REPORT: YUVA Dialogue 2015

Report of discussions held at the YUVA Dialogue 2015, prepared by YUVA Programme Coordinator Sandhya Gowrisunkur.

The 2015 International Youth Day theme is Youth Civic Engagement. Youth Civic Engagement, a main goal of the United Nations System-Wide Action Plan on Youth (Youth-SWAP), seeks to promote young people’s effective inclusive civic engagement at all levels. There has been recent increasing attention and policy and programming focus on youth civic engagement by governments, UN entities, regional and multilateral organisations, CSOs, youth and researchers. The engagement and participation of youth is essential to achieve sustainable human development. Yet often the opportunities for youth to engage politically, economically and socially are low or non-existent.

More efforts are needed to raise awareness about the importance of youth civic engagement and its benefits to the individual and to society, including for sustainable development as well as resilience and wellbeing. The International Youth Day 2015 campaign aims at promoting civic engagement and participation of youth in politics and public life, so that young people can be empowered and bring a full contribution to society, development and peace.

In line with the above and to commemorate the International Youth Day, on 12 August 2015, YUVA organised an event to the YUVA Dialogue 2015, which was held at the Council Hall of the Municipality of Port Louis at 13:00hrs, which went on till 16:00 hrs. YUVA had invited YUVANs, school and university students, members of local NGOs as well as the public and the press to debate on the topic, “Enhancing Youth-Elder Alliance in Governance in Mauritius”.

The event that consisted of two inter-active panels, showcased inspiring ways in which young people engage in civic, political and social spheres and explored how the issue of youth civic engagement is an enabler for an enhanced and inclusive participation of young women and men in decision-making and public life. We have had the active participation of Honourable Jayeshwar Raj Dayal, Minister of Environment, Sustainable Development, Disaster and Beach Management of Mauritius; Dr Nutan Pandey, Second Secretary (Education and Language) at the High Commission of India (Mauritius); Mrs Thea Candice Bonnefin, Project Facilitator at the Decentralised Cooperation Programme (DCP); Dr Sharmila Seetulsingh-Goorah, Director of the University of Technology Mauritius (UTM); Miss Anjuli Ramdour, Management Support Officer at the National Human Rights Commission & Miss Jennyfer Beeharry, Trainee under the Service to Mauritius (STM) at the National Human Rights Commission; Dr J. Jhurry, former advisor at the Prime Minister’s Office; Representatives from the Ministry of Social Security as well as from different NGOs like the Mauritius Heart Foundation and PILS amongst others; Students from various secondary schools and from the University of Mauritius.

Youth constitute the majority of the population on the African continent. This forum explored the convergence of traditional (Mauritian Tradition) and modern ways of social engagement in political governance interactions. It discussed the imperative for youth participation in governance, as well as the challenges and opportunities for dialogue between youth and elders in governance systems. It also discussed cultural norms that have prevented the development of collaboration between youth and elders, as well as the consequences of constricted relationships, for example the entrenchment of elders as leaders.

The following major points were debated on:

  1. The imperative for youth-elder collaboration in governance;
  2. Eldership as leadership;
  3. Inhibited communication;
  4. Social Media and Political Expression;
  5. Setback and frustration in governance.

The participants were given an agenda that provided them with facts and figures as well as a quote based on which the debate was held. The floor was set open by Mr Krishna Athal, the National President of YUVA, with no lectern or language as barrier to communication while encouraging everyone to interact during the dialogue by taking note of the kit that was given to each person.

Contents of the agenda were as follows:

1. The imperative for youth-elder collaboration in governance

“What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets, inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?” — Plato, 4th Century BC (Guardian, 2009)

A 2012 study of youth across Africa published by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and cross-checked by the Africa Governance Institute (Africa Governance Institute) captures a range of African youth perspectives on governance;

  • 56% of African youth are interested in current affairs. Urban youth have a higher level of interest than rural youth.
  • Less than 1⁄4 of African youth surveyed think their country is a full democracy, and less than 1⁄2 are satisfied with their democracy.
  • While a majority of youth believes that violence is not justified in politics, 75% of those surveyed do not exclude the adoption of non-conventional forms of political action (including violence) if their socioeconomic situation is not improving and their political voice is not heard.
  • 80% of young people do not consider emigrating abroad as a relevant solution, and all insist on the fact that the conditions of their social, political and economic integration need to be established in their respective countries and in Africa.

