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Youth involvement in pan-African discourses is minimal because they have largely been excluded from the deliberative and decision-making spaces in continental institutions, especially the African Union. This needs to change

In 2003, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was transformed into the African Union (A.U) and acquired a new mandate of fostering regional integration and sustainable socio-economic development of the continent. The new mandate focused on bringing positive impact on African citizens. The new vision for AU remains “Integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global community.”

But Pan – African institutions and spaces tend to be privileged spaces; despite the declaration of the AU constitutive document as ‘a peoples’ Union’, they are constituted, populated, dominated and accessed largely by governmental bureaucrats and political players drawn from member states. For those outside these categories, access to these spaces by licence as invitees. These licences are few and far between, and are totally dependent, in practical terms, on the goodwill and personal disposition of the leadership of AU Commission and the other pan African institutions as was clearly demonstrated by the ‘locking out’ of African Civil Society groups in the May 2013 summit, by a declaration by the chair person of the AUC during the celebrations of 50 years of OAU/AU in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia..

A typical room in the institutionalized Pan-African spaces is largely made up of elderly men. These have grown through their national bureaucracies or the pan-African institutions. One particular group of Africans is noticeably missing in these spaces, the African Youth.

The youth – persons aged between 15 – 35 years constitute the largest proportion of the African population at about 60% of the one billion Africans and growing. The African Youth Charter was adopted by the AU in 2006 and came into force on 8August 2009. As of April 2013, 41 countries had signed the Charter with 31 ratifications. The Charter was to address the growing need for youth empowerment, development and participation in Africa’s development. Youth, despite constituting the single biggest demographic group at over 60%, their participation and empowerment is not guaranteed.

The objective of the Youth Charter is to provide governments, youth, civil society and international organisations with a continental framework, which underlines the rights, duties and freedoms of youth in Africa. It also provides the parameters for development of national programmes and strategic plans geared toward youth empowerment. The Charter covers prominent issues affecting youth including but not limited to youth participation. It calls on African governments to ensure the freedom of movement, expression, private life and property for young people. It calls on the establishment of structures for youth participation and particularly national youth coordinating mechanisms.

In addition, African states are encouraged to invite and include youth representatives as part of their delegations, to the ordinary sessions of the African Union and other relevant meetings of policy organs. This is aimed at broadening the channels of communication and enhances the discussion of youth-related issues.

Absence of the African youth in the Pan African institution decision making spaces has one practical outcome – the needs, aspirations and wishes of the African youth are absent in these spaces, and as such the decisions that emanate from there and the decision making process don’t resonate with the African Youth, which in turn means that the youth do not find any relevance in the decisions and institutions of the continent. This outcome of the current institutional arrangement means that 60% of the continent is far removed from the `outcomes and processes’ of African institutions. This is made worse by the fact that the youth in this continent do not have a recognized institution to collect, collate, consolidate, amplify and negotiate their interests in the African decision making spaces.

One complain that one consistently hears from pan African actors – bureaucratic and political – is the absence of knowledge of the mandates, workings and relevance of pan African institutions by African people. This manifest lack of knowledge is glaring among citizens of countries that host pan African institutions, who ordinarily by the presence of these institutions in their countries, would be expected to exhibit higher levels of knowledge of the mandate, workings and relevance of these institutions. The ordinary citizen in Addis Ababa, still refers to the AU building as the OAU, and if you are to get into a taxi on the streets of Addis Ababa saying OAU as your destination is much more likely to get you there than A.U. Recently in Midrand, the home of the Pan African parliament, there were audible complaints by the Pan African Parliamentarians, that government officials in Oliver Tambo international airport keep inquiring on ‘what is this Pan African Parliament, what do you people do’?.

My view is that this scenario is more caused by citizens’ failure to find ‘relevance’ of these institutions in their daily lives than lack of information. Africa at 50 is ready and ripe for a transition. The older leadership, champions and amplifying agents of pan africanism as we know it now, ought to lead and manage the movement to a new and emerging pan African identity. Should this crop of pan Africans refuse or resist or even mismanage this transition, they risk being rendered irrelevant by the new and emerging pan african’ism’.. A ‘transition’ pre supposes a movement from one ‘known status’ to another, ‘newer, emerging’ status. However the reality of this transition, is that the ‘older pan African agent’s and agenda is a ‘known’ but the newer ‘agents and status’ remain unknown. The African youth, who would represent the emerging Pan-Africanist, lack the agency, and indeed the desire to consolidate this newer identity. This status is due to the fact that the current pan African institutions and pan African agenda are far removed from the realities of the African youth.

The Pan Africanism that holds currency is one that emerged in the heady days of liberation struggles of this continent. It was shaped by the desire and experiences of re- dignifying the African people. The agents of this identity were privileged to experience and even be actors into this transition from colonialism to newly independent African nations. The current crop of African youth, have had their world view, expectations and aspirations shaped by different forces and as such it cannot be expected that their views on and currency for Pan Africanism will be same.

It is emerging that the agents and institutional arrangements that ‘housed’ pan Africanism did not have a succession plan. There was no clear plan to create political consciousness and pass on the battle of Pan-Africanism to young people. When our leaders were meeting at Africa Union levels and spaces, they did not create adequate space for the youth to engage, be involved and be inspired. Thus pan-africanism became a myth, a historical truism and pointer rather than a reality.

When one engages at the Pan Africa spaces, the enduring and striking legacy is the actors, and even observers in these spaces, are the same; they have been here, and there for the last two or so decades - talking to themselves. If and when young people are invited, they are spoken at rather than engaged. The sort of inter generational dialogue necessary to underpin the transitional moment is missing and has been missed.

Pan Africanism must be made relevant to the youth, or rather space need to be created for African youth to create a pan africanism that is relevant to themselves. The new ‘pan Africanism’ may, and probably will, look, feel and be different from the pan-Africanism that the older Africans understand and are conformable with. We must accept, anticipate and even celebrate that reality. We should also as agents and institutions of Pan Africanism engage the African youth meaningfully, allow them a seat in the decision making tables and allow them to develop the agency relevant to develop their own Pan Africanism, that resonates with the contours, colours, content and experiences of their own lives. This transition must be managed properly. We must accept that the world view of the young people on everything, including Pan Africanism, is based on their reality and experiences now, and as such we cannot continue demanding that they embrace the world views created by the experiences and struggles of the older Africans. A transition needs to happen, to hand over the continent and the African agenda to the young people of this continent and trust them to drive it.

* Nicholas Ngigi is Capacity Building Co-ordinator, SOTU Coalition



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