Around the world, we work alongside local partners to boost their capacity to engage in a more inclusive democratic process. For example, CEPPS works with the Tanzania Bora Initiative, a youth-led organization that advances youth participation in the governing process.
Find Ismail Biro’s spotlight video on YouTube Below!
My name is Ismail Biro and I am the Deputy Executive Director at the Tanzania Bora Initiative (TBI). TBI is a youth-led development organization that champions youth agency and leadership by engaging them in tackling community challenges. For TBI, youth are both partners and beneficiaries and we focus on: advancing gender equality; promoting youth voices; creating youth-opportunities; and recognizing youth leadership. Founded in 2015, the initiative draws inspiration from the vision of an engaged, accountable, and responsible society, where every citizen, including youth, has a responsibility and a role to play in bringing about sustainable development and emphasizing accountability by leaders at all levels. The term “bora” in our organization’s name is a Swahili word that means “better” and guides the Initiative’s goal of contributing to building a peaceful and democratic society, which embraces and upholds better principles of democracy, accountability, human rights, participation, and equality of all people.
While there have been notable achievements by the current government in Tanzania, including efforts to clamp down on corruption, improve public administration, and manage public resources for improved social outcomes, there are still few opportunities for youth to participate in civic and political processes and to design interventions that address their concerns. The delay in the operationalization of the National Youth Council as a platform for expressing and promoting the youth agenda has minimized youth engagement in civic and governance spaces. While there have been growing efforts by the government and other stakeholders to increase civic education for youth through media (mainstream and online) and offline platforms, the concerns regarding lack of youth engagement in civic and governance processes are coupled with negative perceptions of youth and low levels of civic education among them. More recently, government and political parties are creating more opportunities for youth political leadership. For example, there are increasing appointments of youth as District Commissioners, District Administration Secretaries, Regional Commissioners, Ministers and Members of Parliament, etc. However, there are still barriers that shape young people’s experience with traditional political and governance processes. For example, the technical language of laws is often inaccessible and can make it difficult for youth to see the relevance to their lives and ways to engage with the system. Additionally, social hierarchies and party politics at the village, ward, district, municipal and constituency levels often hijack the concerns and demands of Tanzanian youth, who are often labeled as ‘opposition’ or ‘troublemakers’, which negatively impact potential collaboration and constructive engagement in the civic processes.
TBI recognizes that meaningful democracy requires the full and active participation of young people in democratic processes at the local, national, regional and international levels. We design and run both offline and media-based methodologies that offer important opportunities for civic engagement and education about governance. We also provide constructive spaces that strengthen young people’s sense of social responsibility and develop their communication capacities, negotiating skills and ability to resolve their civic and political dissatisfaction through peaceful means and critical thinking. Our approach maximizes dialogue and information exchange between the government and relevant stakeholders to build a society that is informed of civic rights and duties, creating a shared responsibility to address young people’s dwindling interest in formal political activities, including voting and party membership, while also addressing disenchantment with politicians, policies and the law-making processes.
As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in Tanzania, social distancing measures disrupted livelihoods and civic participation, leading the majority of the youth to both financial struggle and lower civic participation. Many of the most marginalized populations, such as youth and persons with disabilities, that work in civic spaces were also affected because they could not engage in in-person meetings and workshops aimed at advocating for increased youth participation in ongoing civic and democratic processes in Tanzania. While some of these initiatives were moved online, some young people, especially those from low-income communities and those with unstable internet connections, were excluded. Since the government declared its intention to carry on with the 2020 general elections despite the outbreak, our organization responded by creating more media content, including television shows and public services announcements, that focused on civic education and COVID-19 awareness to demonstrate to youth appropriate safety measures for the 2020 general elections. The content was broadcasted on national television and social media. TBI also continued with some in-person meetings, convening for civic activities such as voter education with TBI youth champions, training and mentorship of the youth candidates for the 2020 general elections, and the launch of the 2020 Tanzania Youth Manifesto. Our team ensured that these sessions were done in small groups and that the venues secured for these events were COVID-19 responsive by requiring temperature checking, physical distancing, and the distribution of face masks and hand sanitizer.
Our learning in the past has been that civic and political work without the participation of young women is meaningless. Inclusion and effective participation go hand in hand; therefore, we combine the two components to identify beneficiaries and incorporate specific inclusion targets in our work. Some of the notable examples are the number of women recruited and engaged in the creation of the Tanzania Youth Manifesto, training and supporting youth candidates, provision of the voters’ education and election observations during the 2020 general elections. For each component, there were also specific messages and dialogues crafted and utilized to advocate for women’s increased participation in running for offices and voting during the 2020 general elections. Our team believes that if gender equality in terms of access, capacity-building opportunities, and potential for empowerment and effective engagement are explicitly identified and addressed, then women (who are a majority of the Tanzanian population) can be a powerful catalyst for political and social empowerment and in the promotion of gender equality in governance and democratic processes in Tanzania.