At the sidelines of the Conference of Ministers of Youth IV (COMYIV) which held in Addis Ababa last month, Youthhubafrica’s Rotimi Olawale sat down with Emmanuel Etim, Senior Programs and Partnerships Expert, African Union Commission, Division for Youth to unpack the African Union’s plans and progress on youth development in Africa. Read the interview below
Q: Can you introduce yourself
A: My name is Emmanuel Etim and I work for the African Union Commission Division for youth as the Senior Programs and Partnerships Expert.
Q: Just recently, the Conference of Ministers of Youth (COMYIV) came to an end, how will you rate this meeting of Ministers. We also noticed that the format for this meeting is significantly different to other Conference of Youth Ministers, what necessitated this change and do you think this change was effective?
A: Well, the change was proposed as a pioneer for a probable change that will happen to other Conference of Ministers given the fact that the commission felt that the ministers needed to be more involved in the negotiations,discussions and dialogues that determine the decisions that are being proposed. This is because the level of response of countries to implement the resolution of the commission was felt as the basis for which the countries need to participate in even negotiating the outcomes and that was one of the reasons why this change was proposed among many other dimensions to look at it. What was learnt about it all was the role of national preparations, in such a way that we may not necessarily expect the ministers must debate the issues at the conference, rather we should stimulate the debates and discussions around this long time before so that they are already coming with a position around the ideas and issues. By the next conference of Youth Ministers, we should already start preparing them for it, the background documents, the dialogue, the debates, and the consultations that are required. In fact, I think what this will require is a National guideline and preparation for the conference of Ministers which must be institutionalised so that there are structures at national levels that will ensure consultations, preparations, so that when the ministers come, even if they are there for thirty minutes to two hours, they are pushing forward the position of their Government, which is a representative position to the conference.
Q: Over the last couple of years, there has been a major push by the African Union towards professionalising youth development and youth work on the continent. What is your take on this and what direction is the AU moving on this?
Well, at a personal level, coming from the background of youth development work, it’s a good step in the right direction because again you want to place value on the work young people are doing and also the work on youth and development not necessarily limited to just the concept of participation or right on the one hand or experience. We are trying to give some scientific argument and model to that experience and to ensure that it is replicable among other things. I think the other direction for the African Union, in my capacity is to advise on what steps should be taken, and one of the steps that we are advising and mobilising partnerships for is to establish Regional Centres for Youth Studies and Research. These regional centres will serve as pilot to promote the concept of professionalising youth work across the continent, provide trainings, fellowships and help to generate the knowledge base that is required for such ideas to be part of the academic system and part of the body of knowledge that drives development work on the continent.
Q: On the implementation of recommendations of the African Union at each of the Youth Ministers Meetings held in the past,how do we know or ensure that these recommendations are being implemented especially at country levels?
A: Well, I must tell you the truth. We have done a lot. I think from the last two conferences of Youth ministers, we have achieved 80% implementation rate. The conference of Heads of State held last year, we have done 75% of what was required for us to do. I think the impact of implementing these decisions need two things. One: effective communication on what is being done and packaged for the right audience. The second is that the constituencies at country levels need to have access to these information in order for them to hold their governments accountable. National level implementation is a soveriegnty issue, countries maintain their sovereignty to determine what is priority for them but if they have as it were, in a collective sense of responsibility agreed to a common priority at the continental level, it is now left for the constituencies at country level including youth leaders, civil society and partners to ensure that the issue remains top agenda especially when it comes to national budgeting and implementation.
Q: Can you cite examples of such recommendations that have been implemented?
A: There are several. For example, the mandate of the summit said we should develop the capacity to monitor and track progress in the continent. We have deployed fifty young consultants across the continent who are collecting data from countries. We have sent four consultants to all the regional commissions to collect data and we are finding very important information from all of those analysis. It does not end there, we have now put in place a Country Technical Assistance Mechanism which will now provide technical and financial support to countries to respond to targets of the decade plan of action on youth in Africa by 2018. You will also notice on the issue of youth employment that we have already began a 300 million dollars worth of partnership negotiations across different partners to help countries respond to the challenge of youth employment and also in terms of entrepreneurship, we are putting together a joint initiative on business support development services and this hopes to set up incubators for intra-African business development and country level implementation. The third part is that the volunteer program has been expanded, now, even the African Union Commission is going to be implementing a Junior Professionals Program based on previous experience with the AU youth volunteer scheme and we are also getting a lot of requests from partners who now want young professionals from Africa. I think in terms of implementation rate, it’s significant. More countries are requesting to train the AU youth volunteers. More countries are giving us volunteers to be trained and are funding and supporting it and more countries are taking part in the initiatives that are been proposed at bilateral levels. So there’s a lot going on.
