“Oppressors have always expected the oppressed to extend to them the understanding and moral forbearance so lacking in themselves” Audre Lorde

Participating at the 6th regional forum on sustainable development reminded me of the many reasons young people’s interests, and not just needs, are often deferred or delayed. We are often told to be patient, to build our capacity or exercise a certain kind of decorum, whether in dress sense, interventions, language or framing of our issues. This kind of policing in development is no different to that which exists in the criminalization of our bodies and politicization of our identities. It serves the interests of those in power and those who benefit from privilege. It subscribes to the remnants of patriarchy, racism, nationalism and colonialism. These are all invisible and inherently cede to the interests of oppressors. Yes, just as the employer whom extracts as much value from a labourer in the spirit of efficiency and maximum impact; so do the well-intended bureaucrats and technical assistance partners who prescribe and decide what’s worth measuring.

It all reflects capitalism and nuances of variants of supremacy. It affirms the delineation of young people and Africa as being linear to development and economic parameters of our future. Decolonising this would reconfigure and essentially dismantle the policing of thinking, language and minimalist ways of engaging young people in meaningful conversations. As leaders committed to listening more, it felt no different to the plethora of evidence commissioned, widely disseminated and consumed on our development. I sat in a session hosted by an African civil society organisation that included a speaker of European descent, who came all the way from Europe to speak a European language to an African audience. This, along with many other subtle neoliberal practices, reminded me of how far off development is yet to work for us as young Africans. I say this because we are not included. It is not sustainable because we are not included. The same faces, languages, thinking and products of education systems still occupy bureaucratic offices and government positions consistently reminding themselves of our excellent and honourable they are.

The capitalist forms of language, speaking to reconfiguring coordination and building efficiencies only mean less equitable forms of engagement. There surely is a better way to capture our aspirations beyond what is on paper. A better way to safeguard our agency beyond talking exercises, unpaid internships and quotas of representation. Young people are leaders of today. We need to be recognised that way with meaningful and gainful employment, resourcing and networking amongst ourselves to chart and accelerate progress in SDGs and Agenda 2063.

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