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In November 2016, I had the privilege to take part as Youth Delegate in the Fifth African Union High Level Dialogue (HLD) on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance from 23-26 November 2016, in Arusha, United Republic of Tanzania.
The main aim of the HLD was to discuss the situation of human rights in Africa, including strategies to enhance the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human and peoples’ rights on the continent.
On the margins of the 2016 Annual High Level Dialogue, a Youth Side Event was held on 24th of November, 2016, to present the report from the four regional youth consultations held earlier in the year to assess and reflect youth perspectives in the discussion for the year.
Each of the four regional consultations were focused on four broad thematic areas:
A key agreement emerging from these consultations is that change cannot come without the full participation of young people at all stages of decisions spheres. As young people, one of our major concerns is how we can contribute efficiently in the development of our respective countries. One of the lessons implies that good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law are critical enablers and drivers of integration, prosperity and development of Africa. Our work and commitment must be focused on elevating the African youth voices on issues that highly affect their present as well as their future.
Change cannot come without the full participation of young people at all stages of decisions spheres.
However, African states have struggled with the influence of culture, the lack of political will and the sentiments from postcolonial and dictatorial mentality that have made it difficult for young people to be engaged. Even though the history of young people’s participation in governance and human rights processes on the continent predates the colonial era, it is still a challenge for youth formations and groupings to be meaningfully engaged in their countries’ socio-cultural political systems.
Current realities in the African continent depict that youth are becoming ever more engaged and aware of the inefficiencies and flaws of these mechanisms. Through new ways of information exchange, along with generational and technological changes, young people are provided with increased access to information that affects their present and future. As human rights violations continue to receive greater attention, governments, now more than ever, remain accountable to answer to the public’s concerns. This should be an indication to member states to reconsider young people’s involvement in human rights, moving away from a tokenistic engagement to giving them a safe space to be engaged constructively. In addition, with an increasing subscription to and maturity of democratic governance systems taking hold on the continent, the need for open dialogue with youth on human rights is indispensable.
Nonetheless, young people on the continent grapple with a number of challenges which impugn their full enjoyment of their fundamental human rights. These rights – including economic, social and political – remain a critical foundation for the full and active participation of young people in their societies as well as contribute to the transformation of the continent.
I have three questions:
Here are the questions and each of us must be committed to it for us to reach the world we want.
[Cover photo © African Union]
John Gbenagnon is a social justice campaigner, advocate in sustainable education, youth inclusion and gender equality. He has extensive experience in communication and project management and youth training. He has held leadership positions with several youth led regional and international organizations and currently serve as FEMNET Focal Point in Benin.
He is founder and Executive Director of SOHOUTOU Initiative, a regional NGO which intervenes in social inclusion, youth education, women’s empowerment and communication. John is the community developer at GLOBI.