“Corruption was a taboo word in 1996. My advisors were worried about using the c-word in my speech.”
Nearly 20 years have passed since the former World Bank President, James Wolfensohn, gave his groundbreaking speech on the “cancer of corruption” at the World Bank’s 1996 Annual Meetings. And the anti-corruption movement has come a long way.
At the World Bank’s discussion Speak Up Against Corruption, which featured Wolfensohn; Dr. Jim Kim, World Bank Group President; Paul Volcker, Former Chairman of the Federal Reserve; Cesar Purisima, Secretary Finance of the Philippines; and Haguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International, the panelists reflected on how much work there remains to fight corruption at the international and local levels.
Societies everywhere invest in youth in order to prepare them for the future. But what happens when a generation, educated and prepared for anticipated occupational roles, finds an absence of opportunities? This has happened over the past decade, as the youth unemployment rate increased across all regions, excluding developed economies. Youth are three times as likely as adults to be unemployed, and account for 40 percent of unemployment worldwide [International Labour Organization]. Those who have completed their education increasingly find a mismatch between their skills or aspirations and employers’ needs. These strains will intensify as the percentage of the population aged 15 to 24 will peak in the next 10 to 20 years. Entrepreneurship promises to be the best solution to youth unemployment and frustration.
Active citizenship, especially among young people, is a key pillar of democracy. It calls for civic participation in decision-making that helps ensure government accountability. Yet, in many countries around the world, good citizenship is lacking, leaving young people apathetic and disengaged. This is a serious obstacle to development.
In this Feature Service article, Rahel Weldeab, second place winner of the 2009 CIPE International Essay Competition talks about the importance of fostering a sense of citizenship among Eritrea’s youth. She says, “Active citizenship on the part of the youth ensures that their voices are heard; such participation develops and strengthens the opportunities for young people to learn their rights and responsibilities.”
Article at a Glance
- Citizenship is not innate; it needs to be taught and cultivated in young people through civic education and leadership training.
- Citizenship includes both rights and responsibilities; for youth to become active citizens, they need to be given a voice in decision-making processes that affect them.
- In order for young people to develop a sense of citizenship, they must first realize the positive role they can play through active civic participation.
September 15 marks the UN International Day of Democracy. UN states that “democracy is a universal value based on the freely expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems, and their full participation in all aspects of life” and this definition provides ample inspiration for reflecting on what it means for individuals to be citizens of a democratic country. It means being engaged in an open dialogue with the government; it means being free to become an entrepreneur in search of a better life; finally, it means appreciation of and cooperation with fellow citizens regardless of their culture or ethnicity.
Piyumi Erandima Kapugeekiyana, winner of the first place in CIPE Feature Service article.
Last week I was invited to make a presentation about participatory democracy in a seminar organized by the Association for the Development of Women Entrepreneurship (ADAF) in Romania. The goal of the seminar was to develop a network of active European citizens, which in my opinion was and is a challenging task. ADAF is part of a European project together with other women business organizations from Belgium, Spain, Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. I care for this association, so I have accepted Cornelia Rotaru’s invitation. Cornelia is ADAF’s President and a very close friend of CIPE.
I promised to talk about participatory democracy to a very mixed audience: trade unions, public officials, police department representatives, prefect office, business associations, NGOs and students. Once I made that promise, however, my enthusiasm started to decline. Romania is a country fed up with presentations, a country in which words lost their meaning, where politicians have done everything in their power so that we lose even the concept of values. How and what can I tell these people that would be meaningful, interesting, and make them think? Why haven’t I stuck to what I know best – talking about how to do things, instead of making presentations?
So I thought a lot about Romania, about who we are and what we want to be. And I have thought about our values and how we want our life to be. I didn’t give answers to the question about what Romanian democracy should look like. It’s not for one person (or even for the politicians) to give such an answer. Rather it should be our joined task to find answers.
So, instead of preparing a presentation, I started to prepare a motivational/mobilizing sort of speech, something that would make the audience think about their own responsibility. I wanted to convey the idea that this is our job, that democracy should stop being for us another imported concept. We have to build our own democracy, based on our values. And it’s our job to determine our values, the values that represent us as a nation.
The 1994 genocide in Rwanda horrified the world with its extreme brutality. However, in the intervening years, media coverage of the country has decreased dramatically, and Rwanda’s situation has faded from the attention of the international community. Most people outside of the country, therefore, are largely unaware of the immense social, political, and economic challenges still facing Rwanda.
In his Feature Service article, Pie-Pacifique Kabalira-Uwase, a Rwandan living in exile in South Africa and an honorable mention winner in CIPE’s youth essay competition, describes how history is being re-written in the country and the government’s policies to de-ethnicize Rwanda are actually doing the opposite. Especially for young people, this widespread propagation of revisionist history makes it very difficult for them to feel part of a Rwandan nation – the ethnic distinctions of Hutu and Tutsi are still people’s primary identity.
“Responsible Citizenship in a Post-Conflict Context,” was entered in the “Citizenship in a Democratic Society” category and notes that democracy and stability are currently very unstable in Rwanda. Open discussions of the past are not encouraged and political space is tightly controlled – there is no freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, or freedom of expression. This is leading Rwanda down a very dangerous path.
However, young Rwandans do not have to stand by passively and let the government interpret history – and determine the future – for them. As Pie-Pacifique says, “Citizenship is a personal, conscious choice,” and young people should not wait for someone to present them with the opportunity to become proactive citizens. It’s up to young people to shape their own future, and the author offers a number of suggestions for youth on how they can contribute to strengthening democracy and overcoming the past.
Article at a Glance
Rwanda’s history is being dangerously re-interpreted and the freedoms of its citizens are at risk.
- Youth are forced to accept the government’s position that Rwanda is “on the way forward,” regardless of unclear and questionable government policies.
- Young Rwandan citizens must take responsibility to overcome the past and actively contribute to building a free and open future.