Young people were the drivers of the Sudanese transitional process that began in April 2019.

How can they now be included in political decision-making? How can they make sure that their voices are heard beyond the streets? This section provides an overview on what research can tell us about the political representation of youth in transitional contexts. We distinguish between four institutions through which youth can achieve political representation.

  1. voting
  2. youth councils
  3. youth wings/ departments of political parties
  4. youth quotas

Voting and youth councils are more indirect in nature, having as their main goal to lobby decision-makers to take youth interests into account. Getting involved with political parties’ youth wings and  promoting an increase of young members of parliament (MPs) through youth quotas imply more direct ways of youth exercising political representation and influence.


While voting is considered the “classical” way of political participation, parties and rulers tend to disregard young voters’ interests. As experiences from transitions in the MENA region after 2011 have shown, an involvement with formal political structures, for example through engagement in political parties or through running for elections as candidates, can offer young people more direct influence on policy outcomes. In the end, if young people exclusively choose civil disobedience as means of political engagement, they will be left out of many decisions.

However, there is a risk of regimes and parties co-opting youth and “tokenize” them, i.e. employing single youth representatives as an alibi to suggest that they care about youth’s political demands.  Each sub-section therefore provides an account of the risks and opportunities of the respective representational institutions. In the Sudanese context, political parties have a long history of trying to co-opt the youth. Both the traditional sectarian parties in opposition, the Democratic Union Party and the Umma Party, and the ruling party until 2018, the National Congress Party, have tried to  recruit youth as members and ‘foot soldiers’, but the parties’ leadership and agenda have remained dominated by the older generations (El-Battahani, 2021).   



Voting in elections can be a powerful tool to influence politics. Even in less democratic countries, voting allows citizens to

  • Have their say in who should represent them
  • Hold those in power accountable
  • Support specific political programs

In the Afrobarometer survey 2019, only 30% of Sudanese youth answered that they had participated in the 2015 general elections. 23% of respondents were excluded from participation because they were too young at the time, and about 20% were not registered as voters. 12% decided not to vote and 6% did not have time to vote.


Q22 – voted in last elections























0=You were not registered to vote, 1=You voted in the elections, 2=You decided not to vote, 3=You could not find the polling station, 4=You were prevented from voting, 5=You did not have time to vote, 6=You did not vote because you could not find your name in the voters’ register, 7=Did not vote for some other reason, 8=You were too young to vote, 9=Don`t Know/Can`t Remember


However, if youth are unable or unwilling to participate in formal or informal political processes, they are unable to hold leaders accountable, and incumbents therefore have no incentive to champion public policies that serve the interests of youth. (Stockemer & Sundström 2018).

In principle, the Sudanese electoral system provides some incentives for the youth to participate in voting: Young Sudanese are entitled to vote already when they become 17 years old, 1 year earlier than in most other countries of the world. Furthermore, Sudan is a federal state allowing citizens to vote for parties and candidates in several elections both on the national and the regional level.


executive elections


legislative elections


national level


President of the Republic of the Sudan


National Assembly


regional level


State Governors


State Assemblies



Voting is thus a channel to influence both national politics (election of the President and the National Assembly) and regional/local politics (election of state governors and state assemblies). Both levels are important for addressing the needs of young Sudanese people.



  • electoral contests may be skewed towards incumbent parties and elites, which may further erode youth’s trust in the democratic process. Ensuring free and fair elections is a challenging task in transitional contexts
  • the voice of the youth may be difficult to express through voting if youth are structurally disadvantaged in the electoral process (e.g. lower registration rates)



  • voting is the easiest way for a group to express satisfaction or dissatisfaction for political parties and representatives and their respective political programs.
  • voting can contribute to building trust into democratic institutions among young generations. This, in turn, is vital to ensure the long-term success of transitional processes (Kwak et al 2020).


Recommendations for Sudan:

  • the voting age at 17 should be kept
  • Youth resistance committees should be actively included in the electoral process, for instance to mobilize young voters and to monitor the elections.


Seleted reading: 

These suggested readings firstly provide some background about the role of voting and elections in new democracies on a more theoretical level. They are followed by reports that relate to the empirical evidence of young people’s voting behaviour in African countries. The third block of reading are development agencies’ handbooks for practical perspectives and tips about how to increase youth’s political participation in democratizing countries.

Tambe, Elvis Bisong (2018). “Who Does Not Vote and Why? Implication for New Democracies”.

Asiamiah, Gildfred, Sadhiska Bhoojedhur, and Ousmane Djiby Sambou (2021). “Africans say governments aren’t doing enough to help youth”. Afrobarometer Dispatch No. 418.

EU and UNDP (2017). “Youth Participation in Electoral Processes. Handbook for Electoral Management Bodies”. 

UN (2021): “Youth 2030. Working with and for young people”. [in Arabic] )

Islamic Development Bank (2019). “Youth Development Strategy 2020-2050”.


