A Youth Moot Parliamentary session was the best way to commemorate international youth day under the theme safe spaces for youth

Youth Aid Africa (YAA), ActionAid Uganda, Plan International Uganda, Faraja Africa Foundation, Youth Go Green, Restless Development, Uganda Parliamentary Forum on Youth Affairs have organised the first ever Yoth Moot Parliamentary Session in Uganda.

When we set out to commemorate international Youth day 2018, we checked to ascertain the theme for the year. “Safe spaces for youth” would be better celebrated by breaking the barriers to have access to the national parliamentary plenary chambers, the most sacred national venue where legislation takes place, to enable young people to deliberate on the issues affecting them, threatening their future. That’s how we as Youth Aid Africa thought about hosting the first ever youth moot parliamentary session in the country to commemorate this date so that we send a message to the world, that safe space for young people should be an effort aimed at the most significant of spaces for young peoples participation in nation building.

Meaningful participation of young people in decision making for sustainable development and good governance has not been warmly welcomed in our African Societies to date. This can be attributed to the fact that young people are seen as threats yet we should be seen as partners. With young as partners, our interventions can help eradicate and build poverty resilient communities and bring forward best practices for good governance. Hence, young peoples participation in development is an untapped positive potential to harness for the national development agenda of Uganda and Africa. It is true that recent efforts by civil society organizations including international NGOs, youth-led NGOs and the United Nations have helped raise awareness of the need for increased coordination and collaboration of actors actively engaged on youth and governance issues. However, efforts remain incipient to date.

While Uganda harbors a desirable youth government structure that should be affording young people, space for participation in governance and development, the reality on ground is so different, let alone the translation of policy into action-oriented youth programs on the ground.

To help fill the gap, Youth Aid Africa, and partners including Action Aid Uganda, Westminster Foundation for Democracy, Plan International, Youth Go green, Faraja African Foundation, and others convened a Youth Moot parliamentary session in which young people came from across the country to deliberate on the strategies to create safe spaces for young peoples participation in development and governance work.
It is important to note that young people need safe spaces where they can come together, engage in activities related to their diverse needs and interests, participate in decision making processes and freely express themselves. While there are many types of spaces, safe spaces ensure the dignity and safety of youths. Safe spaces such as civic spaces enable youth to engage in governance issues; public spaces afford youth the opportunity to participate in sports and other leisure activities in the community; digital spaces help youth interact virtually across borders with everyone; and well planned physical spaces can help accommodate the needs of diverse youth especially those vulnerable to marginalization or violence.

Ensuring that safe spaces are inclusive, youths from diverse backgrounds especially those from outside the local community, need to be assured of respect and self-worth. In humanitarian or conflict prone settings for example, youth may lack the space to fully express themselves without feeling uncomfortable or unwelcome. Similarly, without the existence of safe space, youth from different race/ethnicity, gender, religious affiliation or cultural background may feel intimidated to freely contribute to the community. When youth have safe spaces to engage, they can effectively contribute to development, including peace and social cohesion.
The Moot parliamentary session (which we intend to build into a formidable flagship program for the foreseeable future) is envisioned as space that will provide an opportunity that will bring young people from diverse backgrounds to interact and shape the development discourse of Uganda, the great lakes region and Africa. Issues to do with quality public services, Climate change and sustainable developments, Tax-Justice and corporate tax for young people, Youth participation in governance and the integration of Africa and East-Africa are issues we hold dear for our future as young people.

We were able to attract Young leaders from local governments (National Youth Council Structures, University guild council representatives, Youth running grassroots community based organizations, Young entrepreneurs, and media practitioners; and Policy makers from politics and state bureaucracy. Other interested parties were in attendance to constitute membership of the gallery to follow through the discussions. The total number of participants and guests was 400.

As the speaker of the inaugural youth moot parliamentary session, I can say without fear of contradiction that it was an honor and privilege to assume authority over the Parliamentary plenary chambers for one day. Special thanks to the Rt. Hon. Alitwaala Rebecca Kadaga (Speaker of the parliament of Uganda) for granting us the safe space for this historical event.

The author is the Speaker of the Youth Moot Parliament and Executive Director, Youth Aid Africa. Kyokwijuka.ug@gmail.com