The creation of an African Union (AU) youth envoy is a welcome development on a continent where one third of the population is young (between 15 and 35 years, as defined by the AU). AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat is expected to announce the new envoy soon.
But will this appointment help to address Africa’s peace and security challenges, including the vulnerability of youth to violent extremism and the need for young people to play a greater role in conflict resolution?
The AU’s African Youth Decade (2009-18) is coming to an end, yet youth development and empowerment remain poor. Young people need to be at the core of the AU’s efforts to achieve a peaceful and prosperous continent. The continental body’s Agenda 2063 asserts that the creativity, energy and innovation of African youth will be the driving force behind Africa’s political, social, cultural and economic transformation.
African states are the most fragile in the world, and the absence of a youth, peace and security agenda from the AU is worrying. Young people need to participate more in countries’ efforts to attain stability.
The United Nations (UN) has paved the way for a global youth, peace and security agenda. Security Council resolutions outline the role young people have in creating sustainable peace through their increased recognition and inclusion. The UN’s Special Envoy on Youth has since 2013 helped open up discussions on youth development in the organisation.
The envoy Mahamat appoints should have a youthful personality to represent 65% of the continent’s population. The envoy will be the youth’s spokesperson on various African decision-making bodies. He or she will encourage AU member states to define and implement national, regional and continental policies on the youth, and will have full authority to represent the AU.
The youth envoy must significantly contribute to the peace, security and development efforts of the union. Acting head of the AU’s Peace and Security Department Dr Admore Kambudzi expressed his eagerness to work with the incoming youth envoy to help silence the guns in Africa. ‘The envoy needs to rise above the notion of being only a ceremonial figure [and be] a mouthpiece for our young people,’ he said.
In the past, AU envoys were typically seasoned diplomats or former presidents, for example former presidents Thabo Mbeki (South Africa), Joaquim Chissano (Mozambique) and Pierre Buyoya (Burundi). They have been popular AU representatives, handpicked for their experience.
With that in mind, a youth envoy – even with fewer years of diplomatic and advocacy experience – should go beyond a focus on employment, education and health for young people.
The incoming envoy’s first priority will be to establish terms of engagement for youth in peace and security at AU level for all member states. For this, he or she needs a team that has knowledge of what is required, and what is already being done in conflict-affected areas, as well as in areas of relative peace.
Secondly, the envoy must start working with the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC), which currently lacks a framework for youth engagement. This is important if the AU is serious about silencing the guns by 2020. It will also complement the work of the PSC to protect women and children during armed conflict.
In June 2017, participants of a PSC session called for the appointment of a special envoy for children affected by armed conflict. According to the UN, those above 18 are no longer children, so the envoy needs to review these parameters to include people under 35 who are vulnerable in armed conflict.
Thirdly, the envoy must advocate for the drafting of a youth, peace and security charter. This should introduce terms of youth engagement in peace and security not only by the PSC but by member states too. It should be guided by pillars of democracy, civic education and youth leadership.
Introducing a youth envoy is a positive step forward, but the AU Commission must now turn its youth policy into action in its member states. The incoming envoy must avoid the basic role of advocacy and aim to actively improve the implementation of basic youth policy frameworks such as the African Youth Charter.
To do this he or she must work closely with member states’ youth ministries and national youth councils. Coordination between the AU Commission and member states is poor and could cripple the capacity for youth policy implementation. The envoy needs to advocate for initiatives that encourage better working relations between the secretariat and member states.
As we celebrate International Youth Day on Sunday 12 August, Africa is poised to welcome new high-level youth leadership at the continental level. But the AU’s youth envoy cannot anchor a youth, peace and security agenda alone. He or she needs the full support of member states along with a shared vision for the role of young people. With that, the youth envoy could ensure that Africa’s youth are part of the solution needed to silence the guns by 2020.
Muneinazvo Kujeke, Junior Research Consultant, Peace Operations and Peacebuilding, ISS
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