I loved to travel,” Patou Ibrahim says, recalling her adventures as a child through Yaounde.
“And wherever we went, I would ask questions of the driver. I loved discovering new people and new cultures.”
Patou, a 2019 Mandela Washington Fellow and foreign affairs officer in the Ministry of External Relations in Cameroon, is advocating for her state on a global stage and encouraging young adults from across the country to bring governance issues to light.
“The youth in Cameroon do not believe that they can have an impact in politics,” Patou says. “They see politics for other people: people with money and connections. They don’t believe that they can change their communities.”
Patou observes a similar dispassion at the ballot box, where young adults, as she explains, don’t see themselves in the political process. As a result, they are hesitant even to register in local or general elections.
“A lot of youth don’t register and don’t get involved early enough in the process because they don’t think their vote will make a difference,” Patou says.
To counter this, Patou holds roundtables with community members across the state to better address their needs and to hold leaders to account.
“At these talks, we ask young adults: What do you want to see in your communities? How can you achieve that? How can you make an impact in your community?”
Equally important, Patou emphasizes, is partnering with influential young leaders to ensure that they are encouraging their peers to get engaged at a civic level.
“We rely on opinion leaders to share our message, as they are the most engaged in their communities; they can connect with others and advocate for a better position for youth.”
As Patou sees it, “the youth are the future” and it’s up to young adults across the state to take responsibility for the future of Cameroon.
“Being involved means better jobs, better health and better resources,” Patou adds.
“If the youth are not involved, policymakers will forget about them. It’s crucial that they influence the decision-making process today.”
For Patou, holding leaders to account can be trying, but the benefits of advocating for young leaders across the country, as she explains, is well worth the costs.
“It requires a lot of commitment, but we are part of politics. And leadership isn’t about being up-front, it is also about taking a step back and helping others to lead.”
“Leadership takes empathy: to feel what others feel and to stand in their shoes,” Patou says.
“When you stand in their shoes, you can understand what they’re going through, and if you can understand what they’re going through, you can work with them.”