African Youth Ministers: Gathering for What?

This post was originally published in April 2010.

African Union Youth Ministers will be meeting, under the auspices of the Conference of Ministers in charge of youth (COMY), in Victoria Falls next week, precisely April 12-16, to discuss issues of youth development on the continent. Top on the agenda are the creation of a continental youth volunteer programme and the possible adoption of a ten-year plan/ strategy for youth development and empowerment on the continent. I think a ten-year strategy is important as a means to: provide strategic directions for the future, guarantee long-term political support, keep youth issues on the front burner of development discourse on the continent and serve as a guide to countries on what actions are critical in the new decade, especially within the context of the decade for youth development in Africa declared by the meeting heads of state and government in January 2009.

As much as possible, a continental strategy like the one being presented to the youth ministers for consideration needs above all to take into account specific contextual issues for it to be successfully implemented. However, one challenge associated with the implementation of a ten-year continental strategy is the problem of costing. How can we objectively determine the cost of a strategy stretching over a 10 year period? Even if we rely on the unit cost approach which was used in some studies to estimate the cost the millennium development goals (MDGs), some authors contend that at best we’re probably only able to make a good estimate for a two to three-year period. There is also the challenge of how to implement the strategy, considering that many, if not all, African Union member states have some sort of strategy for youth. This is in addition to the plethora of similar commitments on youth previously made by the leaders, notably the UN world programme of action for youth, and several decisions, declarations and legal frameworks of the African Union.

It is hoped that by integrating a set of core guiding principles, the draft 10 year strategy to be presented to the Ministers of youth has taken these challenges into account. These principles are: national ownership, donor coordination, the triad principle and integrated youth development. On one front, the draft plan emphasises national ownership and this is demonstrated in the approach for the development of the strategy. Countries were consulted through the AU-Member States Initiative on Youth Policies and the African Youth Charter designed in 2009 for 11 pilot AU member states. Countries also received requests for pre-draft priority listing which were synthesised to inform the draft plan of action, and sent back to the member countries for their comments following its consideration by the Bureau of the Conference of Ministers in charge of youth – a five member body which is currently led by Libya. The Bureau of the Ministers in charge of youth have also considered the draft document, and recommended a prioritisation of a list of 10 core issues for the final document. The rationale for this nationalisation process is clear. Ultimately, the strategy will be implemented at national level, with the main functions at the regional and continental levels centred on coordination, monitoring and reporting. This means that there needs to be an integration of the core principles, goals and priorities of the strategy into existing national youth frameworks. Obviously, many AU countries have these in place. ‘Nationalising’ the strategy will help in reducing or completely avoiding where possible, duplication of efforts, including duplication by donor institutions.

To tackle this, the strategy proposes donor coordination and harmonisation. This is obviously in sync with the Paris declaration on aid effectiveness. For coordination to be successful, it is suggested that it needs to be led by the country concerned. National leadership is crucial, otherwise donor coordination may become another tool for donor agencies to ‘gang-up’ and force their agendas on the country concerned. The lessons learned from Zambia, Rwanda and others on the continent regarding  sectoral coordination, could present useful models to ensure that the plethora of resources available for reproductive health and HIV, skills development training and TVET, entrepreneurship, livelihood, etc. are effectively channelled into a central pool and utilised through a cohesive strategy to the benefit of young people. Coordination ultimately needs to start at the highest level and perhaps requires the guidance and leadership of the African Union Commission. The 10 year strategy also proposes a triad principle which encourages countries to have one national youth policy and plan, one national coordinating institution for youth development and one monitoring and evaluation strategy for youth. This model was first adopted in Nairobi by UNAIDS, known as the three ones principle providing for one national strategic framework, one national Monitoring and evaluation framework and one national AIDS institutional mechanism and has been successful in many countries. This is a concise means to ensure that all stakeholders work together to the benefit of the young people.

At the end, the strategy is about people – and in this case the young people aged 15-35. The 15-17 year olds obviously have separate needs, and those 18 and 25 have separate sets of needs from those aged above 25. These have been taken into account in the creation of the African Youth Charter, the AU’s legal framework for youth which was endorsed in 2006 July and entered into force in August 2009. However, to ensure the availability of data to maximise planning, national statistical bodies need to further disaggregate their data to take these different age ranges into account and to accommodate other social and economic factors affecting youth in their respective contexts. The 15 or so priorities identified in the draft strategy can only be effectively implemented if adequate care is taken with the creation of relevant data for planning and reporting.

The Victoria Falls meeting promises to be a good opportunity to pave the way for youth development in Africa, both within the context of the decade for youth development in Africa, and the international year of youth 2010-2011. President Robert Mugabe has accepted to open the conference, which signals that the head of the African Union Commission, Mr. Jean Ping may be present at the meeting. These high level presences in addition to the representatives of several international organisations could well mean that this meeting may set the agenda for the World conference of Ministers of youth to be held in 2011 and the global youth agenda by extrapolation, since it is the only known continental Ministers meeting being held in 2010. Africa has always set the agenda for global processes. The three ones principle was adopted at the ICASA in Nairobi, the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria was first discussed in Abuja during the special summit on HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria, and Nigeria was among the first countries to make financial commitments to the fund. It is being hoped that this coming conference therefore will provide a good foundation for a global youth agenda which can be taken forward.

At the end of the meeting therefore, one expects that the continental strategy is adopted and a mandate given to the AU Commission to design indicators for both measuring the progress of the African youth charter and the strategy itself. As a way to ensure that the strategy is funded at the continental level, the ministers need to finally adopt the African Youth Development Trust Fund which they discussed at their Addis Ababa meeting in February 2008. The year 2011 will be Banjul plus five (five years since the adoption of the African Youth Charter in Banjul), it will also be the second year of the decade of youth and marks the end of the international year of youth. It will also be the first year after the golden jubilees of 15 African countries. So one really hopes that the outcomes of the conference will set the agenda for a robust review of the African Youth Charter five years after it was adopted, and set the pace youth development and empowerment for the next ten to fifty years!

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