Instilling a Culture of Civic Engagement among Congolese Youth

September 4, 2019

In December 2018, Aminata Namasia became the youngest elected Member of Parliament in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  In this youthful country, where nearly half of the population is below the age of 15, the election of 26-year-old Namasia reflects a growing desire among Congolese youth to engage meaningfully in the political and civic arenas.  Youth movements such as La Lucha reinforce this notion, demonstrating that civic engagement – when properly mobilized – serves as a catalyst for change.

Yet, these examples are a deviation from the norm in the DRC, where youth are often excluded from local decision-making structures.  In the eastern districts of Kinshasa, manipulation and victimization by political elites has led to frustration and disillusionment.  Youth regularly face election-related violence, including the threat of deadly protests.

“I find the Momekano Contest very useful because it allowed us young people to exchange, to know each other, to break walls and preconceptions. My school, for example, is Kimbangist and we never had such an opportunity to interact with schools of different faiths to know them better. And this contest was the opportunity for me to discover students of a Catholic school and compete with them. Beyond the knowledge we gained on democracy and citizen participation, Momekano broke down the artificial borders we have erected between us.” – Isabelle Mwilo, Contestant from Lycée Diasiwa

The Young Democrats Contest, Momekano ya Demokrasia mpe Kimia, was launched in 2017 in eastern Kinshasa as part of Counterpart International’s DRL-funded Promoting Increased Civic Engagement in the Lead-up to Elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (PRICE).  A key component of this programming is to prevent election-related violence through targeted programming for youth. The contest aims to promote peaceful participation of Congolese youth in the democratic process and to instill a culture of civic engagement among first-time voters. Modelled after the French game show Question Pour un Champion, the Young Democrats Contest brings together secondary school students representing public, private, and faith-based institutions to answer questions on a broad range of topics related to the Congolese electoral system and avenues for peaceful conduct during elections.

During each round, Counterpart convened competitors from eight schools to answer questions in front of their peers and a jury composed of three young people with in-depth knowledge on topics related to democracy and peace. Teams with the highest scores advanced to the next round.  During the grand finale of the competition, in front of a crowd of 400 supporters, all-girls secondary school Lycée Mpiko in the commune of Lemba outmaneuvered Industrial Technical Institute Rivière in the commune of Limete to win the inaugural Youth Democrats Contest. Highlights of the competition were re-broadcast across Kinshasa by Radio B-One.

Building on the success and acclaim of Momekano ya Demokrasia mpe Kimia in eastern Kinshasa, Counterpart held a second Momekano contest, expanding programming in Kinshasa to Mbuji Mayi in Kasai Oriental (Diteta Bua Ditalala Ne Mungalata, in Tshiluba) and Goma in Nord Kivu (Mchezo ya Mashindano ya Demokrasia kwa Amani in Swahili). Twenty-four new schools were added to the competition roster. Indeed, the contest was opened in each target area to eight schools, which competed in two waves at the provincial level.

Institut Diasiwa in Kinshasa, Institut Mont Carmel in Goma, and Institut Dibue Dia Buakane in Mbuji Mayi were distinguished as finalists and competed against Saint Theophile Institute in Kinshasa, Zanner Institute in Goma, and Ecole Secondaire Générale de la Kanshi (ESGTK) in Mbuji Mayi.

In July 2019, Institut Dibue Dia Buakane in Mbuji Mayi was declared champion of the grand finale alongside the two other semi-finalists: Diasiwa Institute in Kinshasa and Zanner Institute in Goma, North Kivu. The competition was recorded and broadcast on B-One TV and Radio Top Congo reaching approximately 400,000 people in Kinshasa.

The success of the Young Democrats Contest cannot be overstated. As Counterpart’s Deputy Chief of Party Pierre Sossou explains: “The ever-increasing interest of the students and their teachers in absorbing the content of the civic education guide Ma Patrie is a convincing testimony that the Young Democrats Contest is an effective way to improve not only young people’s knowledge about their homeland, but also their participation in the electoral and democratic process in their country.”  For at-risk youth in communities in Kinshasa, Mbuji Mayi, and Goma, Counterpart’s Young Democrats Contest has provided an unparalleled opportunity to meaningfully engage in the advancement of democracy in their local communities.

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