Is Politics for You? Checklist for the Young Aspirant
By Hurford Youth Fellow Ateki Seta Caxton
It is a great privilege to share a few thoughts on Politics, especially about the ways young political aspirants could prepare themselves to effectively run for office. Writing about why and how to start a career in politics having not held political office myself could be quite a challenge. I had to take on this issue because I am a concerned youth who enjoys seeing young people effectively engaging in politics and taking the lead to solve our current challenges. So, instead of trying to set a standard about the rationale and approach to politics, the objective is to share a few thoughts and basic ideas – providing some sort of a checklist – about what may be the best way for any young aspirant to equip themselves as they embark on the political roads.
Before proceeding I would like to talk about the word politics. Etymologically, politics is derived from the Greek word politikos meaning “of, for, or relating to citizens” and involves making common decisions that apply in the same way to all members of a group. The term came to be associated with Aristotle who wrote a book Politics “the affairs of the cities” even though politics itself is as old as the emergence of human communities. It permeates every aspect of life and has been one of the main channels for transformation of human societies.
As important as this may seem, my observation – from experience in Cameroon – is that young people continue to drift away from politics. Some perceive politics and political engagement with great fear and suspicion and remain convinced that politics is a ‘dirty game’ better left in the hands of elderly and wealthy individuals who often approach social issues in an opportunistic, manipulative, or devious way.
It is also true that some youths who try to engage in politics confront a huge load of paternalism, are belittled, patronized, considered apprentices and treated as inadequate. In the process they get discouraged.
So in the deficit of a democratic political culture, lack of enabling space and the ineffectiveness of current politics to adequately transform the living conditions of populations, including creating jobs for a fast-growing youth population, young people become increasingly disengaged. This has led to a vicious cycle: the more young people are disconnected from politics and civic life, the more decisions that affect their future are taken by others. Yet they are the future.
As puzzling as this may sound – while keeping in mind too that leadership is not always synonymous to holding a position – there exist many young people with leadership potential who could make a huge difference to their communities and the world, if they have the space to engage.
So if you (are a youth and) have passion for the greater welfare of humanity and truly believe that your mission is to change the world; if you believe that your calling is to alter the course of human destiny and restore hope in a world stricken by multiple crises, then politics may be the right choice for you. With clarity about what change you seek and the tools you need to do so, you would come to appreciate the necessity and the nobility of healthy political engagement.
In this piece, I propose a few ideas that may help get you set for the political journey – but remember: you are the architect of your narrative and the sovereign master of your own destiny.
- 1. Decide if politics is for you.
The first step to becoming a politician is deciding if politics is for you. You need to answer these quick questions.
- Are you passionate about making decisions and bringing positive change to society?
- Are you comfortable with living a very public life?
- Can you stick to your opinions in the face of opposition?
- Do you have good motives for engaging in politics?
- Can you embrace the outcomes of a political contest?
- Are you prepared for an unstable employment path?
As you reflect on these questions remember that the only motive that can keep politics pure is the motive of doing good for one’s country and its people. The goal in the end is not to win elections. The goal is to change society for better. If your answer to the foregoing questions is “yes”, then politics may be right for you. What should you do then?
- 2. Commit
If you want to be a politician you have to decide 100% from the beginning that you want to be. If you don’t fully commit to politics, you may never succeed in it. “The world’s greatest achievers have been those who have always stayed focused on their goals and have been consistent in their efforts.” Commitment would enable you take the necessary steps to sustain the course. The first among these is…
- 3. Build Your Résumé
Education – With the complex challenges of today’s world, it would be necessary to get a satisfactory level of education to have a clue about important local and global issues and also give your electorate the assurance that you are up to speed with the realities that affect their lives.
Work experience – What else would be a more patent proof of the qualities you have and what you have accomplished than demonstrating your achievements through your work?
Volunteering history – It is important to volunteer for a cause you are passionate about. This would show your potential voters that you care for the collective not just your individual needs.
Leadership experience – familiar with the quote “leadership cannot really be taught, it can only be learned”? Establish a track record of leadership, even the less-known opportunities you had back in time, so once you engage in greater political challenges, you are not seen as callow and out of touch.
Notable accomplishments – strive for any awards, honors, and recognitions.
Get published – express your views about the world, your vision for society and get them published on a serious peer reviewed and respectable space.
These already set you on track to your destination. But to reach there, you need to….
There are several skills that a politician should possess.
Public Speaking: Obviously, since they do a lot of speaking, aspiring politicians should develop their public speaking skills. Here is a good place to start:
Finances: The next is developing skills on managing finances: You would need these skills both during your campaigns and your time in office. Stories about corruption and the mismanagement of funds are not stuff we think only happens to others – what goes around comes around.
