Incorporating Africa’s youth into the AU and UN developmental goals
This article is a part of a series on youth innovation during COVID-19 developed by the African Centre for the Study of the US at Wits University, the Youth Bridge Trust, and the Africa Portal.
frica’s youth are confronted with an increasingly complex socio-economic and political context which is hindering their development. Youth are facing extensive poverty, limited access to education, lack of employment opportunities, limited benefits from globalisation, water scarcity, peace and security challenges, violent extremism, sexual violence, corruption, and forced migration, to name just a few. In the spirit of ‘never letting a crisis go to waste’, during this Covid-19 pandemic, it is worthwhile to revisit the topic of African youth’s contributions to continental and global development goals, as articulated in the AU Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the 2020 outlook for most African youth is bleak. Youth in the informal sector have been particularly hard hit, and for those in the formal sector, especially in wholesale and retail trade, hotels, bars and restaurants, the downturn in economic activity means that most of the youth are potentially the first ones to be laid off. Social security relief measures provided by African countries cannot sufficiently cushion the impact of the pandemic. Nonetheless, during these difficult times, African youth development stakeholders have an opportunity to rethink and reset youth’s participation and contribution to development.
What Agenda 2063 and the UN SDGs say about the youth
It is crucial to note that Agenda 2063 and the UN SDGs have well laid out implementation programmes and initiatives, many of which are premised on central government leadership and control. The SDGs have been integrated in most development plans of governments across the continent, while the same is not entirely true for Agenda 2063, although at the continental level, there exists the First Ten-Year Implementation Plan for Agenda 2063 complete with flagship projects. However, if one considers the congruence between the SDGs and the Agenda 2063 of almost 90%, it means that implementing the SDGs is akin to implementing Agenda 2063.
The UN has made it clear that young people are partners in the implementation of the SDGs. Information on UN websites shows that young people were actively involved in the development of SDGs and continue to be engaged in the frameworks and processes that support its implementation, follow-up and review at the global level. However, it appears that African youth have largely been left behind when it comes to the implementation, follow up and review of these goals across the continent.
Opportunities for engagement with Africa’s youth
Outside the international development sector and the government sector, few youths are aware that world leaders have come to a historic, far-reaching agreement to improve the lives of people and the planet by 2030 as well as aspiring for a better continent by 2063. If both Agenda 2063 and SDGs are adequately disseminated to African young people in their languages and without the international development jargonistic terms, surely African young people can be partners in communicating the development agenda to their communities at the local level, as well as across countries and regions.
Ownership of the SDGs by African youth is one of the low hanging fruits that stakeholders can utilise in harnessing meaningful participation by young people. One could recommend an increase in partnership between UN agencies and youth led NGOs and grassroot activists, for example. African governments could also play a role through increased budgeting and national sensitisation of the people. Importantly as recommended by the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) bi-annual Africa Governance Report, African governments can align national planning and budgeting with the SDGs. Budgets for youth could incorporate the SDGs and youth specific actions towards their attainment.
"Ownership of the SDGs by African youth is one of the low hanging fruits that stakeholders can utilise in harnessing meaningful participation by young people."
The monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of the SDGs on the African continent has also been slow. As of 2017, the APRM, upon receiving its expanded mandate of monitoring Agenda 2063 and the SDGs, has aided African countries in developing their Voluntary National Reviews (VNR) and presenting them to the UN High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development.
However, actions and progress of the youth in contributing to the SDGs are not given focus in the VNRs. This is a gap and an opportunity for youth led organisations to harness.
In Agenda 2063’s Aspiration 6, youth are mentioned as the cornerstone of the plan’s achievement. Reassuringly, the AU over the past decade has responded by initiating numerous flagship programmes aimed at empowering the youth and bringing the continental organisation’s ideals closer to this important demographic. The establishment of the Office of the AU Youth Envoy and the Advisory Council attests to this. Another noteworthy initiative is the ‘1 Million By 2021’ aimed at concretely reaching millions of African youth from across the continent with opportunities and interventions in the key areas of Employment, Entrepreneurship, Education and Engagement (4Es). These initiatives are geared to accelerate socio-economic development on the continent.
The centrality of youth in Africa’s main development agenda further reinforces the ideals enshrined in the African Youth Charter (AYC) that demands youth empowerment from African governments but equally requires youth to take responsibility for their own development.
Since the launch of Agenda 2063, African young people have voiced out their concerns regarding the lack of their inclusion in decision-making platforms and lack of funding for their projects. Platforms such as YouthConnekt and the African Governance Architecture (AGA) Consultative Series have been useful in youth engagement and sharing of experiences, best practices and peer learning in advancing Africa’s development.
The post- pandemic era is an opportunity for policy makers and stakeholders involved in implementing programmes aligned with the 12 Key Flagship Agenda 2063’s projects with youth development. For instance, the recently launched Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) could be a starting point. Youth will be beneficiaries of the free movement of goods and services, and by extension, the free movement of people through the implementation of the AfCFTA flagship project.
In both the implementation of SDGs and Agenda 2063, the youth’s critical thinking ability should be leveraged. The advantage of youth is their ability to approach problems and solutions differently from the accepted approaches to development. Some of the ideas being pursued in Agenda 2063 and the SDGs have been around for many years, periodically repackaged and renamed. Youth can identify and challenge entrenched norms and ideals that exclude them in socio-economic endeavours as well as challenge existing power structures.
If the internet accessibility and high cost challenge is resolved one can only imagine the improved African youth contributions towards the aspirations of SDGs and Agenda 2063. The 4th Industrial Revolution is yet another good opportunity for African countries to enhance their youth participation in ongoing development blueprints. Given that approximately 60% of African people are not connected to the internet, access to affordable and reliable internet will be a game changer in this regard.
In this Covid-19 global pandemic that is altering the economic and social landscapes of African countries, the youth have proved to be reliable partners in defeating the pandemic. Young people’s role in the effective implementation of Agenda 2063 and SDGs need attention more than ever. The pandemic has reminded us that activists on the ground, policy makers, the government, and private sector need to combine efforts and refrain from working in silos.
The pandemic should be a reminder to African governments, the private sector, international development agencies and youth development stakeholders that Africa is abundantly blessed with a youthful population that can leapfrog Africa’s development. Extensive work is needed now to make African youth the engine that drives Africa’s development. More actions as opposed to policy pronouncements is needed. The current political commitment from all actors regarding youth development needs to be supported by funding and improved follow up actions and reporting. Youth development stakeholders should be reminded that youth contributions to SDGs and Agenda 2063 present an opportunity for Africa.
The opinions expressed in these article(s) are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of SAIIA or CIGI.