Education and progress: How is the East African youth changing the narratives?
Reclaiming the narrative: Youth activism in the East African regionPublished on January 10, 2021, Leonida Odongo (Pambazuka), Photo By: Fahamu
Going through education in an institution of higher learning is often a difficult process. For many students who come from disadvantaged families, they have to juggle side jobs (side hustles) in order to survive. Some are forced to skip classes to run errands and on top of that one is expected to pass exams.
When students get worked up about university administration they resort to vandalism and woe unto you if you are caught up by demonstrating students in the streets. The reasons for the demonstrations vary from seemingly simple things such as power black out in the halls of residence to poor administration response to student welfare or draconian legislations out to stifle student activism.The negative activities of a group of students have brought in the stereotype that students enjoy vandalism or are stone throwers popularly known as ‘watu wa mawe’ in Swahili.
Students many a times go through their academic period without much engagement with the struggles of marginalised and exempted communities. Their lives are structured in a way that many a times prove monotonous. From one dorms to the lecture halls, to hanging out with friends in the middle of the city (Central Business District) of Nairobi, Kampala and Dar-es-Salaam, to finishing lecturers, Continuous Assessments Tests then wait for exams long holidays and then graduation. This routine prevents many students from coming into contact with the realities of ordinary people. And only get to learn about the struggles of the marginalised either on TV or on newspaper headlines.
To address the student-community disconnect, Fahamu Africa with support from Rosa Luxembourg Stiftung have been nurturing university students’ activism and leadership through a project namely Your Voice Matters. The project works with university students across Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. The universities engaged in the project include: University of Nairobi, Makerere University, Kampala International University, Catholic University of Eastern Africa , University of Dar es Salaam, University of Bagamoyo, Kenyatta University. Plans are underway to also collaborate with Technical University of Kenya, Egerton University and Moi University.Through the project, students get to engage in global, regional, national and local forums and this is instrumental in nurturing student activism, advocacy as well as consciousness on various social injustices.
The students engage in essay writing competitions aimed at sharing their views on how to solve societal problems as well as initiate Social Justice Clubs within their learning institutions. Through the social justice clubs formed in universities under Your Voice Matters, students get to hold weekly meeting social justice issues and organic advocacy activities geared towards amplifying issues of marginalised groups such as 100 percent Renewable Energy for all campaign by 350.org , Afrika Vuka – a push for transition for renewable forms of energy,Usawa  festival Women’s day,Anti-femicide demonstration in response to enforced disappearances and rising cases of femicide in the case of Kenya,Zinduka festival among others.
Students also take part in organizing leadership training sessions within their own universities and replicate what they have learnt during leadership and mentorship trainings organised by Fahamu. An example of this is initiatives by students from Makerere University members of Your Voice Matters.In addition students also get opportunities to shape regional agenda through participation in regional forums. An example of this is the Mainstreaming Youth Engagement in Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation aimed organised by Reality of Aid Africa bringing together young people for Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia and Cameroon .Another example is students from Kenyatta University participating in the International Food Safety Conference on issues of food safety and consumer protection.
Through the project young people get to understand what is Pan Africanism and its relevance to young Africans today, leadership and mentorship, movement building, practical skills in carrying out people centered research as well as visiting communities for solidarity engagements. Through engagement in meetings and regional conferences students get to understand what academia can contribute to solving societal problems and how they can utilize their different courses to transform communities. The exposure visits also enables students understand how civil society functions , gain practical experience on advocacy and also understand how art can be utilised to express social injustices in communities.
The project also nurtures young people on leadership and mentorship preparing them for leadership roles in the future. University students part of the project have become more responsible better equipped with knowledge and skills to handle various issues have enhanced knowledge on social justice and are more conscious about injustices.
The Your Voice Matters project is an example of a success story in reclaiming the narrative that young people are troublesome!
 Usawa is a Swahili word for equality
 Zinduka is an annual festival in the East African region that celebrates people to people integration