Youth councils

A youth council is an entity composed of young people that serves as an advisory or advocacy body to government or donor agencies. Most often, its role is to identify priorities for local and regional youth, craft policies that support these priorities, and contribute to the implementation of these policies. (USAid 2009).

Ideally, youth councils are able to act within or to promote national youth policy strategies. For example, this has been achieved in Mozambique, where the Youth Declaration, created by the Mozambique National Youth Council (MNYC), informs youth policy for the entire country.

Fact box: Youth policies

Youth policies aim to facilitate youth political and civic engagement by

  • prioritizing youth issues across state agencies and policy sectors
  • helping state officials and agencies coordinate policies and programs across sectors
  • encouraging state agencies to allocate financial, human, and material resources to youth policy programs
  • kick-starting youth engagement through an initial policy development process
  • helping governments signal commitment to the values and interests of youth and youth advocates. (CEPPS)







There are numerous examples and types of youth councils across African countries and worldwide. For example, in Canada, MPs use constituency youth councils and advisory boards to enable youth to directly discuss political issues with their MPs. In Zimbabwe, youth councils are seen as the strongest platform through which youth can influence decisions, policies and legislation. Here, youths aged between 16 to 18 years get the opportunity to participate in local governance. The youth council’s governance structure mirrors that of the senior council, but its mandate is restricted to child rights issues (Paradzai et al. 2021).

As research has pointed out, youth councils have the potential to exert lasting effect on both individuals and communities. These effects range from tangible results of council projects (e.g., new latrines, cleaner streets) to more profound behavioural or societal changes (e.g., increased self-esteem, development of youth policies). However, the effectiveness of youth councils in achieving this impact may be hampered by, for instance, lacking institutional relations to decision-makers.



  • Lack of funding
  • Lack of institutionalized relations to (local or national) decision-makers
  • members of youth councils selected by governments may lack representativeness



  • direct consultation and lobbying opportunities towards decision-makers
  • training young people to become politically involved
  • direct impact on important policy decisions, especially on the local level.


Recommendations for Sudan:

  • A legal framework for local government should be considered
  • Youth councils could be created based on existing structures (resistance committees)
  • If youth councils are to be founded, this should happen under a coherent legal framework securing sufficient funding and organizational structures
  • council members should be elected by the respective youth populations
  • joint sessions of youth councils with local councils or national parliament when youth issues are on the agenda


Selected reading:

Youth councils

The USAid report provides a good overview over what youth councils are and which purposes they serve. Furthermore, it contains a wealth of specific examples for youth councils from different African countries. The remaining articles evaluate the impact of youth councils in Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Ireland, thereby providing a good idea about promises and pitfalls of this initiative.

USAid. ‘Youth Councils- An Effective Way to Promote Youth Participation’ (2009)

Paradzai Munyede, Delis Mazambani, and Jakarasi Maja (2021). ‘Enhancing Youth Participation in Local Governance: An Assessment of Urban and Rural Junior Councils in Zimbabwe’. Commonwealth Journal of Local Governance, 28 June 2021, 124–35.

Couzens, Meda, and Koshuma Mtengeti (2012) ‘Creating Space for Child Participation in Local Governance in Tanzania: Save the Children and Children’s Councils’,



Youth wings of political parties

Transitional contexts are often characterized by high levels of disenchantment with formal political institutions among the youth. Political parties are, in general, considered inaccessible and unresponsive to young peoples’ needs and demands (Backeberg and Tholen 2018). Parties’ youth wings have been identified as one potential remedy for the disconnection between youth and politics (CEPPS).

Youth wings are semi-independent organizations tied to a parent political party. Most youth wings are similar in that they establish a minimum and maximum age for membership (e.g., 16–35) and that they can be found across the ideological spectrum of parties.

Political parties in transitional contexts often have an ambivalent attitude towards politically engaged youth activists. On the one hand, parties perceive young people as a force for development and positive change, while on the other hand young people – and especially young political activists – are a potential threat to their own existence (Sika 2016).

Parties in transitional societies may therefore choose different strategies with regards to youth inclusion. As comparative research on youth inclusion in African post-conflict states shows, youth were early identified as a group that should be politically organized in Uganda and Mozambique (Aalen, Muriaas, Orre forthcoming). In contrast, youth were neither represented in political structures nor in party youth wings at the time of transition in Ethiopia. In the three regimes studied, youth wings have had a limited democratizing effect. Although youth were given representation in the government and/or the party, the way youth are organised was primarily an expression of co-optation and control. In Uganda, where youth have been given specific quotas of representation, the elected youth relate to and represent youth constituencies. In Mozambique and Ethiopia, the political youth are party agents more than youth representatives (Aalen, Muriaas, Orre forthcoming).



