Event Reports

Harnessing Youth Energies in Promoting Gender Equality and Good Governance

by Bernard Mukhone

Encouraging university students to eloquently voice their opinion and engage in political participation through debate

ACFODE and KAS continue to encourage youth participation in the governance of their country. Between 4th and 6th October, KAS supported the annual Inter institutional debate competitions held at Nob View Hotel. This year's theme was harnessing youth energies in promoting gender equality good governance. Makerere University was crowned the champions for 2016.

Previously held in 2010-2013, Action for Development (ACFODE), in cooperation with the Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung Uganda, reprised the inter-institutional debate competitions – bringing together more than 50 university students from different parts of Uganda to debate on pressing issues affecting the country’s youth in a three day residential event from 4th – 6th of October. Inspired by the British Parliamentary Debates, the competitive debate approach has proved effective in engaging and mentoring youth into discussions on gender, participation, democracy and good governance and the importance of youth participation.

In recognition of the vital role that the youth plays in shaping the future of the nation, particularly in promoting good governance and gender equality, the participation of youth (both female and male) in democracy and governance processes is crucial for sustainable political development of Uganda. The influence of the youth in political decision making in practice is still very low; they have not been able to effectively engage and influence the national political and policy agenda to their advantage. Enabling youth to articulate and voice their opinions effectively through debate therefore is a tool to empower them for meaningful political participation.

The event was organised and fully financed by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) Uganda and South Sudan in partnership with Action For Development (ACFODE) and targeted 100 participants (comprising 9 debating teams), selected from universities across the country: Kabale University, Uganda Martyrs University, Kampala International University, Makerere University, Islamic University of Uganda, Kyambogo University, IUIU University of Mbale, Gulu University and Uganda Christian University.

The debate competitions were intended to encourage the youth to take up positions of influence and decision making both in their institutions and in mainstream politics, to strengthen the formation of a critical mass of youth advocates for gender equality and enhance the students’ skills in research, argumentation and analytical thinking. Moreover, the debate competition raised the students’ awareness about the role of political participation in successful nation-building and provided a platform for sharing experiences and opinions on matters that affect youth nationally.

The event started with an introductory round of all participants, judges and staff members of ACFODE and KAS. The round of introductions created a pleasant and personal working environment for the event. Daisy Yossa, the ACFODE Programme Officer commenced the event by introducing the participants to the theme of the tournament: Youth as a vehicle for promoting Gender Equality, Democracy and Good Governance. In an interactive talk, she encouraged the students to think about their personal opportunities for meaningful political engagement and emphasized that “in every sphere where you exist, there is an opportunity for you to make a difference – no matter if you are a poet, a singer, a journalist, or a politician”. Moreover, Daisy Yossa advised the students to keep on thinking critically during debates while listening carefully to the other, because “there is no universal truth”. By approaching each other through debate, you would come closer to the truth than before.

After Daisy’s inspiring introductory speech, Josia Adiema, who was also moderating the event during the following two days, briefed the participants as well as the judges on British Parliamentary (BP) debating and the rules of procedure, guiding them to the first debate round. The 16 groups (each consisting of two participants) were divided into four debating rounds, assigned to different rooms. Each round, in accordance with BP debating rules, consisted of 4 teams: one representing the opening government, one the opening opposition, one the closing government, and one the closing opposition. In this format, the different rounds debated on their first motion: “this house wants to censor the internet”. After a short phase of preparation, the teams entered into lively discussions. While the government side stressed the dangers of the internet, including cyber terrorism, pornography or identity theft, and the resulting need for censoring, the opposition side argued that the internet is not only a very convenient, but also an essential medium for information, particularly for the many remote communities without access to newspapers or other media.

After lunch, the teams engaged in their second round of debate, this time debating the motion: “this house wants to enact a mandatory retirement age for all elected officials”. The debate on this motion mainly evolved around the benefits of experience and skills versus the possibilities for youth inclusion and job creation, if elder officials are being forced into retirement. During the afternoon, the third round of debate dealt with the motion: “this house believes in the women’s right to choose”. As this motion triggered not a policy- but a value-discussion, the debate was particularly lively and controversial. While the government side argued that only women can decide on women’s issues on a well-founded manner, the opposition stressed the equality of men and women, which should also be reflected in joint decision-making.

