The theme of the 2012 (sixth edition of the) African Youth Day is apt: ‘deliver as one to empower youth for sustainable development.’ Such a theme acknowledges everything that is wrong with the current youth development architecture on the continent, which certainly needs fixing. The theme also resonates with the call for better integration and coordination of youth development programming at sub-national, national and continental levels.
‘Delivering as one’ requires a ‘grand’ continental framework which recognises the challenges of youth. Such a framework should serve as the basis for shared responsibilities across agencies in spite of their respective narrowly defined mandates. Such a grand framework should in fact be the African Youth Charter or its accompanying 10 year plan for youth development and empowerment which elapses in 2018. Agencies working on youth in Africa need to sit and ask themselves some pertinent questions (and I believe that such exercises have been carried out in the past either at individual agency level or collectively) on a ‘grand scale.’
These questions could include: what do we want to achieve regarding our youth development programming? How do our individual youth development agendas fit together to form a cohesive whole? How do we harmonise and better coordinate our existing programmes within a cohesive African youth development framework? How do we ‘pull’ our resources ‘together’ in order to ensure that the best outcomes are achieved for the benefit of the youth on the continent? Such questions are paramount and could serve as the building blocks for a truly continental architecture for youth development on the continent.
Articulating a grand framework could reduce significantly the current duplication of efforts across agencies which often cost enormous amounts of time and money and yet do not necessarily yield better aggregate results. A well defined grand agenda for youth development in Africa could be seen as a ‘declaration of commitment’ among agencies working on the continent. It should serve as the basis for monitoring and evaluating – and putting in place a range of standardised indicators for measuring youth development on the continent, both at continental and national, and possibly sub-national, levels. It should be a consensus which points in the direction of what needs to be done in terms of youth development programming.
In fact, such a consensus has been attempted on at least one occasion on the continent. Following the African Development Forum held in Addis Ababa in 2006, a ‘consensus statement’ articulating the various policy priorities identified by youth and other participants at the forum was adopted. That consensus should have provided the basis for the African Union Commission’s (AUC) leadership in pursuing the adoption of the grand framework. Perhaps if that process was pursued from 2006, the plan of action for the decade on youth could have in fact emerged as a consensus document which reflects the voices of young people, donor agencies and governments. However, the attempted follow-up of that process fell apart, largely owing, in my view, to lack of clear leadership and the absence of political will among agencies.
In delivering as one, the African Union Commission (AUC), and perhaps the African Union, needs to take better leadership. It should provide the needed political agenda, galvanise, coordinate and lead the establishment of an interagency effort to provide development agencies (and national governments?) with the best approach of working together towards achieving the common goal of making young people’s lives better. The AUC has done this before. It provided technical support in 2009 to eleven member states most in need of assistance in the processes leading towards the ratification of the African Youth Charter. Today, the charter has been ratified by at least 30 countries, with some countries which have ratified awaiting the needed deposition of the ratification instrument (for example Tanzania).
It is critical that such leadership is revitalised in the era of ‘delivering as one.’ Its revitalisation should lead to the development of a robust and coherent framework which helps donors to ensure that every dollar spent on youth development achieves necessary results and does not duplicate the work of others.
A pragmatic way of achieving this is for the African Union Commission to convene an initial discussion of agencies working in Addis Ababa. Such a discussion should be aimed at drumming up support for the decade long plan of action for youth development. Where necessary, amendments could be made to the plan to accommodate the specific mandates of development agencies. The discussion could later metamorphose into a formalised youth development coordination process led by the African Union Commission. If this model succeeds at the level of Addis Ababa, the AUC could encourage ministries responsible for youth to provide leadership in the same manner at national level.
Delivering as one is a timely theme for the African Youth Day 2012. It is a call to action and an opportunity for the AU Commission and development agencies to act together to ensure that the resources expended at all levels translate into addressing the calamities confronting young people on the continent in a sustainable manner.