Democracy in Africa: Renewing the vision
Report on the Pan African Youth Leadership Forum
Onyeka Obasi (2007-10-24)
Onyeka Obasi believes it is up to Africa’s youth to “revive the vision” of the founding fathers of Africa’s Independence – nation building, development and democracy. In this article she assesses the recent PAYLF held in Accra in June this year.
Can Africa survive today with its present leadership? Notably, there has been a dramatic shift in the value system since 1970. Looking at what democracy means in Africa today and tomorrow, one cannot help but think about the dreams of the founding fathers of this great continent. When the Organization of Africa Unity (OAU) was established, African leadership was committed to nation building. Therefore, the future of Africa will be determined by present policy formulation and agenda setting. What has been lacking from development agendas in the African context has been a systematic and unified approach to tackling the continent's challenges. Development goals often have short-sighted projections and do not conceptualize long term plans for the continent's future. A systematic and long term plan for Africa is absolutely essential for the future and the mobilization of Africa's youth is imperative to its inception and execution. It is left for the African Youth to revive that vision, bearing in mind that democracy is crucial for the economy of the continent. Key to achieving this is working towards gaining recognition in the important channels of decision making through organizing and proactive involvement. Enabling youth involvement in African political discourse must entail the appropriate training and education.
It was with this in mind that the first Pan African Youth Leadership Forum (PAYLF) was convened. The week-long, international event, held in Accra from June 18-25, 2007 brought together a diverse group of some of the continent’s committed young leaders and afforded them the unique opportunity to offer their expertise in addressing key issues relevant to the youth, democracy, and development on the continent. The international forum was organized by Friends of Africa International (FAI), an international non profit organization dedicated to promoting social justice, human rights, democracy and good governance in Africa.
During the week-long interactive debates and dialogues with key stakeholders and resource persons, the youth delegates in attendance demonstrated deep and insightful perspectives on youth issues, while offering innovative insights on best practices for promoting democracy and development. The forum concluded with the drafting of a comprehensive action plan which articulates the vision of the youth delegates of the PAYLF and which will guide the future activities of the youth network that was established over the course of the deliberations.
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* Onyeka Obasi is President, Friends of Africa International
Her Excellency, President Mary Robinson (former President of Ireland, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and currently President, Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative), gave the opening address and set the tone for the week’s deliberations in a presentation titled, “Realizing Human Rights in Africa. The Commitment of Youth is Essential”.
Delegates noted with concern that Africa was already experiencing the effects of global warming significantly more than her counterparts in the West despite not being responsible for most of the carbon emissions. It is therefore necessary for Africa to be at the center of talks on climate change since there is a justice element to global warming that is not being dealt with sufficiently on the international level. This has to go hand in hand with pursuing sustainable development that drew African countries away from overdependence on natural resources. The latter will be a challenging feat for nations emerging from conflict.
It was also asserted that there could not be substantial dialogue on human rights without discussing the availability of jobs and a living wage for the youth, the empowerment of women (especially adolescent girls), HIV/AIDS, access to healthcare, corporate social responsibility, and the implementation of democratic values. Of special concern was the institutionalized drain of skilled health personnel to the West, an ongoing phenomenon which has worsened the state of health care throughout Africa. There is need to think deeply about this and other human rights aspects of globalization. It was agreed in the end that coherence, cohesion and sustainability are needed in accelerating the achievement of the MDGs in African countries. President Mary Robinson ended the session with a final charge to the PAYLF participants “be bold, be determined, Africa needs your leadership.”
In a subsequent workshop headed by Mohammed Monneib Genedy, chair of the Arab Human Rights Organization, the floor was opened for delegates to contribute by communicating the main abuses faced by youth in the areas of political, economic, civil, social, and cultural rights in their respective countries. It was agreed that there is need to fight on all these fronts since all these dimensions of human rights are equal. It was also asserted that in order to affect positive change, young people must understand human rights legislation in their respective constituencies and how to access relevant institutions and organizations.
Perhaps the most discussed document throughout the forum was the African Youth Charter (AYC) which was developed in line with the African Union Commission 2004-2007 Strategic plan. The forum was pleased to host Dr. Raymonde Agossou (Head of Human Resources and Youth at the African Union) who presented the delegates with a thorough presentation on the provisions of the AYC. The charter was acknowledged by all as a major milestone of unprecedented importance to the cause of African Youth. There is need to ensure requisite signatures and ensure its ratification and implementation across the continent as an integral part of improving the lives of young Africans. Having this in mind, the PAYLF delegates deliberated on best practices and strategic tools to employ in making policy makers across the continent adopt the document into law by the end of 2007. One of the popularization strategies suggested by the delegates was that the charter be used as a reference document in the formulation of national youth policies.
Heavy debate ensued during lectures presented by Professor Mzobz Mboya (NEPAD advisor on Training, Education and Youth) on the agenda and programming of NEPAD. While the guiding principles of NEPAD were generally found to be agreeable by participants, especially those addressing the need to propagate an African vision of development that is largely funded and implemented by Africans, there were many criticisms concerning the discrepancies between the vision of NEPAD and its practices on the ground. Prof. Mboya echoed the concerns of the participants admitting that NEPAD’s largest challenge has been its failure to connect with the people and adequately represent their interests, especially those of youth. Subsequently, delegates engaged in a dialogue on how young people can be involved in NEPAD’s initiatives and take advantage of its resource base to bring about and implement youth-centered development endeavours.
