By Farha Tahir and Jeremy Ravinsky
On a recent sunny Monday morning, 200 youth leaders from 40 African countries gathered in a conference room at the Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya to discuss how the African Union (AU) could better engage young people in the African political process, creating opportunities for them to support its efforts to promote democracy in the region. Their recommendations have helped guide the creation of the AU’s youth policy.
Building on prior consultations and youth surveys facilitated by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), these young women and men discussed the role of youth in African institutions, programs, and initiatives, in advance of the AU’s High Level Dialogue on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance, which later gathered heads of state from across the continent on October 30 and 31 in Dakar, Senegal. The meeting’s theme was “Silencing the Guns: African Youth Building a Culture of Democracy and Peace in Africa.”
Africa is the ‘youngest’ continent, with a majority of people under 35 years of age. The consultation was part of the African Union’s ongoing efforts to incorporate youth voices into discussions on democracy and peace building.
“The conference was a wonderful opportunity and experience for me,” said Emmy Otim, a participant from Uganda. “The richness of ideas, intellectual discussions, and the openness to share thoughts was very inspiring. The conference re-energized my resolve to continue inspiring youth and reminding them of their potential and abilities to be the change they would like to see.”
The event provided an opportunity for young people to express their opinions and thoughts to their peers, in person and on social media. In three days, participants posted more than 6,500 tweets that engaged more than 3 million users and were seen by over 37 million people, spanning 42 countries on five continents.
The consultation was organized by the African Union with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation (GIZ). Participants focused on issues ranging from education and elections to socio-economic development, gender equality, and Pan-Africanism.
At the end of the consultation, participants drafted a list of recommendations and corresponding proposed actions to bolster the role of youth in Africa’s democratic governance. These included developing a youth mentorship program, organizing regional youth training workshops on how to advocate within the African Union institutions, and incorporating social media to improve communication. The recommendations were taken into consideration by AU officials to help inform the organization’s youth engagement strategy.
“Our leaders should sit and talk with us. We should not merely be consulted on the side,” said Baxolise Dlali, a participant from South Africa. “If our leaders truly understand and recognize the role of youth leadership, they will ensure that they raise other leaders to pass the baton onto.”
Fifteen delegates from the Nairobi consultation attended the High Level Dialogue to present their recommendations and witness the unveiling of the African Governance Architecture’s Youth Engagement Strategy.
The National Democratic Institute has played a central role in the development of the strategy by administering a survey gauging youth perspectives on how to improve democratic governance in Africa and supporting regional consultations in Tanzania and South Africa. The regional meetings engaged young people representing 35 organizations from 15 countries on how to involve youth in the political process. The survey and regional youth consultations both fed into the planning and deliberations in Nairobi.
“It is only through strategic partnerships and alliances that Africa’s youth bulge can be meaningfully harnessed for the consolidation of democratic governance in Africa,” said Ibraheem Sanusi, the youth engagement lead for the African Governance Architecture. “The African Union is ready to build stronger and more sustainable ties with NDI toward the development and implementation of the AGA Youth Engagement Strategy.”
Farha Tahir is a program officer for Southern and East Africa at the National Democratic Institute.
Jeremy Ravinsky is a project assistant for public affairs at the National Democratic Institute.
[Photo courtesy of African Union]