My End of Mandate Reflections – AU Youth Envoy
It has been an honor to serve Africa’s youth as the first African Union Special Envoy on Youth for the past two years and to engage thousands of youth from around the continent and the diaspora, visit countless cities and communities to learn from brave and passionate young people, listen to their stories of agency and hope and explore how the AU can better support their crucial work. These are young people that I shared a cup of tea with at the many youth engagements, we cried together at the struggles we went through, we laughed and danced together, we shaped the Office of the Youth Envoy (OYE) into what it has become today, by “Shaking Things Up”.
In the two years of our term, my team and I have demonstrated that young people are up to the challenge. Looking back to the Banjul+10 meeting in the Gambia where the idea of a Youth Envoy was first broached, a lot has since happened. We have seen the African Union evolve because of growing numbers of young people within its structures using the arts, technology and advocacy to advance the development agenda.
The 2019/20 Action Plan which was the result of six months of consultations with young people, guided our work throughout the mandate. During our tenure, we built collaborations with over 170 partners and elevated the African youth agenda by launching a number of national, regional and global initiatives. In 2020, when many were still trying to comprehend the outbreak of COVID-19, at OYE, we immediately adopted the ‘new normal’, and with young people we mobilized to ensure mainstreaming of the youth agenda in various AU member states ensuring the activities, missions, consultations and Intergenerational Dialogues continued. I look back on two years of important advances but I would like to share 10 key milestones;
- In the last two years, starting from within the commission we solidly anchored youth platforms in the different departments – notably the Saleema Youth Victorious Ambassadors and African Youth Ambassadors for Peace. We worked with various AUC departments, directorates and organs engaging all commissioners to champion the youth agenda in joint advocacy efforts includng on ending Female Genital Mutilation and Early Child Marriage as well as putting youth central to the African Free Trade Area, Free movement protocol, Digital Tranfromation, Diaspora engagement, to mention a few.
- In an effort to bring the African Union closer to the grassroots, together with the Youth Advisory Council, we undertook 73 missions to 35 AU Member States and global platforms and we reached over 80,000 youth through town halls, meetings, and consultations and over 160 government officials including Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Morocco, Namibia, Côte D’ivoire, Eritrea, Uganda, Liberia, Chad, Egypt, Kenya and Mauritania to mention a few.During the recent Africa Youth Day commemoration, I also joined the young peacebuilders of the community of Rumbek, at the Weapons Collection Site where over 1000 guns were collected in voluntary disarmament. Prior to this visit, I had also spent a day with displaced youth at POC 3 Equatorial State in Juba where we discussed youth engagement in the revitalization and peace process.
- In my role as the African Union Youth Envoy, I used every platform within reach to bridge the generation gap and bring youth to the table and it is working! We hope OYE will be remembered for building the foundation for “Intergenerational Co-leadership” as an approach to reform decision making and prevent emerging conflicts.We consistently advocated for collaborative leadership between generations in governments and regional structures. This led to an increase in youth participation in member states delegations at the AU Summit in 2020, and an increase in the number of youth occupying ministerial portfolios and parliamentary seats in Chad, Namibia, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Angola among other countries.We institutionalized Intergenerational Co-leadership through the organisation of 100 Intergenerational Dialogues with diverse stakeholders including Global Peace and brought over 150,000 African youth to the table with over 800 Elders offline while reaching 14.9 Million through #100IGD online. In the same vein, we reinvigorated the conversations on public policies on youth and particularly reforms related to African youth in public service. This led to the publication of the “Greater Inclusion of African Youth in Public Service and Governance” report in partnership with the African Leadership Institute which additionally resulted in the development of a network of African Youth in Public Service.
