“The Youth of a Nation are the trustees of posterity.”
Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)
Youth are not only a subject for policy development; youth can and must play a key role in the design, elaboration and implementation of Programs, which anchor on their overall development.
Africa’s robust Youth environment and increasing Youth population makes her the most youthful populated continent in the world. According to the United Nations in 2015; 226 million Youths aged 15-24 years lived in Africa, representing nearly 20% of Africa’s population; thus, making up one-fifth of the world’s Youth population. If one includes all people aged below 35 years, this number increases to a staggering three quarters of Africa’s population. African Youths provide huge social, economic and political capital required to drive socio-political and economic development in the continent and are currently striving to become impact creators.
The emerging global and regional consensus on Youth development clearly underscores the need for Youth to be empowered to take their place as national assets. Since inception and for over a decade of work in Africa, AfriGrowth Foundation has pursued a positive approach to Youth development that applies holistic strategies to the complex set of youth needs. Consequently, the Foundation’s youth-focused programs have been tailored and customized towards building the capacity of young people towards initiating a paradigm shift to position youth as active change agents that can utilize their energy, idealism, and insights to build a progressive society. The Foundation’s programs use ‘mentoring’ as the main vehicle of empowering young people. The Foundation believes that investing in Youths will culminate in placing them on a better pedestal to impact Africa and the world at large.
In 2018, AfriGrowth Foundation took a giant stride in strengthening its approach to Youth development, as it convened the Repositioning Nigerian Youth Summit, which served as a national consortium in which 195 Youth Leaders converged with the intent of sensitizing and mobilizing their expertise in the areas that affect their growth and development in the nation. The major resolution at the end of the Summit was the unanimous decision to spread the tentacles of this enlightenment campaign anchored on changing the current mindset of Youths and reposition them to take their place as national assets and engines of growth beyond Nigeria to other African countries. This resolution birthed the Illuminate Africa Youth Conference.
In line with its continuous investment in Youths, AfriGrowth Foundation successfully convened the Maiden Edition of the Illuminate Africa Youth Conference on Thursday October 29, 2020. The Illuminate Africa Youth Conference, which was implemented as a Virtual Conference, using the online Zoom Webinar Application served as a strategic international forum in which African Youth Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), key stakeholders on Youth Development in the continent and Africans in diaspora converged with the intent of developing the requisite values, and attitudes they need to succeed as vibrant and vision driven assets in building Africa, socially, economically and politically. The first edition of the Conference with the theme- Instituting Pan-African Youth Engagement and Inclusion in Post COVID-19 Africa explored the roles of African Youth CSOs in a post COVID 19 era, especially in the implementation of the African Youth Charter.
This Virtual Conference, which commenced promptly at 2.00pm (Nigerian Time) had in attendance the Honourable Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Mr. Sunday Dare, ably represented by the Permanent Secretary, Mr. Gabriel Aduda. The Honourable Minister of Youth and Sports, Angola was represented by Manuel Júlio Caxito, Director of the International Exchange Office, Angola. Key stakeholders from the Permanent Mission to ECOWAS, West Africa Civil Society Forum, West Africa Civil Society Institute, Nigeria Network of NGOs and All Africa Students Union were equally in attendance, as well as Chief Executive Officers of designated African Youth Civil Society Organizations from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Ethiopia and Ghana. The Conference had an integrated participation of 76 Youths from Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Angola, Egypt, India, Saudi Arabia and the United States.
In her opening speech, Mrs. Dayo Keshi, President and Founder, AfriGrowth Foundation applauded all key stakeholders, resource persons and participants for their attendance and participation in the Conference. She stated that Africa’s increasing Youth population, which makes her the most youthful populated continent, is her greatest asset, as the Youth provide a huge social, economic and political capital required to drive socio-political and economic development. She stated that the time was imminent for key stakeholders, civil society actors and Youths to have an active discourse on the implementation of the Africa Youth Charter, as it was an international legal document which provided Governments, Youths, Civil Society and International Partners with a continental framework that underlines the rights, duties and freedom of Youths and waters grounds for the development of national programs and strategic plans for Youth empowerment. She said that AfriGrowth Foundation affirms that an inter-continental growth can be achieved via improved partnership and synergy between diverse Civil Society Organizations across the continent. As she formally declared the Conference open, she reminded participants that their future rests in the palm of their hands and encouraged them to assert the position that Youth are not the problems to be solved, but problem solvers.
In his welcome address, Mr. Gabriel Aduda, Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports said that the time for the Youths is now; as they are no longer the future, but the present. Youths must be availed the requisite assistance, environment and wherewithal to express themselves and put forth their potentials. He stated that the African Youth Charter is a well-positioned document, which should be taken seriously by all stakeholders of Youth in government and the Civil Society. He said that the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development is fully committed the domestication and implementation of the Charter and stressed the importance of partnership, especially with the Civil Society Sector in its implementation.
