CIPE is pleased to announce the winners of the fourth annual International Youth Essay contest today. This year we received more than 400 entries from 65 countries, including Afghanistan, Cambodia, Cameroon, Egypt, Indonesia, Moldova, and Uganda. The three categories this year were Corruption, Democratic Transitions, and Economically-Sustainable Development. The winners were selected by an international panel of judges including CIPE’s partners from business associations, think tanks, and other international development organizations around the world, as well as CIPE staff.
1st Place: Chukwunonso Ogbe (Nigeria)
Ogbe’s essay begins by profiling several Nigerians from all walks of life whose ambitions have been stymied by corrupt officials, as well as examples of government projects costing billions of dollars that have failed due in part to corruption. Ogbe then goes on to analyze why the problem persists, suggesting that:
Those who made their wealth through corrupt means are welcomed into the society and given positions of honour. Those who managed to be convicted by the courts for corrupt practices are celebrated as heroes, and an informal message seems to have been passed to an uncountable army of upcoming Nigerians: ‘the end justifies the means.’
Finally, Ogbe suggests that the “way out of the Nigerian predicament” will be for young people to change their attitudes towards corruption, the media, and electoral politics, drawing parallels to Anna Hazare’s popular anti-corruption movement in India. Read his essay.
2nd Place: Riska Mirzalina (Indonesia)
Mirzalina writes about how Indonesia’s transition from strongman rule to democracy has led not to a decline of corruption, but rather to its decentralization. In addition to making a similar point as Ogbe that young people need to change their attitudes, Mirzalina also suggests that businesses can reduce corruption by refusing to pay bribes, and that ultimately Indonesia needs a leadership that is fully committed to fighting corruption.
3rd Place: Ruth Nyambura Kilonzo (Kenya)
Like the other two winners, Kilonzo notes that young peoples’ attitudes will be the key to eliminating corrupt practices in Kenya. Kilonzo also makes an important point about the “implementation gap” seen in many countries between tough anti-corruption laws on paper and lax attitudes in practice, arguing that young people should learn their rights under Kenya’s laws and constitution. “Knowledge is power and the next generation must embrace this information and practice it daily,” Kilonzo writes. “It is about time that youth groups in the country began to hold forums that will enable themselves to be empowered as anti-corruption agents and activists in their own small ways.”
1st Place: Vikas Prakash Joshi (India)
Joshi begins with the provocative point that, in addition to being the world’s largest democracy, India is also “the world’s youngest democracy,” with 54% of the population under the age of 25. However, he also notes that not all of these young people are educated, English-speaking big-city residents. Tens of millions are farmers living in rural areas or poor workers in cities “for whom the biggest worry is where to get their next meal.” “The tragedy in India,” Joshi writes, “is that this section of the youth is so busy struggling to survive that democracy and politics mean nothing to them.”
Joshi then lays out some concrete steps that can be taken to get young people more involved in politics, both as candidates and party activists and as engaged, informed voters. For instance, he suggests that youth organizations can put together a “youth manifesto” before major elections articulating specific concerns of young people, or use technology and social media to maintain the momentum of political movements. Read his essay.
2nd Place: Kirsten Han (Singapore)
Against the backdrop of youth-led revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere over the past year, Han writes about how political change can also come in the form of “evolution.” In Singapore, she writes, this evolution is already underway, with the 2011 General Election being the most hotly contested since independence, and senior leaders admitting the need for more openness and transparency. Han suggests that one way young people can participate in this “evolution” is to join some of the civil society groups that have been long pushing for a more open society and political system in Singapore.
3rd Place: Judith Aduol Nyamanga (Kenya)
Like Joshi, Nyamanga emphasizes that the role of youth is especially important in Kenya as young people constitute more than 70% of the total population. She notes that young people have actively participated in the ongoing reform process around the new constitution, which was adopted in 2010. She notes that the groups set up for this purpose and their enthusiasm can be carried forward to make progress on other issues, such as making the political system more responsive, reforming the education system to focus on democratic values, and easing tribal conflicts.
1st Place: Sarita Sapkota (Nepal)
Looking at the history of over 60 years of development planning in Nepal, Sapkota draws a distinction between unsustainable, aid-dependent models of development, and models driven by entrepreneurial activity of Nepalis themselves. Sapkota describes how the machinery of aid planning in Nepal, centered on the capital, Kathmandu, and dependent on outside donors, “creates huge machinery that needs a lot of resources to sustain but in effect contributes in negligible amount in terms of impact.”
Using examples from around Nepal, Sapkota argues that the country needs to look to the energy and enthusiasm of young people to find a more sustainable model for long term development. “The young people today in Nepal respond to the same incentives as other humans, money, social prestige, personal and professional aspirations,” she writes. “Young Nepalese are motivated by their dream to make it big. ” Read her essay.
2nd Place: Babatunde Oladosu (Nigeria)
Oladosu takes a broad approach to looking at the challenges faced by developing countries, first pointing out some of the pitfalls — aid dependence and the resource “curse” — before moving on to examples of countries that have been successful. “As appalling and vicious as the cycle of poverty looks, some countries have made the commendable transition from third world to second and even first world countries,” Oladosu writes. Young people were also particularly important in these countries, he argues, noting that countries like South Korea focused on education as a key part of their economic and social development.
3rd Place: Michael Olumuyiwa Kayode (Nigeria)
Kayode’s essay looks more closely at the “resource curse” problem as it has played out in Nigeria. Analyzing the roots of how an abundance of natural resources, if not properly managed, can corrupt a country’s political and economic system, Kayode concludes that young people must take the lead in devising a solution. “The youth of this country should learn to take responsibilities,” he writes. “We should deliberately plan to make our economy self-sustaining.”
The winning essays will continue to be published as Economic Reform Feature Service articles, and winners will be profiled on the CIPE Development Blog in the coming months. Congratulations to the winners and everyone who entered!