- Through various briefings, consultations and advocacy efforts, the OYE played an instrumental role in advancing the Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) agenda and contributed to policy outcomes. I briefed the United Nations Security Council in 2019 and 2020 as well as African Union Peace and Security Council (PSC) Briefing in 2019 and 2020 amplifying refugee voices and demanding support for young peacebuilders.At the AU PSC, the past two years brought tremendous advancements in the YPS agenda culminating in the Adoption of the premier Continental Framework on Youth Peace and Security. In addition, the Youth Silencing the Guns campaign has become AU’s main platform for rallying youth on the theme of the year which increased youth agency in Silencing the Guns. Through support from partners, we launched the Youth Silencing the Guns Awards with $ 20,000 grant, as a platform to recognise the exceptional work of youth organizations across the continent. It’s no surprise that the #ShutItAllDown movement emerged as one of our winners, their incredible mass mobilisation to highlight sexual violence in Namibia is a solid testament to youth power.We also convened 6 Regional Silencing The Guns Intergenerational Dialogues with over 1,800 participants, which resulted in Youth Silencing the Guns Declaration. In order to highlight the pivotal role women played in the peace agenda, we trained 38 young African women and equipped them with tools and knowledge on peace, security and international instruments through the Fellowship on Silencing the Guns. We are positive that these steps taken have moved us closer to the full integration and inclusion of young people in YPS. However, further financial investment in youth-led peacebuilding and development of National Action Plans on YPS are now the next crucial steps.
- We built a movement of youth-led accountability of 110 African Youth Charter Hustlers to work closely with the AU to monitor progress on the ratification and implementation of the African Youth Charter. A young man and woman per country, from each of the AU member states were selected from over 2100+ applications. The initiative opened up closed intergovernmental spaces with inclusive gender balance and diaspora engagement. This is the first initiative of the AU with fully inclusive youth representation across the 55 AU member states. Continued support for this initiative in partnership with UNITAR will be crucial in order to solidify youth-led advocacy, agency and collaboration with governments, national youth councils and other structures in advancing the youth agenda as well as link the AU better to the grassroots in Africa — a key feature still missing in several AU well-intended interventions on the continent.
- The Gender agenda has been among my top priorities as AU Youth Envoy. I am immensely proud of the work we did with the over 1,500 youth, both young women and men, from 45 countries whom we convened in five regional Barazas and developed the Africa Young Women Beijing+25 Manifesto with 10 Concrete Demands on the urgent interventions so desperately needed by young African women . In addition, we establised, Sauti ???? feminist platform, where 25 young women told their stories on the first ever AU blog. These stories were a collection of text, visual art and other forms of digital means of self expression to fully capture the desire, demands and agency of young African women, especially during the COVID-19 Pandemic. This was accompanied by $ 5000 grant to support the contributors. To move these efforts forward Sauti ???? voices should continue to be heard in an annual publication and the Manifesto should be presented to Generation Equality Forums in Mexico and France and adopted by Action Coalitions Leadership.
- In all our activities, we consistently ensured that vulnerable youth were present and the spaces were designed to have bottom up consultative approach and consistent feedback. The 2nd Pan-African Youth Forum marked a crucial milestone to set the stage for meaningful youth engagement. During this forum, I facilitated an inclusive non-hierarchical assembly in an open space with 500 youth. It was at this Forum that the chairperson of the AUC launched the 1 Million by 2021 which impacted the lives of millions of youth in education, employment, entrepreneurship and engagement. To further this engagement, my office pioneered the celebration of Africa Youth Month starting from Africa Youth Day (2019 and 2020), and this has now become an annual celebration at the AU during the month of November. We also ensured that the AU became more accessible to young people with disabilities through providing Sign Language interpretation at our events. We consistently advocated for the expansion of tools and networks to involve youth movements and groups who ordinarily might not be allocated a seat at a regular African Union event. I was able to provide space for more radical voices like La Lucha of DRC and Aswat Nisa of Tunisia to amplify their discontent and concern to the African Union leadership as well as ambassadors, ministers and commissioners.Despite drawing upon youth networks to reach vulnerable youth through for instance, sending internet data to youth in refugee camps, it is clear that a barrier to youth inclusivity is the digital divide and youth access to online spaces. Closing digital divide should be a key priority moving forward.
- We advocated for youth rights protection in consultation with young activists on the ground especially during the Sudan Revolution, #ZimbabweLivesMatter among other countries. During Human Rights Day, the President of Botswana endorsed the plea I made to African leaders to respect and protect youth rights especially peaceful protesters. This particularly would need more advocacy to enforce the African Youth Charter and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
- We were tasked with the responsibility of creatively and innovatively bringing the African Union closer to African youth. Over the last two years, we have taken some bold approaches leading to massive impact. We tapped into a new youth constituency in the fashion industry through Silencing the Guns Outfit Challenge to leverage on the Pan-African Fashion Initiative and grow awareness and action for the AU theme of the year. I made sure to showcase the designs of the winners at every possible occasion. Through the first ever virtual Africa Solidarity Concert, a partnership between the Africa Union Commission and the All Africa Music Awards, we engaged youth in the creatives and music industry to fundraise for COVID-19 Response Fund.
