We need not compete, we must collaborate, was the ethos of the panel discussion that took place following the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Commonwealth Youth Council (CYC) and the Pan-African Youth Union (PYU). The panel discussion was moderated by Mr Lawrence Muli from the Commonwealth Secretariat and panellists included:
Ms Angelique Pouponneau, Vice-Chairperson for inclusion and engagement of the CYC;
Ms Raksha Ramloll, President of the National Youth Council of Mauritius;
Mr Moholai Johane, Chairman of the National Youth Council of Lesotho;
Mr Ronald Osumba, Chairman of the National Youth Advisory Board of Kenya; and
Mr Danny Adugna of the African Union Volunteers Corps.
Ms Pouponneau explained that the CYC has prioritised four main areas for its current two-year mandate, which included countering violence and extremism, promoting peace-building and working with the Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassadors Network to ensure the implementation of UNSC Resolution 2250. It will also partner with the Commonwealth Alliance for Youth Entrepreneurs to push for a Youth Entrepreneurship Fund. A representative of the Kenyan government highlighted that, in her country, the creation of such a fund had lent $600 million USD to young entrepreneurs. Ms Pouponneau further stated that it is essential to work with regional youth bodies and National Youth Councils (NYCs) to ensure that a maximum of young people are reached. She re-emphasised the commitment of the CYC to strengthen the NYCs through capacity-building.
Ms Ramloll and Mr Johane then shared some best practices from the NYCs of Mauritius and Lesotho, respectively. Ms Ramloll explained that the council is made up of both elected and nominated members and has a structure that feeds through the whole community. Mr Johane explained that although the Lesotho NYC is very young, it has made strides towards inclusion by creating mechanisms used to mainstream the voice of young people in decision-making, such as youth forums and social media engagement.
Mr Osumba gave a government perspective, stating that partnerships are essential to deliver on promises to young people. The NYC of Kenya was set up in 2009 to ensure this. He noted that, in Kenya, every government forum has at least one young person in the room. Mr Osumba stressed that resources should be combined and that rather than competing, young people should collaborate. He ended with a pertinent thought – 52% of young people in Kenya say that they are not aware that there were youth interventions of any kind and asked whether proper feedback was being given to youth constituencies.
Mr Adugna ended the panel discussion by revealing an exciting initiative that moves away from the typical view of volunteers as only distributors of blankets or bread, but also as volunteers who can provide professional services. The African Union Youth Volunteers Corp recruits and deploys young people to serve in AU bodies. Mr Adugna explained that this helped to mainstream young people in policy-making and emphasised that just because young people are participating, it does not mean that youth-friendly policies will consequently emerge.
The floor was then opened for questions which centred mostly on how to join the existing initiatives, how to ensure that these initiatives are inclusive, and how to raise awareness of all these opportunities. The Deputy Minister of Namibia closed the session and urged young people to be reflective and honest when they participate in such conferences – not to portray just a rosy picture but to be honest about the challenges and needs of young people so that the international community can help.
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