  • parties may use their youth wings to co-opt youth activists into their structures and prevent them from protesting
  • youth wings may be kept from decision making and thus reproduce young peoples’ political marginalization



  • youth wings can be instrumental in the nomination of young candidates and inclusion of youth issues in party programs.
  • they can offer training to members and help them develop the political awareness
  • youth wings can function as a channel of communication between political parties and civil society (e.g. NGOs working on and with youth), to secure the development of youth policies in a bottom-up-approach


Recommendations for Sudan:

  • youth wings should be included in parties’ decision-making processes, e.g. by professionalizing and officializing inner-party communication and decision-making.
  • youth wings should have their own funding and budget
  • youth wings should offer candidate trainings for young party members to become candidates, campaign managers, spokespeople, and party branch head


Selected Reading:

Youth wings

One important reading concerning the instruments for youth empowerment in transitional contexts is the CEPPS report, which touches upon electoral enfranchisement, youth wings, and quotas. The other suggested readings present experiences from the MENA region and from Sub-Saharan African countries.

Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS) (2019): Raising Their Voices: How effective are pro-youth laws and policies? Download in English or Arabic available here:

Sika, Nadine (2016): The Disguise of Youth Inclusion in Egypt, Download:


Youth quotas

Electoral youth quotas are an increasingly popular policy to foster youth’s political inclusion and representation. Youth quotas reserve a proportion of parliamentary seats or candidate slots on electoral lists for young candidates. Most quotas define young candidates as being below the age of 40 or 35. Their main purpose is to ensure the election of youth into parliaments and governments.

Legislated youth quotas have so far been adopted in seven African states.  Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya were at the forefront of adopting youth quotas; and they all did so in the aftermath of conflict and the following (re-)writing of constitutions. A second important wave of youth quota adoption was triggered by the youth-led uprisings in North Africa in 2011, when Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt all introduced youth quotas in their revisited constitutions (Belschner 2021a).


In general, rationales for adopting youth quotas include

  • Increasing youth representation in elected bodies.
  • Appealing to young voters as a political strategy.
  • Creating electoral systems that help mitigate conflict.

If they succeed in these endeavours mainly depends on how parties and governments implement the quotas. Peru’s 20 percent subnational youth quota has proven to be highly successful in encouraging
a greater number of youth candidates to compete as well as in the actual election of youth candidates. After the youth quota was first implemented in 2006, the number of youth elected increased 60.5 percent (from 1,004 nationwide to 1,643) and has remained steady at this higher rate.  (CEPPS)

In contrast, research on Tunisia has shown that national youth quotas, albeit successful in getting young people elected, so far have failed to provide them with inner-parliamentarian influence (Belschner 2020).



  • as they tend to reserve low shares of list slots or parliamentary seats, youth quotas have so far failed to systematically increase the proportion of young members of parliament.
  • youth quotas may get candidates elected that are unrepresentative of the broader youth population, as they target societal elite groups.
  • youth quotas may fail to secure sustainable political careers for young people, leading to a continuous replacement of young representatives and thereby preventing them to seize political power and influence
  • too strictly designed quotas may hamper small parties’ institutionalization (Belschner 2021b)
  • Youth quotas for political parties might prevent neutral youth from getting


  • when well designed, youth quotas have the potential to increase young peoples’ share in political decision-making bodies
  • youth quotas can make politics more accessible for politically engaged young people and ideally facilitate the start of a sustainable political career also beyond quotas
  • they may also have a symbolic impact in signalling the importance of youth’s political inclusion, thereby potentially increasing young peoples’ participation in voting.

Recommendations for Sudan:

  • In order to be effective, electoral youth quotas should be numerically significant, have enforcement mechanisms in cases of noncompliance, and have list order requirements (CEPPS)
  • introducing youth quotas on the local level can secure young peoples’ direct influence on policies concerning their direct environment and facilitate an earlier start of political careers.


Selected readings

Youth quotas

The IPU and CEPPS reports give a good overview over youth quota regulations, where they are in place, and which designs exist. The research articles analyse processes of youth quota adoption in Tunisia and Morocco and provide some insight into the quotas’ implementation.

Interparliamentary Union (2021): ‘Youth Participation in National Parliaments 2021’, Download:

Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS) (2019): Raising Their Voices: How effective are pro-youth laws and policies? Download in English or Arabic available here:

Belschner, Jana (2021) ‘The Adoption of Youth Quotas after the Arab Uprisings’. Politics, Groups, and Identities 9, no. 1 (2021): 151–69.

De Paredes, Marta, & Desrues, Thierry (2021). Unravelling the adoption of youth quotas in African hybrid regimes: Evidence from Morocco. The Journal of Modern African Studies, 59(1), 41-58. doi:10.1017/S0022278X20000646

Belschner, Jana (2021) ‘Electoral Engineering in New Democracies: Strong Quotas and Weak Parties in Tunisia’. Government and Opposition, 1–18.

Belschner, Jana, and Marta Garcia de Paredes (2021) ‘Hierarchies of Representation: The Re-Distributive Effects of Gender and Youth Quotas’. Representation 57, no. 1 (2021): 1–20.