World youth: Treat us as citizens of today

Gathering in Tunisia’s capital for the World Social Forum, activists call on leaders to move from rhetoric to action.

A report released by the UNDP says young people in Tunisia have not taken leading roles in decision making [Rabii Kalboussi/Al Jazeera]

In one of the halls of El Manar campus in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, where the 14th edition of the World Social Forum is taking place, Azyz Amami argues that the existing political structures are non-functional.

“We cannot ask young people to be part of a machine that does not work. The realities have changed but the old political approaches haven’t,” said Amami, a prominent Tunisian activist and blogger, who played an active role in the Tunisian uprising in 2011.

Tunisian blogger and activist Azyz Amami [Rabii Kalboussi/Al Jazeera]
Tunisian blogger and activist Azyz Amami [Rabii Kalboussi/Al Jazeera]

Amami, who was jailed days prior to the overthrow of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, told the gathering how the young citizens of Tunisia, who were at the frontline calling for change, were sidelined from holding key roles in fulfilling the demands they were fighting for.

“They were sidelined because they called for a new machine that works, in other words, a new political approach that serves people’s needs and solve their problems.”

Amami says there is a conflict of generations between the politicians and youth camps in Tunisia.

“It is a clash between the glories and sacrifices of the past, which our parents and politicians never cease to remind us; and our trend which focuses on the present and future.”

“How does a baby learn to walk? He learns when he walks. We are citizens of today and we have learned how to walk.”

In a report released by UNDP Tunisia, young people in Tunisia have not taken leading roles in decision making. They instead play key roles in public protests and social networks advocating for change.

Amami’s beliefs are shared by many other young people, who came to Tunisia to take part in the World Social Forum to promote youth issues, the important changes they catalysed in their societies, as well as to decry the multiple forms of marginalisation they face politically, socially and economically.

Student activist Simon Campbell [Rabii Kalboussi/Al Jazeera]
Student activist Simon Campbell [Rabii Kalboussi/Al Jazeera]

Simon Campbell, 21, a student activist from England, believes that young citizens are being used by political elites.

“I think it is really important that young people engage in forums such as this [WSF] rather than being used as young voters. They have been used by politicians as propaganda means or cards to use during election times.”

“Youngsters also need to articulate themselves as citizens of today, not as generations of the future. We face challenges as [the] young generation and those challenges should be tackled immediately.”

Jean Russo, president of Youth and Development, a French network of associations of students and youth that focuses on citizenship, told a workshop about the role of youth in politics that young people cannot become decision makers.

“The way political parties are structured makes it almost impossible for youngsters to reach the top. The executive power remains in the hands of elite politicians, while young people normally get affiliated with the party with no impact on decision-making,” Russo said.

He believes that the same applies to international NGOs, who are using young people as manpower, who they consult with sometimes, but can never be influential in taking decisions.

Student Activist Jean Russo [Rabii Kalboussi/Al Jazeera]
Student Activist Jean Russo [Rabii Kalboussi/Al Jazeera]

Amami, Russo, Campbell and thousand others, who flooded the El Manar University campus, vary widely in ideologies, focus and ambitions. They all, however, strive for change and decry marginalisation.

The UN acknowledges such marginalisations exist and that they were borne out of a complex interrelation of social, economic and cultural factors.

In 2013, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed a group of young people across the world in an online interactive session.

“Your generation is the largest the world has ever known. The tools at your disposal for communicating and acting are unprecedented. But so are the challenges – from growing inequalities and shrinking opportunities, to the threat of climate change and environmental degradation.”

The UN latest Youth Report underlines that youth around the world share the same concerns, such as lack of job opportunities, economic hardships, as well as racial and gender discrimination.

For Amami and his colleagues, it is time to move from rhetoric to action, not merely on moral obligation basis, but as a mandatory move to preserve the basics of human rights.

And that can be achieved only through new political approaches, or by replacing “the machine that does not work”, as Amami puts it.

Follow Rabii Kalboussi on Twitter: @Rabii_K

Source: Al Jazeera