Every round of debate was followed by detailed feedback of the judges. They reminded the students to be consistent in their argumentation lines and stick to their speakers roles and encouraged them to create more distinct or provocative standpoints to differentiate themselves from other debaters. The first day was concluded by Josia Adiema, who reflected on the previous hours and asked participants as well as judges to elaborate on their experiences.

The second day of the inter-institutional debate began with the fourth round of debate, in which all 16 teams participated. The motion for this discussion was: “this house believes that repression of civil rights justifies violent action”. The government’s main argument was the failure of non-violent measures to effectively tackle crimes and other situations in which civil rights of citizens are being disregarded. However, the opposition argued that violence can never create peace, and that one person’s rights may not interfere with another person’s rights of freedom from repression.

After this last general round, the judges presented a mock debate to the students to draw their attention to prevailing mistakes and more effective argumentation strategies. From the 16 teams, 8 were announced to get on to the semi-finals, which took place during mid-day. The motion for the semi-finals was again a very controversial one: “this house believes that gender quotas in parliament have reduced its effectiveness”. While the government noticed that MPs should be hired solely based on merit, not based on gender, the other team opposed this statement by putting emphasis on the importance of democratic representation of all societal groups in parliament.

The closing ceremony was held in a festive setting in the hotel gardens during early evening. Different alumni debaters and judges came forward and explained in how far debating has contributed to their personal and professional development. For Josia Adiema, student debating has laid the foundation for his career in the Kenyan National Debate Council. Other alumni gave touching records of how ACFODE debates have empowered them in numerous ways. Being able to eloquently articulate and voice their opinions opened up doors for the debaters, including employment opportunities they would otherwise not have been able to access. For some, debating even provided the impetus to take up careers as politicians.

After these personal insights, the final debate was held in the presence of all university students, judges, organizers, alumni debaters and staff members of KAS and ACFODE, including Ms. Regina Bafaki, Executive Director of ACFODE, Mr. Mathias Kamp, Country Representative of KAS Uganda, and Ms. Miriam Fischer, Desk Officer of KAS Headquarters Berlin. The motion for the final debate brought a previous discussion back on the table: should women have the right to choose? All eight debaters showed extraordinary performances of sound reasoning and eloquent language, which made the choice hard for the judges.

While the judges were discussing, some of the first-time-debaters gave insights about their experiences at this ACFODE event. Even those who did not make it to the semi-finals assured the audience that the debate has been enriching for them, exposing them to new experiences, new friends, new skills, and new self-confidence – “don’t declare yourself as a loser when you have gained so much for your life”. According to the participants, debate has taught them tolerance – tolerance of other opinions and of the fact that you might not always be right.

Subsequently, the winners of the event were announced, stemming from Makerere University in Kampala, and certificates as well as presents were handed over. After concluding speeches by Regina Bafaki and Miriam Fischer, encouraging the participants to utilize their newly gained skills both on personal and professional level, the event evolved into a sociable evening with continuous debates.

There was high interest and commitment from the participants during all sessions. The students put a lot of effort into preparing their speeches and were actively engaged during all debates. The feedback of the judges was taken attentively by the participants and from round to round, improvements in the students’ performances could be observed.

The activity increased the communicating and debating skills of the participants as well as their understanding and appreciation of political discourse. The event also offered the university students the opportunity to build valuable networks and to practice tolerance and critical thinking. Not only the organizers, but also alumni – and first-time-debaters indicated that the inter-institutional debate was a high value workshop that should be replicated across the country if resources were available.

Most participants left the debate highly motivated to utilize their newly gained skills in future debates, but also in their communities, families, universities, jobs and – possibly – in a future political career.

Report compiled by: Leonie Staas

ACFODE Debates v_2
ACFODE Debates v_4
ACFODE Debates v_9
ACFODE Debates v_5