OP-ED

From PYPA; A message to aspiring young politicians across East Africa

By Lukanga Samuel

Representing the ruling party of Uganda in the first training of a Program for Young Politicians in Africa (PYPA) that took place at Mombasa Continental Resort Hotel in Kenya, it is very clear that everyone needs to feel that they belong to something bigger than themselves.

Joining PYPA 2024 is a testimony that our identities are defined to a large extent by the activities in which we engage and groups to which we belong. Partisan activists have taken advantage of this universal human need and attempted to insert partisanship as an identity marker, in fact, a most important identity marker, in order to manipulate peoples’ behaviors, especially electoral activities.

Despite the fact that political parties in the East Africa are made up of “alliances”, the appeal to identity appears to have been very successful. I suspect that the success of partisan efforts to get people to define themselves in terms of their affiliation with a political party is due to the loss of genuine human community that has accompanied industrialized mass societies.

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Whereas people were, at one time, defined by their immediate neighbors perceptions of them, we are now all essentially alone in crowds. After being lost in the mass, it feels good to think we are someone even if our identities are defined by being another person in a mass of strangers who also identify with our respective parties. The mechanism is essentially identical to being a fan of a particular team in the world of sports or of a mass media celebrity.

People are being bamboozled into thinking that political parties represent people. They do not. Political parties in East Africa represent a brand. The brand targets specific audiences. The ruling political party brands in the region attempt to target individual interests via rural voters. Whereas the Oppositional brands often target urban areas across gender and racial boundaries.

While at PYPA 2024 in Mombasa County, speaking as a fellow young person who is already aspiring to get involved in politics, I believe that we need to see ourselves as part of the problem first, and realise that we know far less than what’s out there. Only then will we be best placed to tackle the political issues facing our plane today.

The 4 NRM Youth League representatives

Becoming a mouthpiece for a particular ideology or leader is to ignore the possibility that we might be wrong. The problem with our generation is that we want to get involved and change the world so quickly that we stop thinking critically the first time we come across something that could be a vehicle for doing so. We’re vulnerable, passionate, and want to help by the quickest means possible. Anger, empathy, and every other kind of emotion fill our hearts. We stop thinking, and we just repost. We stop looking for the other side of the argument, and we start seeing them as inferior.

Power is not marching through the streets of any East African street shouting “so and so needs to be killed,” “so and so is a terrorist sympathiser,” or “All Muslims need to go” because you think that you’re alleviating everyone else from their stupid ideas.

From PYPA 2024 training, it is true power is scepticism. Power is a conversation. Power comes from realising that the line between good and evil runs down the middle of every human heart and that each of us has a responsibility to question ourselves before looking at anyone else. If you know the roots of the other side’s beliefs better than they do, that’s power. That’s an incredible amount of power. There are multiple ways to help the poor. There are multiple causes of terrorism. There are multiple methods that can be used to improve people’s lives.

With Ms. Angela Starovoytova a facilitator from Ukraine, Annika Reyes Rigö from Sweden and Sajdah Batenga from Tanzania

Aspiring young Politicians! One look at human history proves that evil is not a trait inherent to conservatives, liberals, or moderates. If you think you have come across the only answer, you haven’t looked hard enough.

Before we go out and protest, before we re-post 50 articles on Twitter telling everyone else they’re idiots if they don’t vote for our party, before we start screaming at speakers we don’t agree with in order to destroy their right to speak, let’s consider the fact that we might be wrong.

Fellow young politicians across East Africa, let’s consider the prospect that our 18-30 years of life experience and limited knowledge of history might mean that we aren’t best placed to know exactly how to run the economy, solve terrorism, and save the world.

We must tell the truth and always look to question our own beliefs. That is how moral progress occurs; self-reflection, responsibility, and integrity. If you think your foreign policy is wrong, find the smartest person who believes it has been net positive and pick their brain as if your life depended on it. If you believe in abolishing tuition fees, discuss the impacts with someone from a country that has already implemented the policy. If you think that Islam has nothing to do with terrorism, read the Qu’ran, visit mosques, and make a decision for yourself. Be open to learning from every discussion instead of assuming moral superiority.