2. Eldership as leadership

The following proverbs show that leadership is generally considered the responsibility of elders who have accumulated years of life experience. These experiences, ostensibly, are the requisite competencies required for public office. The cultural notion of leadership as the responsibility of older individuals is reflected in the structure of several contemporary governance systems:

“A young man standing cannot see what an old man will see sitting down.” — Igbo, Nigeria
Meaning: Elders are guided by the wisdom of experience and, therefore, will always have advantage over the young.

“An Okro plant cannot grow taller than its farmer.” — Creole, Sierra Leone
Meaning: The youth (Okro plant) is planted by the farmer (elder) to whom it owes its existence and sustenance. Thus, the youth cannot be greater than the elder.

“When a kid goat bends down, it sucks from its mother’s breast.” — Swahili
Meaning: Youth are admonished to defer to elders, and reap the reward of nurturing.

3. Inhibited communication

“When the elderly person is doing things wrongly, things that are destroying or capable of destroying both the old and the young, both the present and future generations, the young is expected not to question that action even though he or she would be affected in the consequences of the wrong actions of the elder/leaders.” — Rajesh B. (Mauritius, 2015)

“We live in a country infested by young people, we live in a country where our leaders do not want to be challenged, questioned and called to order by the younger population. We live in a country where the culture and respect card gets used every time young boys and girls call their leaders to order, we live in a country where our leaders use ‘culture’ and ‘respect’ to keep the youth silent and limited.” – Aneesha Bibi Z. (Mauritius 2015)

As a result of inhibited youth expression, youth voices are faint in the structures of governance, and can be ignored by elders. Also, young individuals who attempt to criticise governance systems, failures or actions can be discredited and disgraced. Youth who dare to confront elder leaders may find themselves cast as cultural offenders, and violators of the hallowed tradition of respect.

4. Social Media and Political Expression

Social media has allowed youth to voice opinions and, to some extent, engage with elders in governance. It has been reported that there are 100 million active Facebook users in Africa (TechCrunch, 2014).

How far do you agree that young people of Mauritius are utilizing social media to improve the accountability of political leaders?

The current generation does not want to be treated as the ‘other’. They want to be engaged, they want to talk, they want to contribute. Is the Government of Mauritius doing enough to endorse Internet access and the usage of smart phones?

5. Setback and frustration in governance

“If the world has one picture of African statesmen, it is one of rank corruption on a stupendous scale. There hardly seem any leaders who haven’t crowned themselves in gold, seized land, hand over state businesses to relatives and friends, diverted billions to foreign bank accounts and generally treated their countries as giant personalized cash dispensers”. – Moyo, 2009, p.49

Interventions from the audience

Dr Sharmila Seetulsingh-Goorah, the Director of UTM has been the first to be invited to give her views. She was of the opinion that there is a serious need for a platform for the youngsters to express and communicate their views. She addressed the question of disrespect to elders as being basically a generation gap problem whereby the youth despite having so much to say they are left with no encouragement to express themselves. This lack of communication leads the youth to an escape from the reality of things. There is therefore a need to properly channel the youthful energy to constructive things. “The day they cannot express themselves they will go towards other means of escaping and perhaps taking out their frustrations.” For her, it is a pity to see that our youngsters of today do not take on the streets to express their frustrations as Plato has stated.

Mr Keshav Jokhun, a regional youth member from the National Youth Council, gave another dimension for his part to Dr Sharmila Seetulsingh-Goorah’s, the Director of UTM, views by stating that violence caused by the youth is on the rise in Mauritius. Taking again her point, Dr Sharmila Seetulsingh-Goorah, the Director of UTM came back to Plato’s quote and re-affirmed that she is of the opinion that the quote refers to a means of communication that existed at that time, which unfortunately is not present in our today’s life.

Mr Omosiga, a student from Middlesex University, expressed his views as such: “My parents did not have the same exposure as I do”, that is why our parents do not have the same thinking and opinion as us, and thus Plato’s quote holds water since we live in a different era as of our parents. “We all need guidance from the old generation so that we can move forward”.

Mr Krishna Athal, the YUVA National President, who acted as host for the event took further the debate to that of the minimum age of becoming the President of the Republic of Mauritius as being 40 years old. This minimum age is an understatement that a youngster cannot accede to this position in our country. The question was asked to Mr O. Devpal Cowreea, Vice Chairperson of MACOSS, as to the rationale of such a provision in our constitution.

Mr O. Devpal Cowreea, Vice Chairperson of MACOSS supported his argument by the fact that the President is an institution in itself and not a one man show, and that this tenure comes with great responsibility of dealing with people from all layers of society. Therefore he believes that the President must have a certain maturity to be able to deal with the responsibilities that come with his position.

