Inclusivity, debate, and political leadership in Africa, By Toyin Akinniyi


Reading Time: 4 mins read

In the past year, two major African regional economic hubs, 




have conducted highly scrutinised elections. Nigeria only recently inaugurated Bola Ahmed Tinubu after a hotly contested electoral process in March. Kenya’s William Samoei Ruto has served for almost a year now. As these administrations settle into leadership, I laud the various successes in their electoral processes: we saw more young people come out in the polls in Nigeria, and more women elected in Kenya.

However, I’m concerned about the polarising narratives which drove both elections, and how this affected the participation, or lack thereof, of key demographics. Thus, two key questions which should seriously be considered as Kenya and Nigeria move on: Are the two countries poised to provide a conducive environment for the civic participation of youth and women, and how did unhealthy information systems affect the polls? 

These elections recorded gains for some historically underrepresented groups.

Young Kenyans

successfully contested for office, including a 24-year-old legislator and a 31-year-old senator. Three individuals living with disabilities were elected.

Three women

were voted into the Kenyan Senate. 30 women were elected as MPs, up from 23 in 2017, and seven governors, up from three in 2017. This shows a small shift to diverse political representation in Kenya.


18 women legislators

were elected across various national representative seats in Nigeria this year. The West African country failed to produce a female governor or President. Nigeria has a lot of work to do to ensure more women are elected into public office. Rwanda and Kenya provide a good example of an effective tool – gender quotas, which are enshrined in the constitution.

All states in Nigeria recorded

less than 40% turnout

at the polls. This is an especially dismal participation, since young people saw the elections as a gateway out of the myriad social and economic problems of the country. They used

social media

to mobilise for participation in the polls, and elected three legislators who are in their 20s – some of the youngest political leaders the country has seen.

These early anecdotal observations demonstrate the power of the youth as a constituency in the future of democratic societies. Beyond the cliché that “the youth are the future of Africa”, what are we doing to tap into this base to build a future that Kenya and Nigeria – and Africa as a whole – can be proud of? I acknowledge Nigeria’s legislative efforts at building diverse political leadership. The

Not Too Young To Run

bill enacted in 2018 lowered the age required for Nigerians to seek political office. With the evident desire of, and interest from young Africans, it’s time to further interrogate how best to reach them. A recent Africa No Filter


shows that narratives on social media and pop culture heavily influence young Africans. It is now up to states, funders, and communicators to invest in continuous research and initiatives geared at better understanding, influencing, and empowering this important demographic to take up leadership, including in civic and political spaces.


As digital platforms allowed youths to mobilise, let’s reckon with the harm caused online during these polls. In both instances, politicians and their supporters weaponised information, thereby creating instances of tension. Nigeria bore the brunt of

negative ethnic and religious political rhetoric

during the campaigns, the elections and post-election periods.


, misogyny, and other

divisive narratives

spread online, and went largely unaddressed by the major tech platforms. Kenya’s charged history with post-election violence, spurred on by misinformation and ethnically divisive politics, did not halt


and tech platforms from tapping into deadly tropes in last year’s elections. Women politicians were particularly

targeted online and offline


It is unacceptable that tech platforms prioritise profit over people’s lives by monetising the spread of lies, hate and abusive content. Kenya and Nigeria’s new leadership must act swiftly to deter these practices by enacting laws that can hold tech platforms to account and truly protect these platforms’ users.

Electoral processes are effective when there is space for debate on the basis of accurate information to aid the decision-making of voters.

independent media plays a central role in democracy. That Kenya and Nigeria have not provided conducive environments for the media to thrive goes against the principles of democracy. There were instances of government

shutting down the media in Nigeria for airing opposition

and dissenting voices. Kenyan

journalists faced attacks

online and offline while covering the campaigns. For these two countries whose media have played critical roles in consolidating their democracies, this should not be so.


Indeed, these elections have evinced the need to be intentional about inclusive participation in public discourses and leadership – especially of the youth, the largest yet most underrepresented group. We need intentional investment in civic education, and we need the media industry to shape these positive narratives.

We need to demonstrate true commitment to values and ideals underpinning democracy, including diversity and inclusive participation, justice and fairness, freedom of expression, independence of the judiciary, and press freedom. We need to protect those who hold power to account, including the media and other civil society organisations. We need to empower more media groups to provide accurate, non-partisan information. We must have better policies and regulations to ensure technology works for, and not against, democracy and its allied processes and institutions.


t is time to build a truly representative political leadership. Governance can no longer be an exclusive club.











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