African youth agenda beyond promises

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By Kiram Tadesse

THE African Union Commission (AUC) on April this year, launched a new continental project dubbed “1 million by 2021 Initiative”.

Convened by the Bureau of the Chairperson and the Department of Human Resources, Science and Technology of the AUC, the initiative aims to create direct opportunities for the development of one million African youth by the year 2021.

The initiative has been designed to reach the youth with opportunities and interventions in the four main areas namely; Employment, Entrepreneurship, Education and Engagement (4Es).

Twelve pathways have also been identified to serve as drivers for the 4Es to facilitate the expansion of opportunities in youth development across the continent.

Despite fears that this initiative may be an empty promise, it however seeks to foster new approaches towards addressing the multifaceted challenges confronting the youth on the continent. The expectation which looks attractive will in a nutshell, embolden various stakeholders to develop creative ideas and help build an ecosystem of efficiencies across the continent in furtherance of youth development.

AUC Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat expressed commitment to meet demands made by the the African youth, from wherever they are.

“For two years, I have visited about 43 countries of the 55 member states of our commission and seen enormous potential of the youth, a dividend we need to exploit to achieve the Africa we want,” he pointed out, admitting that a lot needs to be done.

Mahamat stated, “The African youth has been marginalised, illegally migrated and died.”

Like many other African agendas, this initiative also seeks pledges and support from developmental partners, the private sector, institutions of higher learning, civil societies and those in the Diaspora.

The AU has set its aspirations that in the next decades or so coming years, it will become a strong, united and influential partner on the global stage, making its contribution to human progress, peaceful co-existence and welfare for people-driven development by relying on the potential of women and youth.

The issue of youth engagement, empowerment and development in the continent has become a point of discussion ever since the African Union Youth Charter was adopted in 2006, during the Banjul Summit in the Gambia, which later came into force in 2009. But, that was never enough although the charter is quite an attractive political and legal document like many other papers

Challenges come as how to convert the paper work into practice. As a matter of fact, it took the Union half a century of its history to have a youth envoy. Now, the AUC decided that 35 percent of all its offices would have a youth composition.

In the face of migration

Aside politically driven burdens that could force the youth to leave their countries, the African Union yearns for an economic remedy, which is a top initiative championed by Mahamat, who was once a migrant himself.

Despite the initiative that aims to avert migration woes, which often-depicted Africa as a continent of mass exodus, the point of AU’s relevance for the youth in the continent still comes as quick enquiry.

Indeed, it is a relevant concern of the time as the youth want to see the AU becoming bolder across the continent. Participants at the second Pan-African Youth Forum that gathered around 400 people in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia declared:

“AU is big in Addis Ababa but small in our countries. It has a lot of talks but less rare action on the ground.”

Similar voices concurred that unless something drastic happened, the AU has no relevance in their countries. Others argued that African youth ae not an utopia but a tangible reality. Therefore, to remain relevant, youth in Africa must be part of the campaign, in line with the Chairperson’s vision that they are no longer just the future but the present.

“They are not a demographic liability but an asset to be harnessed for the sustainable development of the continent,” says Professor Sarah Anyang Agbor, AU Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology. 

Borderless Africa

African youth need a borderless Africa yet images of desperate faces on overcrowded boats in the Mediterranean bound for Europe, or those of stranded migrants in transit countries, others chained for slave trade in Libya, were plastered across the media.

Contrary to much global reporting, the majority of Africans do not leave the continent. Although the number of African migrants who have left the continent have increased since 1990; due to a number of factors but intra-regional migration continues to outpace extra-regional migration. According to the International Organization for Migration, between 2015 and 2017, the number of African international migrants living within the region jumped from 16 million to around 19 million. Within the same period, there was only a moderate increase in the number of Africans moving outside the continent, from around 16 million to 17 million.

It seems the AUC is much more concerned with the extra-regional migration of youth who drowned into the sea and lost their lives but the statistics however tell us that is not always the case.

The AU thus has to change the narration and take time to fix persistent challenges within its autonomy by capitalising on exiting positive trends among Regional Economic Communities. The progresses made by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the East African Community (EAC), for instance, need to be harnessed across other regions in order to realise the free movement of persons, which would help as a key tenet to dodge unemployment and lack of ideal entrepreneurial practices. 

The continental organ has to set up proper analysis on the extent to which existing regional communities develop effective policies in response to increasing intra migration, not forgetting extra migration pressures. The commission has to identify the pros and cons that will serve to address millions of youth on the continent. 

AU admits not much has been done to achieve decisions and resolutions African leaders have endorsed. Yet, if the free movement protocol that was adopted in 2018 is signed and brought into force by all member states, there would be significant intra-regional migration where the AU has a broader framework that offers more opportunities than challenges.