African Youth and the African Union after 10 Years – Long Live!
By David Maimela
The launch of the African Union (AU) and its political programme, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), ten years ago in 2002 in Durban South Africa, represented continuity of change.
It was and still is continuity of change in the sense that on the one hand, the new organisation, the AU, was a consolidation of the idea of African unity inaugurated by the erstwhile Organisation of African Unity (OAU), whereas on the other, was an attempt at reinvigorating the same noble idea (African unity) in the form of the AU empowered with a refreshed political mandate, NEPAD.
The launch of the AU and NEPAD, ignited renewed hope and expectations from key sections of the African continent and the people as a whole and perhaps a deeper appraisal after ten years is timely. Of interest to this discussion is an overview of the role of the African youth in Africa’s development in the context of the new era of the AU and NEPAD.
Since the formation of the AU, a lot has happened that has brought change in the African continent, including the work and operations of the new organisation itself. Among other changes worth mentioning is the growth of the youth, the middle strata and the general African population as a whole.
The African population is now estimated to have reached the one billion mark and the youth (depending on definition & estimation instruments) is said to constitute about 60% of the population. We also see the encouraging trend of rising levels of life expectancy, literacy and better management of dreadful diseases.
Whereas in general, since independence, Africa is experiencing decline in incidents of war and conflict, however, in the past decade, we have witnessed worrying developments of conflict (in varying intensity) in countries such as Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the persistent Somalian conflict, Sudan which led to the partitioning of the biggest country in Africa and again, the Ivory Coast post-election conflict.
The North African uprisings of 2011 deserve special mention due to their unprecedented character. These uprisings that happened in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya are quite monumental in many ways. They appear to be genuine uprisings from below demanding democratic change – a development that in principle is welcomed. They had large numbers of youth participating and in some instances leading from the front. They were largely peaceful except in the case of Libya where, with the unfortunate intervention of NATO, led to greater loss of life.
In all of these developments, the capacity of the AU to respond to these challenges effectively has been tested. The performance is mixed and more can still be done to improve the responses of the AU to crises in future, including in early warning systems and conflict prevention. In short, there has been progress and regress.
Importantly though is the capacity of the AU, Africans and in particular the youth to respond to the positive impulses and developments in the continent. How does the youth respond to and enhance the capacity of continental body to respond to positive advances and spur Africa onto greater heights? What kind of youth and youth leadership do we need?
We can only respond to these questions if we understand what I call ‘reality’ in broad terms and ‘African reality’ in particular. This does not suppose that ‘African reality’ is the same across all 54 countries of the continent.
Understanding this ‘reality’ will also require that the African youth in particular, have a particular consciousness without which they cannot understand this ‘reality’ and therefore are ill-equipped to respond and change the ‘reality’ for the better.
In broad terms, this ‘reality’ refers to an African continent that is politically free, enjoys sovereign rights, has made strides towards African unity, enjoys greater levels of peace and democracy and yet huge challenges of development persist. The consciousness we need, is an optimist consciousness so that we have a corps of young people who believe that this ‘reality’ can and must change, that this reality cannot perpetually define who we are, that the AU and NEPAD are not government tasks but are our tasks as the youth and ordinary peoples of Africa, that we understand the role that we must play to re-shape not only our current ‘reality’ but fashion a new ‘reality’ – our destiny!
Therefore outside the formal structures of the youth such as the Pan-African Youth Union (PYU) and the All Africa Student Union (AASU) both of which are struggling to make their presence felt in the continent, we need a pan-African movement with a progressive pan-African consciousness to engage the African ‘reality’ and rally the African youth behind a common programme for change.
We also need greater appreciation and consciousness from the old (incumbent leadership) to realise that they need the new in order to make the African unity and development strategies work in the current ‘reality’; that the new (youth) must, working together with the old, imagine and create the ‘new reality’ for the benefit of future generations. In other words, we need the AU and African leadership to take the youth seriously and embrace the changes that occur in the economic, political, social and demographic profile of the continent.
Since 1963 (the year of the formation of the OAU), Africa has had more universities and thus more student output and consequently a growing middle strata of various social positions. We need to harness the educated and intellectual class and ensure that it is rooted in the African ‘reality’ and yet possess a global awareness of how this ‘reality’ interfaces with the ever changing ‘world reality’.
The idea to unite the African people does not begin with the formal establishment of organisations such as the OAU or the AU. It begins with the struggle for independence and national liberation. The pursuit of the latter is still as pertinent now as it was then.
In this regard, the youth and the educated classes should partner to attend to two urgent tasks: The first is to reduce the social distance between the people, their leaders and educated classes whilst in the process, educating even politically, the masses of the people of Africa. Secondly, they must define what should constitute a radical politics for the advancement of Africa in the 21st century.
Hopefully, if these tasks among others are performed, the future of the AU and Africa’s development and renewal programme will be secured. At the centre of this must be the youth and the future they bear on their shoulders. It is time that we get the youth more excited about Africa and her potential success!
Long live the African youth and the African Union!