Q: The African Youth Charter has been seen as one of such instruments where the African Union has enjoyed massive support from countries. It is reportedly one of very few documents and charters that in the space of few years has gotten more than twenty five member state ratification. How was this feat achieved?
A: I think the first thing I need to even mention on that is that as part of the decisions, the Heads of States said that the Africa Peer Review Mechanism should expand its indicators to include the African Youth Charter, that exercise has been completed and now we are at the stage where we will be sending a youth expert with all APRM country missions. We will produce monographs of all country reviews and we are going to be working with the Ministry of Youth in member states to ensure that there is a youth on all national Governing Councils of APRM at country levels. We have also now began to make efforts to establish a High Level Taskforce on the Right of Youth and within that same framework use the National Human Rights institutions to ensure enforcement and accountability. I gave all of this first to say the African Youth Charter is not just ratified by thirty countries, we have moved beyond just ratification. This was achieved because young people use their demographic value to ensure that they created a lot of awareness and information about it. I must say that a lot of countries had to respond because of the concern about youth and their ability to organise and challenge the status quo. At the political level, that was one of the reasons why the charter was widely ratified. It also shows that there are some interest somewhere politically speaking to respond to the issues of youth, however vague as it may be in terms of implementation, youth organisations played a lot of role to making sure that more countries ratified and are ratifying.
Q; Youth Unemployment is growing bigger by the day on the African Continent. The African Heads of State recognised this at the Malabo Summit and agreed in one of its recommendations to set aside 2% of national budgets to deal with it. How would this be achieved?
A: For one, we went to the Meeting of the African Ministers of Finance and Economy to propose this idea of percentage allocation and they just said very clearly – civil society professionals and activists cannot just distribute the national budget, there is something called National Accounting and from what many organisations and recommendations have suggested for education, health e.t.c. If we put all of it together, we are already looking at 120% of the budget of countries, which is not realistic. So, one of the things that is making sense for us is to understand what percentage of the GDP growth we need to achieve on the continent for us to have a 2% reduction in youth unemployment and that discussion has begun, we have been part of several conversation to now analyse this. These are the dimensions, youth employment is not going to be achieved only by giving young people training in entrepreneurship, the economy should be able to absorb the people who have the skills and be industrialised enough to utilise those skills and pay for it. Emphasis will now become ‘how to equip young people to start engaging in issues of broad macro-economic sector growth and inclusive growth’. That is the next direction we are taking, to move the discussions from just employment to employment that is part of a broader macro-economic target.
Q: At the global level, the UN is trying to implement a new youth strategy and one of the focus of that is to appoint a Special Adviser on Youth to the UN Secretary General. At the last COMYIV, one of the recommendations was to ensure that the strategy is implemented and also possibly endorse and support an African candidate. What’s the take of the AU on this?
A: The African Union is a secretariat of member states and if this request have come from countries, yes the AU will play its traditional role of providing information and facilitating the consultation among member states on whom and what criteria would determine this common candidate.
Q: Related to that is also the mobilisation on the post-2015 agenda. As you also know, the MDGs did not take into specific detail the needs of young people, especially in Africa. How would the AU use its clout to facilitate a common position for youth around the post-2015 agenda?
A: I will tell you that we already have a history of ensuring that African youth issues are on the global agenda. We did it in Mexico (the Global Youth Summit) in 2010, we did it in New York ( UN High Level Meeting on Youth Development) in 2011, and in 2012. We have already started talking with the different stakeholders and we have been part of several consultations around post-2015 and the youth agenda for Africa. How this is going to be elaborated is still going to depend on what structures have been created by the United Nations, but in a few months from now, there will be a delegation of the African Union to the United Nations to fashion a concrete activity and engage the African Group at the UN to push forward the youth issues as part of the agenda.
Q: Overall, what direction will the AU be looking at towards youth development in the coming years?
A: I think that it’s taking a better shape, a structured shape and more resources are coming in. What we are looking forward to is delivering in the next few years the minimum status and standard for which a young person in Africa lives will be transformed comprehensively and integratedly.
Q: Thank you for your time
A: Thank you very much.
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