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International Youth Day; Meaningfully Engage Young People in Civic Engagement.

The world watched as Kenya burnt and quickly descended into anarchy after the disputed general elections of 2007. Tires were set ablaze on roads, neighbor turned on neighbor and nowhere in the country was safe, including churches.

But the most depressing moments was the image of young Kenyans flashed on screens in New York and in Manila. They were scene of rogue youths wielding machetes, chanting war songs and being used to do the bidding of politicians.

I refer to that story because it shows just how absence of meaningful civic engagement of young people is ticking bomb that is no longer a question of if but when it will blow off.

Today, 12th August 2015, is the day set aside globally by the United Nations as the International Youth Day. This year’s theme of Youth Civic Engagement couldn’t have come at a better time especially with the crucial juncture our globe find itself in; the coming to end of major global development processes and the approaching grander Sustainable Development Goals.

Youth Civic Engagement is not a new concept. In fact the principle of participation is one of the founding elements of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that has been reiterated in various other instruments and declarations.

However, it has remained just that. A blanket promising to cover the young people but not here to protect them in this chilly nights.

For the longest of time, civic engagement of young people have just been a campaign tool or a beautiful rhetoric jotted in appropriate lines in speeches, manifestos and declarations, though no real effort has really been put to ensure that the critical voices of young people are not just heard, but their desires incorporated into developmental plans.

But engagement must not be tokenistic or just a half-baked attempt to meet a legal requirement, it must be meaningfully. And that’s why the role of capacity building must be the first processes in ensuring that young [people are able to make a change in this spaces.

As young people we appreciate we cannot do this alone. That’s why the role of mentorships and other adult-youth relationships cannot be overstated.

As we march into the grand era of the highly ambitious post 2015 development goals, young people must be accorded their rightful space in the international community. They must be engaged in civic process. And this shouldn’t just be in terms of handouts in the name of special youth seats, but also working on the environment that has traditionally made it difficult for young people, persons living with disabilities and women to get elected.

And what better day to remind our governments of their obligation than on the International Youth Day of this landmark year of committing to sustainable human development!

ROBERT ASEDA is the Partnerships and Policy Officer at the Network for Adolescents and Youth of Africa-Kenya Chapter, a youth led advocacy network that does sexual and reproductive health and rights advocacy. He has a BSc. Population Health from Kenyatta University. He has undergone training on budget advocacy, policy advocacy and media advocacy by Planned Parenthood Global and Choice for Youth and Sexuality of the Netherlands. He has been involved in the ICPD process and is currently the chairman of the National Youth Consortium on the POST2015 Development Agenda comprising of young people from organizations working in the area of sexual and reproductive health and rights in Kenya. He is also a radio personality, a creative blogger, poet and a regular contributor to local dailies in Kenya. Connect with him on twitter: @Varaq

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