The answer is YES! But does the Mauritian Youth also feel disenfranchised and unprepared to fulfill their political duties? Yes. These are some of the many enlightening points that were brought to light during the first edition of the Youth Political Engagement Conference – an initiative of the U.S Embassy in Mauritius targeted at first-time voters. Here’s what I learned during this two-days workshop which gathered more than a hundred brilliant young Mauritian minds to discuss the significance of youth electoral participation – especially on the eve of the next National Elections.
The Idea that the Youth does not care about Politics is a myth
As people get older, they tend to get more involved in the electoral process as compared to when they were younger. This phenomenon can be observed in fast-growing island nations like ours but also across borders. Clearly, with age and responsibilities comes a better understanding of the impact that voting can have on one’s life. However, higher levels of political illiteracy among the youth – even in modern societies – often translate into lower levels of electoral participation, hence the common impression that young people do not care about voting. Keeping that in mind, lack of electoral involvement should therefore not be confused with lack of political interest on behalf of the youth.
Earlier this week, young vlogger and activist Oliver Thomas announced his running for this year’s elections on social media as an independent candidate. Through his introductory campaign video, Thomas explained why he felt it was crucial for young people to play an active part in the local political scene. He is proof that despite numerous barriers, young Mauritians do, in fact, have an interest in politics that may well be much deeper than what we initially imagined.
Should Politics & History be introduced as academic subjects in Mauritius?
If you want to make pizza, you will want to thoroughly mix ingredients into a dough and then let it rest for a few hours before baking it. The same goes for an exam: If you want to pass with flying colours, you should usually invest quite a lot of time and energy into mentally preparing yourself for such a challenge. So why is it that we expect fresh-out-of-school kids with next to no notion of politics to make politically educated decisions? Why do allow the tough responsibility of the future of our country to rest on their shoulders without guiding them in the process?
Throughout their respective lectures, renowned Historian Jocelyn Chan Low and nationally acclaimed Writer and Former Secretary General of the IOC Jean-Claude de L’Estrac, both highlighted key historical happenings such as the major role played by Tamil and Gujrati merchants in the Mauritian economy or the complex social hierarchy that resulted from inter-racial unions between former slave masters, Indian labourers and freed African descendants after slavery was abolished in the 1830s.
It is therefore fair to say that understanding the nitty-gritty of History combined with the study of Political Science goes a long way as it allows for one to add weight to their political opinion. Moreover, being aware of the cogwheels of our political system can extensively contribute to one’s ability for critical thinking. This can also lead to a paradigm shift into acknowledging the huge contribution made by different ethnic groups to our History – from a perspective other than the usual historically limited “coloniser-colonized” view point.
To ensure a constructive national dialogue, introducing these two key academic subjects at secondary level will ensure that young people are prepared to not only vote once they are of age but also to make sure they feel comfortable to discuss somewhat controversial themes like racial discrimination, ethnocultural differences, social inequalities and political hegemony.
Do you need to adhere to a political party to be a changemaker?
One of the main aims of this conference was to provide first-time voters with the opportunity to learn more about how important it is to vote. This conference further enabled for the young participants together with a prestigious panel of guest speakers to explore ways of being politically active. Evidently, we ended up begging the following question: Are you obliged to join a political party to make a change?
Although many may argue that being in a position where you can contribute to policy making can definitely improve people’s life, we could also say that not everyone is meant to be a politician. And that social and community initiatives at grassroots level can actually have a long-lasting positive impact on societal advancement.
Here are a few ideas we came up with to encourage youth political engagement in Mauritius:
- Look up the nearest community centre and see what you can do for the people in your area
- Do some research about political parties in Mauritius and feel free to join their workshops and forum debates to gain first-hand knowledge about who they are and what they do
- Use your skills to innovate – You’ve probably got loads of ideas that you share with friends and family. Trust your potential and try them out!
- Social Media can be a wonderful tool when used efficiently. Why not use your social handles to interact with others in a constructive manner and/or to initiate social projects that could benefit the youth? Together, let’s say no to the keyboard warrior attitude!
- Educate yourself – How much do you know about your own rights? Did you know that Distinguished Professor of law De Smith made an incredible contribution to the drafting of our constitution and that his ashes lay at the Botanical Garden of Pamplemousses? Or that the choice of date to mark our access to Independence was based on the highly symbolical non-violent protest led by Gandhi in India that also began on the 12th of March in 1930? (These are things we would have probably never learned about had the brilliant Dr. Milan Meetarbhan not thought of mentioning them!)
Click here to learn more about the Constitution of Mauritius!
The Youth Political Engagement Conference is proof that political education is central to the advancement of any society. The event also demonstrated that the Mauritian youth truly is on the move. Funny enough, this generation of rising young leaders does not wear stilettos and suits but rather blue jeans and sneakers!
Note from the author: Many other topics were explored throughout this amazing conference. However, in order to ensure the article is of reasonable/ length, I will be sharing the rest of my experience separately – as we go. Feel free to connect if you have any questions!