By Dumiso Gatsha
The year 2020 will be the five-year anniversary of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)s. As reflections on progress are being made, shortcomings and the role of various actors start; a deficit remains in young Africans playing a role in SDG related work. Aside from the lack of representation and diversity in youth actively involved in United Nations and African Union advocacy; knowledge and links to lived experiences are other shortcomings. Youth are navigating schooling, under-employment (if not unemployment) and social pressures.
Africa has the youngest population, yet migration, education systems and public health impede meaningful advancements of the region’s demographic dividend. The extractive nature in which data is created on young Africans, reflects the wider governance and civic participation mechanisms. African youth remain beneficiaries and not part of the decision making in development. Structural impediments remain in place for encouraging creativity and discourse led and owned by young people. Of the existing youth structures that exist today, they remain exclusive from those who do not have safe homes, identity cards, citizenship, education, enabling environments or resources. Similarly, indigenous ways of engagement – in as much as they are patriarchal, have been neglected under the auspices of globalization and multilateralism.
When we speak of development today, it is often thought of in the context of expert, technical or systemic paradigms. These include economic growth, human capital and leveraging technology. Opportunities lie in community based engagements. Particularly because historical means of traditional governance were built on the premise of dialogue. The Pan African ideals that created solidarity among African nations in colonial era years and contributed to the African governance architecture seem insufficient. Leadership remains in power, stifling creativity and youth from leadership positions.
Commemorations such as The Day of the African Child and Mandela Day are important for us to reflect and ask ourselves if our education and health systems are working for us. They provide opportunities to reflect on what is being taught in African narratives and how to better think from this lens. The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) held in July 2019 provided many states, civil society and other stakeholders to share ideas, challenges and knowledge on the progress, or lack thereof, in the road to achieving the SDGs. Only 47 countries submitted, of which 17 African countries made submissions. This highlights the need for increased accountability and engagement on issues of development and policy making, and more importantly, that an enabling environment can be created to ensure efficacy, agency and meaningful participation of African youth in achieving the SDGS.