Sharing the pan-African youth experience

The Pan African Youth Union (PYU) is dear to my heart. It’s one the few professional engagements over the years in which I continue to have true faith. I am not oblivious to the obvious challenges PYU faces but I see the potential for improvements.

PYU is one of the anti-colonial political youth movements established during the 1950s. Over the years, it has been invited as an observer organisation to OAU and later AU summits and is recognised by heads of state as ‘the continental coordinating body for youth organizations and … focal agency of the African Union on youth matters’. Prior to this the PYU was ‘recognised’ as a ‘specialised body’ of the African Union and was invited to meetings of the department of social affairs to make official representations. It now has an official seat at the meetings of African ministers of youth.

My first engagement with PYU was in January 2006 when I presented a draft concept paper on the proposed Pan African Youth Federation, being considered by the AU. The justification for this proposal was that African youth needed a representative body at the AU and the PYU had become largely redundant and lacked engagement and visibility. My presentation was well received, but the proposal was ‘thrown out,’ quite understandably on grounds of duplication. A review of the PYU was instead requested as alternative. During the second phase of the review, I spent two weeks in Algiers meeting with the PYU executive, presenting drafts of  revised documents, and receiving feedback. The exercise was fraught with political intrigues but the relations were quite cordial between me and the PYU officials, especially considering that some of them had considerably more experience than me in PYU matters. I spent another two weeks in Addis Ababa, reviewing documents at the end of which I submitted my report, recommendations and draft revised statutory documents.

The reviewed documents were discussed and adopted at the second ordinary congress of the PYU in Brazzaville. I took part in the congress and observed the proceedings from the sidelines. I had my hopes, fears and reservations, but I was also optimistic. So after all said and done, elections were held and new leaders emerged. Nigeria elected president, a ‘political’ post recommended to ensure balance of powers with those of the secretary general which Angola incidentally retained. Deputy Secretaries and vice presidents were also elected from each of the regions. Sudan was elected as the country to host the secretariat. Sudan had many challenges in hosting the secretariat, but I could imagine that there was significant support for its materialisation, at least within Sudan. When I met President Albashir in Khartoum in 2009, he appeared genuinely interested in youth matters and particularly in the African youth charter.

PYU remains fraught with many challenges and not much progress can be seen in terms of its engagement with the youth constituency. However, as an eternal optimist, I believe that things can improve for the better. The signs are there, younger people have been nominated to the PYU executive, a young woman now has a strong voice within its ranks than at any other time and PYU has become somewhat more visible in continental processes. It can only get better. It is my hope that towards its next congress (either in 2011 or 2012) more young people will take part in the congress. If possible new changes should be made in the statutes to reflect more recent thinking and make it possible for youth civil society bodies to join its ranks. A way of circumventing PYU’s links to government needs to be identified but in a way that is beneficial to PYU and its constituencies.

I have no doubts whatsoever that PYU will eventually become a truly representative body for youth in Africa. It’s only a matter of time. With its very rich history, PYU is obviously one organisation young Africans should not ignore. It needs everyone’s support to flourish.

Originally written as a contribution to youthubafrica blogsite