Miss Anjuli Ramdour, Management Support Officer at the National Human Rights Commission is of the opinion that despite the need of maturity to be able to entertain the position of the President of the Republic, it is also a matter of collaboration whereby the President has to have a panel of advisors while not acting on a one man show basis.

Mr O. Devpal Cowreea, Vice Chairperson of MACOSS made the facts clear that our constitution does not make any provision for the President to have a panel of advisors.

Mr Nooruddin Allybocus, teacher at the Professor Basdeo Bissonndoyal College as well as a YUVAN provided his opinion that the youth generation should have its chance to serve the country.

To this point, Mr O. Devpal Cowreea, Vice Chairperson of MACOSS raised an important point of issue: Does the youth have enough maturity to handle a state and its affairs? He probed further on his statement by saying that the youth might have academic achievements but they may not be successful on-field when dealing with the real world since they lack the practice and perhaps the maturity needed. For him, a person’s capabilities are well known on field only, with his ability to deal wisely with different layers of the society. The post of President is not elected in Mauritius; he is therefore chosen on the basis of maturity and integrity.

Dr J. Jhurry, former advisor at the Prime Minister’s Office was invited to express his opinion too. He evoked a single word: Experience. “It is the accumulated knowledge with time”, he said. At the end of the day, any individual who has the potential and ability to handle and show he has integrity can take up the position of President. For him the age factor is there since this has been the way of things since ages. “What do you expect from a president at the end of the day? The age or the work? Any individual having the capacity and intellect may become a president whatever his age.” According to him, leave the age, the youth must be given the chance, provided he has the required potential to hold this position. “What we need is intellectual maturity rather than age maturity”, has been his concluding lines. He thus appealed to the youth generation to prove itself in terms of intellectual maturity.

Tim Baumah, former President of the Regional Youth Council of Black River, has been of the opinion that the youth generation tend to have a negative attitude towards advices given by elders. For him, the elderly advices are meant to be an encouragement for the youngsters so that we may progress in life.

Mr Vikram Dookna, President at the Youth for a Better World exclaimed “Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait”. It is unfortunate indeed for him that we should define youth based on age. Experience for him does not mean to be always right. Even though it is true that youngsters tend to take emotional decisions, the capacity of the youth generation should not be denied since they can acquire greater things. He explained that not everyone who is young in age is lacking on capabilities since, even people at 60 years can lack the capability and intellect. We should therefore define each one according to his/her capabilities.

There has been another comment from the audience that we should get rid of this attitude of blaming the youth since they only learn from the elders and the elders should therefore have the capacity to reap what they sowed.

Mr Imaam Arshad Joomun, Chairman of the M-Kids Association was of the opinion that it is important that our elders have a stranglehold on our youngsters since the youth generation is not on the right path. The latter should be able to use their intellectual faculty to better judge situations in life so as to take wiser decisions and make good choices. He appealed to YUVA as an NGO to sensitise children as well as the parents regarding the wise choices in life.

Regarding the use of Internet, the opinion of some school students were sought, to which they replied that youngsters should properly use Internet.

Mr Satyam Goolzar, a YUVAN from YUVA Petit Raffray for his part blamed it all on the lack of communication that prevails in the society nowadays. He concluded his statement by saying that experience is important but correct guidance is what is needed above all.

Further to this issue of communication, Mrs Woozrah B Kootbally, President of Al-Waadjidah Ladies Welfare Association affirmed that the lack of communication between parents and children is what is causing the problem. For her, parents should take up their responsibility and act as guide in the life of their children.

Miss Jennyfer Beeharry, Trainee under the Service to Mauritius (STM) at the National Human Rights Commission intervened from a legal perspective, saying that children should have an equal say when elders take decisions as this is a provision made by the law.

Mr Hossen Kurrimboccus, President at Maison Dawah congratulated YUVA for the “noble” work that it is doing by holding this debate between the youth and the older generation. He expressed his opinion that religion and spirituality play an important role in the way a youngster behaves. It is thus very important, according to him, for one to know very well his/her religion and religious books.

Mr Joyvani Rose, District President of YUVA Port Louis was asked regarding the enforcement of gender equality under his leadership in the region of Port Louis. Mr Joyvani Rose, District President of YUVA Port Louis provided insight on the fact that both man and woman are complementary of each other and it is thus very important to maintain the balance between both genders.

A student from the University of Mauritius was short and quick in expressing her view regarding questioning the action of the elders. For her, of what use is education if we cannot question something of bad nature. Education is the tool to help us differentiate between right and wrong. The youth should therefore assume its freedom of expression and the elders should, for their part learn to accept it.

