On November 28-29, 2008 the Uganda Youth Network and the International Republican Institute (IRI) hosted a youth democracy fair entitled Inspiring Youth Leadership, on the campus of Makerere University in Kampala.  The fair was the first in a series that IRI plans to hold throughout Uganda to support the development of young leaders.  

Over the two days, IRI and the Uganda Youth Network coordinated a busy program of activities that included a mixture of trainings, presentations and discussions on the theme of youth leadership.  More than 2,000 participants had the opportunity to interact with young leaders from civil society organizations, political parties, intergovernmental organizations and the media.

Training exercises and presentations focused on teaching strategies and techniques for successful campaigning and advocacy.  “Youth is power.  Challenge your youth representatives to deliver,” Hon. Nabila Ssempala, a Ugandan parliamentarian representing the Forum for Democratic Change, urged her audience during a presentation on the challenges of campaign management.

Other presenters carried a similar message to the youth, urging them to take an active role in policy advocacy.  Hon. Nusura Tiperu, a member of the East African Legislative Assembly, called on the participants to, “make use of your vibrancy and ability.  Join circles of decision making.”

One of the highlights of the youth fair was a presentation by Ambrose Murangira, a deaf youth leader who inspired the audience with the story of his rise from a shoe-shiner in the town of Mbarara to chairman of the Uganda National Association of the Deaf.

In addition to the training sessions and presentations, the youth fair provided participants with an opportunity to engage young leaders on key issues facing the country.  In formal debates and informal discussions, representatives from political parties such as the Justice Forum (Jeema), Uganda Young Democrats and Uganda People’s Congress, as well as civil society organizations, such as the Forum for Women in Democracy, Youth Plus Policy Network and the Uganda National Association on Physical Disability addressed issues ranging from political corruption to the political empowerment of women and people with disabilities.

By fostering relationships between youth and political parties and civil society organizations, IRI is hopeful that fairs such as this one will help provide the basis for a new, and more constructive, form of political engagement in Uganda.  As Ambrose Kibuuka, a coaching consultant, told the audience during his presentation at the youth fair, “young people are at the center stage of a transformation.”

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