Initially shared on the UN Major Group on Children and Youth newsletter on Dumi’s experience at the regional forum on sustainable development goals:

Dumiso Gatsha, SDG 16 RFP for UN MGCY

Peace is often viewed as the absence of war. More notably in Africa, conflicts can lead one to think that there is little space for integrating development aspirations within interventions for advancing peace. Development aspirations including economic participation, civic rights and equitable health are central to maintaining peace and safeguarding justice. Whether in institutional mechanisms, movement building or in treaty bodies; the absence of war is not enough. This year’s African Union
(AU) theme of Silencing the Guns cannot come at a more opportune time. The demands of the Decade of Action and Beijing +25 reflect the need to move towards more holistic and interdisciplinary solutions. The issues young Africans have to face are complex, urgent and certainly not linear. Having attended the recently ended 6th regional forum on sustainable development.

A session on the AU theme reflected on progress and Africa’s Agenda 2063. The AU Youth Envoy spoke of the vast age gap when attending the most recent AU heads of states summit; an average leadership age of 66 years old charting the path for a continent who’s youngest age ranges between 20 and 24 years old. This is just as shocking and replicative of the time between now and achieving the aspirations of Agenda 2063. Just as with the leadership gap, there are shortcomings in how Agenda 2063 can be socialized, institutionalized and domesticated within and beyond regional development. An avenue for this is through SDG 16. It is inherently clear that young people have been taking action. Whether in Tunisia, Algeria or South Africa – the dynamic and systemic targeting of young people’s action in various movements reflects the urgent need to be included in our post-colonial political dispensation.

I was quite disturbed with the notion that youth can often be viewed as the problem. Notably when there is economic strife, unemployment, political frustration and domestic conflict. Young people are often used as the tools to mobilise violence and extremism. They are not to blame. It is those that yield and abuse power that should be held responsible. We often pay the price of perceptions and not of our actions. Yet in the same lens, we do not get adequate and equitable investments in our potential but only once we have taken action. There is a serious need to shift gears and reshape the narratives towards more affirmation, dignity and recognition that we are central to equitable and just sustainable development.

The forum reminded me just how African youth will consistently be seen as the ‘right thing to mention’ as if there are placards to an SDG rally This is because we do not carry the institutional backing of employment, the credibility of being viewed as experts in our own right, the privilege of disposition in bureaucratic development mechanisms that shape policy, mobilise
resources and frame impact. To truly commit to the Decade of Action and accelerate progress, young people need not do more. We have already done enough. We have demanded, we have somewhat been heard. Leaders may continue to listen, but it should not absolve or stop them from taking action. They should prove why they are deserving of the privilege and power they yield.

The many years of experience leaders have should count for something. It should no longer shield them from participatory decision making, equitable and just resource allocation/deployment and certainly the assumption that we can be
patient enough to wait for 2063 to keep them accountable. We must move beyond fellowships convening spaces and reflect why the region is yet to have reaped the previous themes of harnessing the demographic dividend of youth and the rights of women. They must deploy more resources without prescription, employ us to replicate the impact of our dynamic actions and put money where their mouths are. These are the only ways safeguarding the rights and strengthening the agency of all African youth in their diversity and urgency.

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