Social Skills: You need to develop impeccable social skills: being able to communicate clearly with voters, campaign workers, donors and generally be a team person.
ICT Skills: The world is getting increasingly sophisticated in terms of technological progress. You definitely should master how to use the computer and become familiar with the risks involved using these technologies.
Build debating skills because they would come in handy during the campaign process.
- 5. Solidify your views
Becoming a politician means you stand for something. Let your convictions on those issues be firm. Avoid wavering from one position to another. Be able to defend the values you believe in and the principles and policies you stand for. If not people will lose trust in you.
You should also have a sound moral and ethical code. To lead people, you should strive to be seen as a positive role model always.
- 6. Get things in order
- Finances: Ensure that your finances are stable enough to sustain a huge political run. In order to run for president in Cameroon, be ready to deposit $60000 (about 30 million FCFA) into the State coffers. Getting less than 10% of the votes also means that you may lose the money.
- Age requirement: Although you may have to wait until you are 23 to run for the Council or Parliament, you need to be 35 to run for President and 40 to run for the Senate in Cameroon. These age limits though should not stop you from the necessary preparations that you need to make upfront. You may need to find out the requirements for your country
- Employment: It is important to contact your current employer to let them know you will be running for office and that you may or may not succeed or that you may or may not have to quit your job.
- Inform family: It is very important at this stage to let your family know what you have decided to engage in. Ensure to have close ones to stand by you in tough political times.
- 7. Preliminary Preparations:
Before you even try to run for office there are things to know upfront unless you want to meet some unpleasant surprises.
Study the jurisdiction or area where you plan to run, and the functions of the office. Mastering the Constitution, electoral laws and other legislation is crucial.
Get mentored. If you have a political role model that inspires you, it would be a good idea to follow-up on their actions or even get a chance to meet them to hear, firsthand, their own experiences in politics or running for office.
Understand your electorate more: their political affiliation, the turn out of the population by electoral year, the age breakdown of the electorate, income, education, major employers,
Know the academic profiles of other candidates and their positions on certain issues that you care about, where they went to school, what they do for a living, what their voting record is, how they have made their money, etc
Sound knowledge of the issues that affect your jurisdiction is very crucial unless you enjoy leaving interviews and debates with major injuries. As a candidate you will be asked questions about your views on local and global concerns and you should be ready with satisfactory answers to the questions.
If you plan to make an issue of education, for example, you need to know what is spent per pupil, how many schools are available in the area, school retention rates, test scores, the number of kids who go to school, teaching conditions, graduation rates, pension and salaries, retirement, unemployment rates, migration, and the number and types of jobs available. Most of the voters don’t know this information, but as a candidate you would be expected to.
Read the newspapers, watch TV and listen to the radio. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring the press, bloggers and social media, their importance in politics is growing exponentially.
If you are thinking of running, it is important to draft a preliminary budget including what you plan to spend on specific issues including the media. If you do not have a budget, you do not have a campaign strategy. Imagine that you are about to go on a journey without any idea of what you are going to spend on fuel, food, hotels, emergencies, etc,
Unless you have personal money, you would need to have a fundraising plan! Where is the money you need to spend during campaigns going to come from? If you don’t have an answer, just ask some of the candidates who have been forced to lay off staff or end their campaigns because they ran out of money.
Do an inventory of the press in the area where you plan to run. Know the reporters and get phone numbers, radio stations, TV stations, and convenient spots, talk shows and hosts. If you are not using the press you are wasting a free means to get to your audience.
- 8. Start Small
You need to start out small in politics. You cannot go on straight to becoming President. The best places to start are in local school boards, or with your local party politics, attending their meetings, convetions and making your views known.
Volunteer to work in a campaign at some level, helping mobilize supporters of fundraise for the campaign and the cause, or even observe elections. This would give you some experience with the system of elections in your jurisdiction.
Donating to campaigns is also a good way to get started and get noticed
You may then move on to the next level, contesting local elections and climbing up the ladder from there.
I can assure that there is no straight cut path for engagement and progress in politics and all does not culminate into being elected President.
- 9. Conclusion
I just developed this checklist hoping it might be a great resource to help you understand the stakes involved engaging in politics. To make any great advances, there are many steps along the way. As indicated above, you need to come to a decision if politics is for you, commit to your vision, build your profile, develop necessary skills and bolster your values, research your jurisdiction and issues, and start from the bottom up. As you consider undertaking this journey, remember strong convictions precede great action and the task of a leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been. However to get to this destination, you need to dream of it, be convinced of its possibility, and start the political journey of a thousand miles with the first step. I wish you good luck!