The first panel session anchored on the sub-theme- ‘Implementation of the African Youth Charter- The Journey so far and way forward’ was moderated by Amb Joe Keshi, Chairman of the Board, AfriGrowth Foundation and Vice Chairman of the Board, United Bank for Africa Plc. At inception of the panel session, Amb Joe Keshi advised panelists to be objective in their assessment of the implementation of the Africa Youth Charter, especially in relation to the current Action Plan for African Youth Empowerment (APAYE). Mr. Leandre Banon, Program Officer, capacity Development, West Africa Civil Society Institute, in his assessment said that little had been achieved in the West African Region, in respect to the impact of the African Youth Charter, especially in the promotion of Youths rights, development and empowerment. He said that some platforms set up by West African countries to promote and sustain implementation of Charter were currently politicized. He also opined that Youth involvement in the implementation process was lapse and in some countries non-existent.
Mr. Adewale A. Temeleyi, who represented the Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the ECOWAS, stated that Youths are an integral part of the development process. The African Union has taken cognizance of this fact and developed series of policies and action plans, which are to pilot the course of Youth development in the continent with little or no gains for young Africans. He said that key stakeholders in government, regional bodies and civil society are striving to lay incentives for improved implementation of the Charter. He called for a more collaborative rather than independent approach in this regard.
Amb Joe Keshi re-echoed the importance of education, which he said would open doors for Youths and set them on a trajectory that is irreversible. He said government should invest more in education, as in so doing such investments will directly impact the Youths. He advocated for the government to create a more conducive environment for the private sector to grow and expand, as this expansion will lead to an increase in job opportunities for Youths. He canvassed for the opening of the political space for more Youths to participate in governance and advised Youth to commence their leadership climb from the grassroots, in order to have a better understanding of the system and people.
The second panel session, which was premised on the sub-theme- ‘Effective Use of the Digital Space for Youth Engagement’, was moderated by Dr. Noel Akpata, CEO Stratex Pro/Project Termite Action. He alluded to the fact that Africa never lacked credible policies and actions; but erred in leadership to see to the implementation of policies and plans. Dr. Akpata said that the digital space, especially the Social Media has bridged the communication divide amongst Youth and fostered for better collaboration, as Youths are able to organize themselves to campaign against bad leadership, societal ills and anti-human right tendencies and violations of law enforcement agencies in Nigeria. A panelist in this session, Gbenga Sesan, the Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative said that the digital space has continued to create veritable opportunities for young people to be empowered economically. It has equally played a role in helping Youths to organize and mobilize. He emphasized the importance for young people to take responsibility and be involved, using the digital media.
The last panel session was anchored on the sub-theme- ‘Fostering an inclusive Collaboration between African Youth CSOs for improved advocacy on the implementation of the Africa Youth Charter’ and moderated by Mr. Oluseyi Oyebisi, Executive Director, Nigeria Network of NGOs. He requested that panelist review the current implementation status of the Africa Youth Charter in their respective countries and make recommendation for improvement. Mr. Sisay Tarekegn, Executive Director, ESHET Children and Youth Organization, Ethiopia, said that the implementation of the Africa Youth Charter in Ethiopia was below satisfactory. He advocated for increased awareness and publicity of the Africa Youth Charter and other related policies, as that will create the foundation for engagement. Ishmael Roland Kamara, Executive Director, Youth Empowerment for sustainability, Sierra Leone, said that implementation of the Africa Youth Charter will establish a better Africa, not just for the Youth, but everyone. He advocated for the networking of civil society organizations of different African states to synergize and pursue the implementation of the Charter collectively.
Mr. Rotimi Olawale, Executive Director, Youthhub Africa, Nigeria advised Youths to be active citizens and monitor the implementation of policies and programs that have direct impact on their lives. Mr. Kamara Osman Bikal, West Africa Regional Representative, All-African Student Union, Sierra Leone said that there should be improved partnership between government and civil society organizations in mapping out concrete plans that will ensure full implementation of the Africa Youth Charter.
All panel sessions were highly interactive and strategic. As the curtains were drawn on the Conference, Mrs. Dayo Keshi thanked all panelists, stakeholders and resource persons for their laudable inputs. In presenting the resolutions of the Conference, which will constitute the baseline for the next line of action, she stated that the African Youth Charter is indeed a veritable document, which can effectively champion youth engagement, inclusive development and empowerment. She advocated for improved synergy and partnership between civil society organizations, notable regional bodies and stakeholders in government on the implementation of the Charter; as there’s power in collaboration. She stressed the importance for African Youths to be more informed on key policies that play a role in impacting their lives. She encouraged Civil Society organizations to develop more awareness and publicity to Youths in their database on key local and international policies, such as the African Youth Charter and other important policies. Mrs. Dayo Keshi said Civil Society organizations should map out ways that can complement the efforts of the African Union, specifically in advocating for better implementation of the African Youth Charter. In summation, as she thanked all present for their effective participation, she said the AfriGrowth Foundation will remain resolute in building the prospects of African Youths.