and trainings. But ultimately their success will depend on good faith actions of those who came before them, those who were themselves brave, forceful agents of change in their youth. These leaders must embrace a willingness to encourage, integrate and inspire youth, and eventually step aside in order to let today’s youth carry their nations forward regardless of quotas.
With all the promise for development and growth that Morocco has, it is my hope that after the results roll in on October 8, 2016, we will see less of greying heads in our youth activities and more of those bright eyes and quick minds elected to serve their country.Top