African youth activists say the 220 million young people on their continent should be seen as a positive force for change, not a problem requiring solutions.
The activists spoke earlier this week at United Nations’ headquarters in New York.
Aya Chebbi of Tunisia is the African Union’s special representative on youth. She told the UN Security Council, “We must change the narrative about African youth to become a narrative of collective, positive actors, among the most informed, the most resilient generation of Africa.”
Africa’s growing youth population is often seen as a possible time bomb, ready to explode. In many countries, governments struggle to provide education and good jobs to the millions of young people seeking a better life. The numbers of youth joining the armed forces or leaving the continent have increased -- a sign that the root causes of hopelessness are not being addressed.
Aya Chebbi told the Security Council that harmful or negative stories about young people can be dangerous.
“It is disempowering,” Chebbi said. She noted that many young people have the idea that they are made to feel as if they are not important. Some see armed groups as rightful fighters, not people spreading violence.
“We have to value our youth” and what they give the world, she said. “They will look for recognition elsewhere if we don’t.”
Bience Gawanas is the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Africa. She said that, “If the right investments in youth are made, and their social, political and economic engagement recognized and nurtured,” countries may gain peace.
Gawanas added that across the continent, young people are demanding urgent action and making their voices heard.
“From Algeria, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Tunisia and Zimbabwe, young people are at the center of pro-democracy movements,” she said.
African Union plan
The October 2 Security Council debate centered on an African Union plan to ‘silence the guns by 2020’ and end conflict on the continent.
“We want youth to give up the guns, but can we answer the big question in the mind of a 19 or 20 year-old: Who am I? What are we offering them?” Chebbi asked.
Hafsa Ahmed joined the debate by a video connection from Nairobi, Kenya. She is the co-founder of Naweza, a non-governmental organization.
Hamed said African youth face “deep rooted obstacles” to meaningful action in peace-building efforts, which traditionally belong to the older generation. She added that when young people are involved they are “often reduced to issues of education and employment.” But they have the ability to contribute to the biggest issues in their countries and the world, she said.
Ugandan activist Victor Ochen talked about how many of his dreams were ruined because his childhood was spent in a camp for people who were displaced from their homes. He told the council’s members by video from Kampala that he made the decision not to become a fighter at a time when boys around him were targeted.
Ochen said he was thinking about getting a gun, but something told him war was not the answer, and that guns only increase suffering.
“I chose peace,” he said.
At the age of 13, he started a group to discourage recruitment of child soldiers in the camp. He later went on to found the African Youth Initiative Network to turn suffering into an opportunity for leadership and build peace.
I’m Anne Ball.
VOA’s Margaret Besheer reported this story. Anne Ball adapted her report. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
positive – adj. good or approving
narrative – n. a story that is told or written
resilient – adj. able to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens
address – v. to communicate; to speak or write directly
nurture – v. to help (something or someone) to grow, develop, or succeed
obstacle – n. something that makes it difficult to do something
contribute – v. to give or provide with others
discourage – v. to cause someone to lose interest; dishearten
opportunity – n. an amount of time or a situation in which something can be done