In presenting opinions and expertise on what the vision of youth development issues must be, empowering youth in conflict and post conflict zones was another recurring theme that placed high on the PAYLF agenda. A break out session was held entitled, “Armed Conflicts in Africa: The Role of Youth as Change Agents”, in which participants from each of the sub-regions formed a panel to discuss conflict prevention, mediation, rebuilding and reconciliation. It was affirmed that young Africans must be involved in these processes, especially in light of their being the most involved and negatively impacted by conflict. Rehabilitation and re-integration of child combatants into society through education and vocational training were seen as priority areas for the PAYLF.
Involving African youth in leadership was the essence of two sessions entitled “Governance in Africa: Creating Space for Young People” and “Making Electoral Politics attractive to Africa’s Young Women and Men”. In discussions facilitated by the youth delegates, Prof. Mboya, and Dr. Roselyn Achieng (Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa –CODESRIA), the youth delegates asserted the importance of mobilizing youth within their individual spheres of influence in order to form a ‘critical mass’ with a unified vision for development. Fostering effective leadership skills and encouraging youth to be politically informed will play an integral role in the establishment of the critical mass. Delegates were concerned with apathy among youth, and recommended that young people be socialized to understand political and human rights issues in primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions. The question of establishing institutions of excellence in the areas of developmental and African studies on the continent remained a priority, as the lack of such institutions promotes a drain of leaders who choose to pursue studies in the West. Youth in Africa must be afforded the opportunity for quality higher education on these fields to ensure that there is a mass of educated young professionals that are qualified to engage in complex intergenerational political discourse.
The forum concluded with a drafting of an action plan to be coordinated by Friends of Africa International and carried out by PAYLF. This plan of action can be summarized as follows: Firstly, that by the end of December 2007 a significant number of African countries should have ratified the African Youth Charter in order for it to take effect as binding legislation for all AU member states. Secondly, by January 2008 a Pan African Youth Leadership Forum would be created and held prior to each African Union Heads of State Summit to foster intergenerational dialogue. Thirdly, PAYLF recommended the organization of Vocational Training Programs for youth in conflict zones that will provide young people with ready marketable skills and access to public and private sectors of employment; it also recommended the monitoring and implementation of agreed NEPAD and African Union programs for youth in Conflict. The fourth recommendation being that African Heads of State realize their commitments to the UNGASS declaration with regards to dissemination of information, and services provision such as ARV treatments for youths. Finally, it was recommended that human rights education be introduced in primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions and the subsequent establishments of human rights clubs in these institutions to serve as focal points for resource exchange, mobilisation and continued education.
In addition to the plan of action, the PAYLF drafted several recommendations to the AU heads of state currently meeting in Accra. African Heads of State were urged to commit to including the youth in policy making processes both at regional and national levels with the AYC as a guiding legislative tool. The delegates also called for the creation of a youth desk at the NEPAD secretariat in Johannesburg. The recommendations also made several provisions concerning conflict: i) That governments address the conflicts in Sudan, Somalia and Northern Uganda in a timely fashion, and ii) That youth be integrated in conflict mediation and resolution and in peace and security dialogue iii) That African nations ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons since scores of youth have been maimed in armed conflict iv) That countries should adhere to the provisions made by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. HIV/ AIDS, the effects of climate change on sustainable development, and global trade were other issues which PAYLF deemed to be among the most pressing, and which were also included in the final recommendations.
These recommendations were presented at the final international plenary session themed “What Must Be the Legacy of this Generation to the Next?” The session was attended by Matts Karlsson (Country Director, World Bank, Ghana), Professor Mboya (NEPAD), Mohammed Genedy (Cairo), Professor Nagia Essayed (African Union Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology) and Dr. Roselyn Achieng (CODESRIA), and Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi (African Women Development Fund). The session kicked off with a presentation by Prof. Ali Mazrui (presented on his behalf by Prof. Alamin Mazrui, Rutgers University) entitled “Democracy in Africa: Rise, Decline and the New Revival”.
These leaders engaged in stimulating discourse with the delegates. One of the key points raised was the need to distinguish between democracy as a means and as a goal in Africa. It was also stressed by the panelists and the youth delegates that democracy was not a Western import, rather, a universal, intrinsically woven principle that offers the conditions for human beings to achieve their maximum potential. Transparency (access to knowledge and information), participation, instruments of dialogue, effective monitoring institutions, bottom-up approaches, and the decentralization of institutional power were also cited as being key to democracy. It was stressed that this was the generation of youth that had to make sacrifices and create new and meaningful identities with the understanding that there are new, emerging, African identities. The international session facilitated precisely the type of intergenerational dialogue that is needed for greater political engagement by youth.
At the end of the forum, delegates from each sub-region elected a representative who would serve as the key contact person and link with other PAYLF members and youth institutions who could not make the forum. It was hoped that this would enable channels of communication to be maintained within and across sub-regions, while ensuring that action plans were executed through the sharing of resources and expertise among African youth networks. This would be coordinated by the PAYLF organizers – Friends of Africa International.
* Onyeka Obasi is President, Friends of Africa International