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The Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, has just appointed Aya Chebbi from Tunisia as the AU’s first ever Envoy for the Youth.

The AU said that their decision to recruit for this important new role was based on their ‘realization that in order to achieve sustainable development and meet the aspirations of Agenda 2063 that envisions the “Africa We Want”, Africa must accelerate and increase strategic investments in its young people who constitute the majority of its population.’ But moving beyond the parameters of a carefully worded job description, we are keen to understand in practice what this new Envoy should aim to really deliver now in post to strengthen the AU’s commitment to meaningful youth engagement and to tackle issues that are most affecting young people in Africa today.

We asked three members of our Youth Power campaign from Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe to share with us their reflections on the scope of this new role, and to hear more about the big issues they think need to be addressed in the region.

Victoria Ibiwoye is from Loagos in Nigeria- she is the Founder and Director of One African Child and she is also a Lawyer and Youth Power Global Leader.

Wesley Nyabaya is from Zimbabwe- he is the Founder and Director of Youth Aspire Development Trust and a Youth Power Partner.

Eric Omond is from Uganda- he is the Founder and Director of ASHWA and a Youth Power Partner.

So, do you think this new appointment of an AU Youth Envoy will actually make a difference for young people in Africa?

Wesley: ‘This appointment provides a very unique opportunity for young people with a passion for development, and gives the potential to become future leaders. With this appointment, I believe that youths will be exposed to an open and inclusive space that will allow room for sharing ideas and initiatives, thereby fostering meaningful youth participation all over Africa’.

Eric: ‘I strongly believe that the AU Youth Envoy will help young people best understand the AU’s mission with regards to leadership, governance, and accountability and to enhance youth participation in achieving the SDGs. Furthermore, given that the AU Youth Envoy will be the spokesperson of the African youth before decision-making bodies on the continent, she will assist in championing youth development issues in Africa, advocating for better youth mainstreaming in decision-making and hence promote African values across the continent and beyond.’

Victoria: ‘Young people already have a seat at the table, what we need is the space to influence and monitor political commitments so that the needs of underrepresented youth are put at the forefront. The decision to appoint a new AU Youth Representative is both timely and consequential. I hope that this position brings the youth closer to the AU and ensure that the interest, voices, and ideas of young Africans are put into consideration in decision making processes.’

It is great to hear such positive responses- it sounds like she will have a lot to live up to! What do you think therefore might be some of the greatest challenges the Envoy might face?

Wesley: ‘The most likely challenge she will face is a negative attitude from ‘adult’ leaders within the AU system. Most partnerships between youth and adults fail to work as adults tend to not take young people seriously and not value their input. Young people are often deemed to be difficult to work with due to our high energy levels and drive to be more action orientated!… Another major challenge is being overwhelmed by the new role as it entails standing up for the whole region’s youth demography!’’

Now that we have reflected on some of the challenges, what do you think will be some of the greatest opportunities for the Youth Envoy to really shift AU level commitments and policies into action, and to ensure the AU addresses issues that most affect young people in the region?

Victoria: ‘The Envoy can use her position to showcase youth and youth-led innovations in Africa, propose platforms for collaboration and increased support from AU Member States. The Envoy can also develop recommendations on follow-up actions at regional and country level to propose action for implementation of policies…It would be great to see more results and not just lip service. We really need an accountability advocate to ensure that the AU member states are doing what they said they would do!’’

Wesley: ‘Youth unemployment remains a major crisis across Africa and the Youth Envoy should be calling for training, job creation and the promotion of young entrepreneurship. She should advocate for access to employment and education among the top priorities that need to be strengthened by national youth policies in line with the World Programme of Action for Youth and the post-2015 development agenda.’

Eric: ‘Given that the scope and focus of the work of this role will reflect on the AU vision and especially aspiration 6 of Agenda 2063 “An Africa whose development is people driven, relying on the potential of its people, especially its women and youth and caring for children…” She will be in a position to make actionable recommendations on meaningful youth engagement in addressing issues that affect youth especially in the areas of corruption, transparency, democracy and accountability as well as freedom and access to information…The AU Youth Envoy has an opportunity to advocate and raise awareness about the implementation of the African Youth Charter among other AU strategies and policies; to share established good practices focusing on youth participation, partnerships and advocacy.’

It sounds like there is some really important and exciting scope to deliver needed change for young people in Africa! Ok so finally, if you could offer one piece of advice to the new Youth Envoy on their first day on the job what would it be?

Eric: ‘I would advise her to consider making consultations as inclusive and diverse as possible given that the appointment calls for their engagement with youth leaders engaged in state and non-state institutions, for example, youth power partners who have made a significant and demonstrable contribution in achieving the SDGs all over the continent.’

Wesley: ‘Young people are the problem solvers of tomorrow as much as today so engage them with verve and stand up for them to achieve the fulfillment of the SDGs.’

Victoria: ‘Be courageous! Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young. Set an example for others with your leadership.’

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