Ballot or bullet? Time for African youths to make a choice

Author: Murithi Antony
LL.B student, University of Embu

“I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and curse; therefore, you shall choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants…”

– The Holy Bible, Deuteronomy 30:19 (Amplified Version)

Introduction

The message in the Book of Deuteronomy generally is directed to the new generation that was born in the desert during the 40 years of wandering in which the generation of exodus passed away. The Book puts forward foundational truths, which if the young generation shall abide by, they will succeed. It states that there is life and death, and advises them to choose life, but leaves the option to their discretion. This can to a large extent be equated with the happenings of contemporary African societies whereby the current youth generation, which was born in the desert of problems, neo-colonialism, tribalism, corruption and violence have an opportunity to change the status quo through voting and advocating for peace. Similar to how the Israelites were given choices, the current generation also has a choice to either vote and take charge of their future; or abstain from voting, and choose political, social and economic death. I tell them: “Choose to vote, in order that you may take charge of your destiny, and your generation shall find a better place to live in.”

The benefits that youths get by participating in elections have been stated over and over again and are self-evident. I shall restate some of them, in a nutshell, for the purposes of this article. First, and most importantly, a vote is protection. As Lyndon B Johnson stated: “A man without a vote is a man without protection. It is equally important to state that a man with a vote and who decides to abstain from voting is no better than a man without a vote. By voting you seek social, economic, political and even psychological protection. This is because nearly everything we experience is touched by the government. The government that we choose through voting is the guardian of economic development, creator of jobs, as well as the protector of human rights. Good governance also ensures that citizens have access to basic needs such as food, shelter and good education, which cumulatively enhance physiological well-being of all persons.

Voting is an important right and responsibility of every citizen, the practice of which enables us to create and choose the future we want. Equally important, voting enables the youths as well as other citizens to be engaged with politics and current events. Lastly, in the words of Sharon Salzberg: “Voting is the expression of our commitment to ourselves, one another, this country, and this world.”

Peaceful elections: The power of youths in exorcising the ghouls of post-election violence

Electoral violence has been reported in many countries across the continent, usually with devastating consequences. For instance, the sad memories of Kenya’s 2007/08 post-elections violence cluelessly haunt the victims to date. Countless families were displaced from their motherland while thousands of innocent lives were taken away.

Similarly, in 2010-2011 Ivory Coast experienced a post-election conflict which left more than 3000 people dead. As if this was not enough, people were also killed during the 2020 presidential elections in the same country. Other countries that have experienced post-elections violence in Africa include Uganda, whereby massive violations of human rights were reported both in 2016 and 2021 elections. Any sober person who witnessed or even heard of the occurrences of what really transpired would never wish that it ever happened again even to their worst enemy.

Sadly, it was the youths who were largely used to do all these injustices. This means that the youths play a central role in determining whether there shall be violence or not. The youths have the power to refuse to be used as weapons and use their votes as bullets to root out bad leadership from offices. If the youths unite and stand for peace, there can be no election violence. However, and more amusingly, choosing peace is not a communal task! It starts with an individual person deciding that they shall vote and go home, and continue advocating for peace. If all youths do this at an individual level, then the whole of Africa shall have chosen peace.

Conclusion

It is apparent that youths make up the largest percentage of voters in Africa and consequently, have the ability to determine who wins elections. It is equally true that African youth have often been manipulated by unscrupulous politicians to engage in electoral violence to either entrench their rule or destabilise existing governments. It should be a no brainer for the African youth that political violence is by no means a solution to any of the challenges that they face as young people. On the other hand, they have the power through their numbers to vote into or out of power governments to consolidate democratic governance that caters for their interests. It is time for the African Youth to come out in large numbers and vote for their future and for the good of the next generation, peacefully. Indeed, as Abraham Lincoln, the former U.S President, aptly puts it: “A ballot is stronger than a bullet”.

About the Author:
Anthony Murithi is a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) student at University of Embu. He can be contacted through amurithi326@gmail.com

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