- During COVID-19, we utilized the power of social media and technology to convene 54 Virtual AU Youth Consultations Series on COVID-19 with a total of 6,000 participants in dialogue with African leaders and decision makers. This led to the publication of Africa Youth Lead Policy paper “Facts & Figures of Africa Youth Agency, Challenges and Recovery Roadmap on COVID-19” and its dissemination through the Wilton Park policy dialogues. #AfricaYouthLead became a popular hashtag among african youth during the pandemic and reached over 19.5 Million with over 111.5 Million potential impact online.Through the African Youth front on Coronavirus, we also engaged 18 of Africa’s largest youth networks and national youth councils which made the AU the first intergovernmental institution to create a high level policy space for youth to contribute and co-lead the response to the pandemic. We provided online social media advertisement grants by Twitter to these youth organizations worth a total of $ 30,000
The achievements made in this exceptional journey would not have been possible without; the trust of the Chairperson of the AUC H.E Moussa Faki Mahamat to engage innovatively, thus paving the way for my office to carry out such an important mandate with the young people, as well as the continued support for the youth agenda by AU commissioners and special envoys who took a leap of faith on OYE’s different and radically new ideas to translate them into meaningful youth programmes. I was surrounded by leaders who were open to be challenged, to collaborate and co-create.
My gratitude to all AU departments, directorates, divisions, organs, Regions Economic Communities, Liaison offices, AU staff and technical professionals who have a wealth of expertise, and opened their doors to incorporate new fresh youth perspectives, and who have made tremendous contributions to our mandate over the last two years. I have enjoyed collaborations especially with APRM during the 1st International Youth Symposium in Chad and COMESA during the joint COMESA-AU/AGA project on Youth Engagement in Democratic Governance and Socio-economic Development.
I am also grateful to AU member states particularly through the permanent representatives to the AU for engaging in honest and challenging conversations that eventually shaped policies. Thank you to all the partners who believed in this office and invested in building its foundational resourcing, to mentors and those who are a phone call away to uplift and advise, and to the AU Youth Advisory Council for bringing their expertise and networks to our mission.
My appreciation also goes to OYE volunteers, and their hard work, OYE was run entirely by volunteers who put their guts, time, efforts, commitment and even personal resources to make it succeed. The average age of the OYE Team is 29 years old. When we called for volunteers to be part of the work ahead and the office establishment, over 5,200 applied. Following a selection process, OYE Volunteer Network was put together hosted on a virtual platform so we were working remotely even before COVID-19 outbreak changed our ways of work. The value of our volunteer time and talents goes up to $196.000.
While it was relatively easier to fill the human resources gaps, access to funds was a challenge. But through the support of partners especially Denmark, United kingdom, GIZ, UNFPA, UNAIDS, UNOAU, CIFF, Twitter, ONE Campaign, ACCORD, FAWE among others, the budget of the OYE has grown from zero in 2019 to $ 500,000+ in direct grants by mid 2020. Most of OYE’s operations are facilitated through in kind and technical support from partners which made up $ 1,5 million in total with only 13% overhead and over 80 % in direct impact.
To everyone who supported OYE, thank you for taking a chance on a new youth led and run office. Thanks to these partnerships and funding support, we have been able to train young people; and offer them the opportunity to work with the African Union as well as directly fund youth-led projects. Through this funding we employed 31 youth as OYE staff and consultants.
Finally, my gratitude is to all the young people in Africa and the diaspora, who seized the opportunity this office presented to collaborate and join hands on different fronts, who uplifted this office and advised us everyday with their tweets and tags and thousands of emails.
We worked closely with youth networks such as East African Community Youth Ambassadors Platform and Southern Africa Youth Forum who have undertaken impressive advocacy efforts in numerous AU intergovernmental processes and in their regions.
For those who are tempted to ask — what can young people do within the structure of the African Union Commission? These reflections are a testament of only the beginning of what is possible. While there were a lot of milestones achieved there were a lot of challenges too. We still need to reach more diverse young people especially those out of the digital revolution and the most marginalized in our communities. We need to offer them spaces to meet and support their work. We need to disrupt bureaucracy and innovate in fundraising. I hope we catalyzed the path to small actions for change by the present and the future for Africa — the young people.