On 03 March, the University Forum on Governance (UNIFOG) and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) partnered to hold the first POLA-LAB workshop in Lira, Northern Uganda. The platform for political leadership advancement aims to mentor effective young political and community leaders by training them in the areas of political and social mobilisation, advocacy and political economy analysis.
In terms of political participation, Ugandan youth make up almost half of the voting population. However, youth voices have failed to be reflected in policy outcomes, especially youth interest areas like education, health services and employment. Youth rarely come together to collectively pursue common interests, the result of a lack of coordination as well as resources. Although reforms have created a number of leadership spaces for youth to participate in national governance and development, youth continue to face the challenges of shrinking voices, rights and opportunities. Youth are often disconnected to societal and political decision making processes.
Yet organised and meaningful youth engagement is a key to youth development as well as systems change towards improved service delivery. In the previous two years, the University Forum on Governance (UNiFOG) and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung have identified the issue of non-engaging youth leadershop as the paramount barrier to youth participation in political processes. Therefore UNiFOG and KAS have partnered to launch the Political Leadership Advancement Lab (POLA-LAB), an innovative platform aimed at mentoring effective young and emerging leaders in the areas of social mobilisation, advocacy and political economy analysis. The project aspires to build leadership which is connected to the led beyond elections and is able to understand development challenges, to mobilise and lead their constituency towards collective participation in finding solutions for social problems.
The first POLA-LAB workshop was held on 03 March in Lira Town with a group of over 20 young political and community leaders from the areas of media, local government, political parties, civil society, universities and business. The one-day training adopted and interactive and participant-centered approach to dive into the areas of political and social mobilisation, political advocacy and lobbying, as well as political economy analysis.
Ayub Kiranda, UNiFOG programme manager, emphasized the importance of conducting trainings outside of Kampala: as the majority of the country’s youth population lives in rural settings, the context of their political and social participation differs from those of urban youth. In the first session of the workshop participants were introduced to the concept of political and social mobilisation. The importance of understanding one’s community and society as the key to facilitating mobilisation and collective action were discussed. Key conditions to successful mobilisation were identified: 1) Offering viable alternative solutions 2) Action from social and political leaders and 3) Conducive institutional structures.
In a second session, Donnas Ojok, KAS programme manager, underlined the importance of adovocacy and lobbying in facilitating collective action around a topic of interest. He underlined that for any advocacy to be successful, an issue must first be identified, its importance underlined, and key alternative solutions presented. Furthermore, advocacy can take different forms, each of which have its advtanges and disadvantages according tot he political and societal context in which the adovacy takes place.
In a final session, Adventino Banjwa, PhD researcher at the Makerere Institute of Social Research, introducted the participants to political economy analysis, a powerful tool in development work. In order to take action or create effective change on any political or social issue, the context of the issue must first be understood. For example, many foreign development interventions fail to achieve their aims because of a failure to understand both the specific political and economic realities on the ground.
The engaging discussions among participants throughout the workshop reflected the importance of the three key focus areas of POLA-LAB in achieving meaningful change as a young community leader: political and social mobilisation, adovacy, and political economy analysis.