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;
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.