Youthhubafrica’s Rotimi Olawale, caught up with Professor Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, UNFPA on the sidelines of the Africa Regional Youth Forum on ICPD in Cotonou, Benin Republic. He explained that it was unacceptable for any woman to die giving birth and also thinks young people deserve a whole variety of educational experiences. Excerpts:

Professor Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA Executive Director

Q: What is UNFPA trying to achieve with the Regional Youth forum holding in Cotonou, Benin?

A: UNFPA is trying to create a space for young people to be able to express themselves, to be able to come up with an agenda which is going to be the world that they envision going forward. We don’t want to set any agenda, all we are doing is to create a space for them to be able to do that. We welcome whatever outcome of this process. It is about us as an agency just facilitating and making sure that they get all the resources that they need to do what they have to do.

Q: One of the key questions that young people are asking about this forum is – what is different about this forum? They have said many other fora have held where young people have come together to discuss… (cuts in)

A: That’s for them to take forward, that is not for us. Young people also have to take responsibility for their action. This is participatory. Young people should sit down to evolve an agenda, you must also evolve an implementation, resource mobilisaton and monitoring & evaluation plan so that next year when you come and we ask you, you decided this is what you want to do, where did you go to look for resources and you say, oh, they didn’t go anywhere and then you can see that they themselves are not being challenged. And if you then get resources, question is how did you prioritise and what implementation plan do you have and how are you taking this forward, and if you have done this, what results do you have to show. I think that is where we stand. We are not going to limit their imagination, their creativity or their innovation. We are going to let them run and do what they want to do.

Q: What kind of support can young people look forward to from UNFPA in implementing some of the recommendations that will come out from this forum?

A: It depends on what they need. I cannot anticipate that right now. I don’t know what they want, so that would be like voodoo, there is no way of responding to that. What is important is that young people must define an agenda which is realistic and which they can own and we will see how we can provide support for it.

Youthhubafrica’s Rotimi Olawale (R) interviewing Professor Osotimehin at the Presidential Lodge, Cotonou, Republic of Benin

Question from Robert Nkwangu: How is UNFPA involving young people with disabilities in its programming at the global level

A: We are conscious of that and we want to be all inclusive in terms of young people, but let me give you a specific example of the Bali conference. The Bali conference is set up by young people, the steering committee is by young people, the selection is by them and we don’t want to be the ones to dictate to them what should be or not be, but I guess there are some broad principles of inclusiveness that will be adopted. So I expect that there will be people with disabilities there and if they are not part of it, we must make sure that they are part of it.

Question: Given the youth bulge on the African continent, some see it as a challenge, other see it as a huge potential, what is your take on this?

A: It depends on what governments, private sector and civil society does. I am an optimist, I see it as an opportunity, I see it as something which we can all take forward and do something with. Really, the action must start now, it can’t be something which we are going to wait any longer and the youth bulge or demographic dividend is one in which government must invest in human capacity development. It is developing people, their education, their health and ending up with balanced young adults is not cheap. It is not about investing 5-6% of your budget, it is about investing big time because people are your best assets. So, I am not going to try and say you should invest a minimum of x, i don’t think that is fair but I think every government should look at its own uniqueness and see where the gaps are, what are the things they have to do that will enable every young person to reach his/her full potential. Young people, especially girls must stay in schools, we must have comprehensive sexuality education and information for young people, we must be able to provide a whole variety of educational experiences so that young people can basically appreciate who they are and can then be able to go forward and evolve and participate in their society.

Q: The president of Benin, President Boni Yayi has given a commitment to take forward an advocacy around the Campaign for Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA) to the next AU Heads of state meeting in January 2013 and you also committed UNFPA support to the advocacy. What are you trying to achieve with this.

A: You know the African Union (AU) is already committed to CARMMA, its not our initiative, but we believe that there are opportunities that exist in the global community. For example, the family planning summit in London, commitments were made; the commodities commission, new resources are available. For example, the child survival summit, there were commitments, the education first that the UN secretary general started, new commitments were made. We believe that within that we can focus for the girl child. There are opportunities, now, what we are trying to say is that, come on, we have done so much, we have reduced maternal mortality in some places, there is still a long way to go, how can we now redirect the resources that are new to assist member states on the ground, not politically, to ensure that they can further accelerate reduction of maternal mortality under the aegis of CARMMA and we think that going back to the AU that owns the process will be the best way to do this and working through them to have more resources domestically. When we were conceptualising this, we also had the African Development Bank being part of it and I am talking to the President of the World Bank so that they can also come on board so we can drive it with substantial resources. If there are gaps in resources, we can look for it and fill it. Then of course, we are not just going to have outcomes, benchmarks, we are going to say that 3 or 4 of this, UNFPA will be reporting back every year to the General Assembly so that we can create some accountability which is important.

2nd Left, Professor Osotimehin addressing a press conference in Nigeria recently with Chelsea Clinton and Dr. Ali Pate

Q: Has there been any progress made around maternal mortality on the continent?

A: Yes, it has reduced somehow, it has come down maybe 41%. So there has been some reduction. It is just that it is unacceptable that anyone dies giving birth and so we will not stop until we actually totally eliminate maternal mortality due to causes that are preventable.

Q: Personally,you have been supporting youth development since your inception as Executive Director of UNFPA, what led to this commitment?

A: Isn’t that obvious? I come from a continent where 70% of the people are young. I see the energy that is there. I have always worked with young people, I know the inspiration that I derive, the innovation that they bring and how I just renew myself just interacting with young people, it is a good thing and I believe that every country, given what they have should invest in young people.

Q: Thank you very much for your time

A: Thank you very much too.

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Rotimi Olawale, co-founder of is a youth development expert. For more than six years he has been involved in leading youth advocacy efforts mainly around the Millennium Development Goals. In 2006, he represented Nigeria as a youth ambassador at the United Nations Global Youth Leadership Summit held at the UN Headquarters in New York. Rotimi has held several global leadership positions including; member, UNFPA Global Youth Advisory Panel for 2 years; member, African Youth Panel. Rotimi is currently involved in shaping local, national and global policies to benefit youth and also leverage opportunities for young people. He was listed by the Nigerian government as one of 15 Nigerian youth on the world stage in 2008.