In fact, don’t end the conversation until you do. Learn from the homeless person. Learn from the ‘racist xenophobe’. Learn from the ‘loony lefty’. Read. Read the greats, read the not-so-greats. If you’re listening to Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, William Ruto and Samia Suhuru, listen to Ssentamu Robert Kyagulanyi, Godbless Lema and Raila Odinga. If you’re watching and listening to Museveni’s ONC, Akala and Mehdi Hasan, listen to FDC’s Byesigye, Maajid Nawaz, and Tundu Lissu. Vice versa. Knowledge is your weapon. Naivety is your enemy. If you do not clue yourself up, you will be exposed.

Comrades! Make it your duty to question yourself, and then give your mind the credit it deserves to be able to distil the information you find. If you have a belief, challenge it so that you’re prepared to state it with confidence; whether that’s in a debate, in your own head, in your writing, on social media, or in the voting booth. If you aren’t going to question your beliefs, you are better off not getting involved in politics.

Myself included. If we truly open ourselves to having our minds changed, it will feel scary. It’ll seem as though everything that we associate with who we are is on the verge of crumbling, and it will take a minute to step back and realise that our thoughts and words are not who we are. That they are just that; thoughts, and words. They are often irrelevant, often distasteful, and, as we make our way through our lives and acquire more information, often outrageously flawed.

Our actions may be set in stone, but our beliefs are not. Scrutinise them. Do not accept what you are told. Do not accept what you say. Do not accept what you think. Is the media biased? Absolutely, but you’re biased, too. There is enough information out there that it is no longer an excuse for not being informed. That goes for everyone; me, you, Corbynites, Conservatives; all of us.

Ugandan Delegation with The Hon’ble Governor of Mombasa, H.E. Abdullswamad Sherrif Nassi

Take the vote into your own hands; read, converse, and see your brain, and voice and vote for the weapons that they are. The first way to alleviate human suffering is to realise that the truth has a thousand faces; to step back and re-evaluate yourself the second you notice that you are using someone else’s words or writing off an entire group of voters as worthless.

To not take an interest in politics is to be, in C. Wright Mills’ terms, a “Cheerful Robot,” devoid of all public responsibility and naively smiling as the problems of the world creep up to come and stab you in the back. To vote, talk, and post blindfolded, however, is just as wrong. So figure out where your current ideas came from and do not allow them to control you.

Walk into any voting booth or discussion as a truly independent thinker, armed with knowledge from every side of the spectrum. Talk to 3 or even more intelligent people who have different views of you, look for new facts, and challenge yourself by trying to understand the views you detest. That’s the biggest favour that you can do for the world. Otherwise, do not vote. Do not get involved. Do not participate. You are not a political puppet, and if you are acting like one then our democratic system is better off without you.

If you sort out your thoughts and view your politics with authenticity, you’ll be one step closer to attributing purpose to your life.

If you want to change the world, start with your mind, start with your voice and start with your vote, because those are in your grasp right now. Every moral barbarity that our world has overcome has been left in the past as a result of people questioning the status quo and being critical of their prior held beliefs.

Being politically engaged is about looking to discuss, think and learn. It is not about pointing your finger, but it is about acknowledging that you could be wrong.

This is the first time in years that the future of our world has looked so volatile and unpredictable. We need people like you to take an active role in politics. However, we do not need you to be convinced that you are right and blocked off from the possibility that you aren’t. We need conversation, dialogue, free speech and debate.

If you can encourage those things, starting with yourself, you’re on the road to contributing to this digital age of politics and helping to alleviate suffering around the world

Lukanga Samuel, is a Social Development Enthusiast and an Ambassador of Humanity | Tel: +256 785717379, Email: lukangasamuel55@gmail.com.



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