Mr Vince Mooneesamy, the YUVA Head of Social Media was invited by Mr Krishna Athal, YUVA National President to express his views and to advise the youth regarding social media. Mr Vince Mooneesamy, the YUVA Head of Social Media strongly advocated the use of social media as a platform to expose oneself in a better way. “You are what you post. Practice what you post.”

Following the debate of the irresponsible use of Facebook by youngsters, a young medical practitioner has been of the view that these youngsters use Facebook as a platform to express themselves and rightly so because they are enjoying freedom of speech. In reply, Mr Krishna Athal, the YUVA National President’s statement has been that “freedom of speech comes at a cost; that of eternal vigilance. Freedom of speech does not mean to go outside and say whatever you want. There is civility and respect in life.”

Along the same line, Mr Krishna Athal, the YUVA National President also made it clear that this gathering is not about coming up with solutions; rather YUVA has acted as a bridge between the elders and the young people.

A journalism student from the University of Mauritius affirmed to the audience that we should stop saying youth is the future of Mauritius, for it is the present. He therefore claimed for opportunities to be present today for the youth. He went on by providing an unbiased youth perspective that we should not only blame the “grey heads” when they do not give up their chair of presidency for this is the characteristic of anyone, even a youngster who holds the tenure of a president of an organisation/forum.

This idea was seconded by Mr Keshav Jokhun, a regional youth member from the National Youth Council: “Youth are not only the leaders of tomorrow but also the active partners of today.”

For Mrs Thea Candice Bonnefin, Project Facilitator at the Decentralised Cooperation Programme (DCP), age is a mere number. What you do with your capabilities is what defines you.

Mr Shahfaraz Rughony, member from the Regional Youth Council of Port Louis also expressed his wish that changes be brought to the constitution regarding the provision for the Minister of Youth and Sports to be a youngster who can really represent the youth generation.

Accessing the psychological aspect of the Mauritian society, Mrs Aneesha Dowlut a student from the psychological background gave out a message to the young students especially to never give up in however challenging situations they find themselves. A man is known best by the company he keeps, it is therefore highly recommendable to have mentors who can always push us forward in life to achieve greater things.

Miss Ashna Soobamte, a student from the University of Mauritius has been of the opinion that it is easier said than done when youngsters have the attitude that they can operate individually and bring about changes without having to depend on authorities and others. It is important to have a baggage, which can be in the form of experience on the field. There is therefore the need for collaboration in all fields of development.

During the last wrapping minutes of the dialogue, YUVA has had the pleasure to welcome the Honourable Raj Dayal, Minister of Environment, Sustainable Development, Disaster and Beach Management. He echoed YUVA’s motto that being considered as young is a condition of the mind. However “for the system to be operational there is a need to go by age criteria.”

He asked the youth to always question themselves as to whether they are doing enough for the people who trust them. “I trust you”, such have been his words of encouragement to convey to the young audience that this generation has the potential of doing things better; they should therefore make maximum use of everything that is at their disposal. For him, the platform such a YUVA is providing is a matter of opportunity and everyone should make the most to voice out and express themselves, “free ourselves from any restraining issues”. His message for the youth has been to always try to outdo oneself and use the maximum of one’s capabilities. Upon a question from one member of the National Youth Council relating to the less or not opportunities existing for the youth to enter politics, the Minister’s reply was that while opportunities are always at our disposal, “you must not ask; you must do…walk the talk like I do”. It all winds up to be a question of attitude by way of which we can set a trend. He concluded by saying that we should always use our capabilities to bring satisfaction and smile to others, and that this can be done in togetherness. Criticizing will not make us achieve big things let us therefore work together for the wellbeing of the country. Let us bring a better change.

Outcome of YUVA Dialogue 2015

The YUVA Dialogue 2015 gained much success with the active participation of those present. It’s main objective is that of giving the opportunity to those unheard voices has been achieved with great success. This event has been marked as a laudable initiative of YUVA and requests have been such from youngsters especially that such interactive sessions be organised more frequently.

YUVA has thus already given birth and shape to the Mauritius Youth Parliament (MYP) that would be held every month to discuss issues and matters of concern in Mauritius. Participants are mostly young in age – though MYP is open to everyone who is young in spirit.

Download this report in PDF from here.

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YUVA

Registered in February 2015, YUVA started as a group of enthusiastic individuals, and today it has mobilised thousands of young people with a simple aim of creating a better future for children and youth of Mauritius. At the heart of YUVA’s duty lies the conviction that the collective destinies of the human race are bound together.

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