Monday, October 24, 2011
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Implementation of the African Youth Charter; Our Interpretations and Observations.

Monday, October 24, 2011
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Project 1: Examining the State of Africa's Youth Policy Framework
Article 01
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The African Youth Charter is Africa's overarching policy on young people. Adopted in July 2006 by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union in Banjul, The Gambia, the charter was to enhance the development work platform on the continent. It took just over three years until the last of the required 15 instruments of ratification was deposited and to date, more than 20 countries have ratified and just less than 40 have signed the Charter. So while we know that Africa's only sure resource to change its prospects are young people and that there is a need for collective action in harnessing this potential, we are still seeing an unequal response to implement a common agreement passed by the same governments that caused its delay.

What does Ratification Mean?

Africa needs to work with what it has and fortunately as of 2009, the African Youth Charter was ratified. But what does ratification actually mean? When a country signs and then ratifies the charter, what changes in the national youth policy framework? Ratification basically means making an initial agreement binding. The ratification process requires that the agreement pass through civic consultation and finally being approved by national assembly or parliament. Once this is done, it means that the agreement in question becomes part of the country's "legal system" and hence followed by compiling the instruments to deposit. To answer our question then will need us to look at exactly what is enshrined in the African Youth Charter and in that respect see what becomes part of a country's legal system.

Composition of the African Youth Charter

The charter has mainly three sections. The first is a preamble section where the conviction for the charter is clarified. This is followed by two parts. Part one has 28 articles and Part two has 3 articles. Whilst the second part outlines the "Final Provisions" of the charter and is important, the most important part of the charter (for the purposes of this project and question at hand) is the first and we will focus on that.

Part one outlines the "Young People's Rights" and "Duties of States" to ensure implementation of the different elements of the charter. What is important to note is how vast and comprehensive these rights are. We can say with confidence that the multifaceted nature of the challenges young people face have been amply addressed here. But young people, youth development actors and institutions working to accelerate youth development on the continent should not take closure with this and feel all is addressed. If there is a particular aspect of youth development challenges that has not been addressed, the provisions under Part two of the charter provide the guidance for their inclusion.

Young people's rights enshrined in the charter, from freedom of movement, expression, association, property ownership, development, participation and much more give us an indication of the changes expected in the national youth policy framework. Whilst part one of the charter also calls for the "development of comprehensive and coherent national youth policies", what we expect to see with ratification of the charter is for significant revision of the relevant legislative parameters (constitution, laws and policies) to ensure that the  provisions of the charter are incorporated.

And ideally that is what is being done. But if this is to be the policy framework that will enable Africa to have in place the programs to unlock the potential of its young people, who is actually doing the quality assurance? What measure are we using to grade the quality of the outputs? And what mechanism exists to review progress on the implementation of the charter? These are questions we also hope to answer in the continuing articles on this project, but for now we can afford a preliminary examination of this.

Implementing the Charter - the quality assurance and review mechanism

We know there is no particular framework or mechanism for the monitoring and review of the implementation of the charter. There can be disagreement with this statement in that some countries have their own approaches to monitoring youth development. The status of youth for some is presented in annual budget speeches for the relevant Government Ministry dealing with young people. For others, it is a periodic Youth Development Report and some it is a National Youth Development Index. We agree, these national systems must be working somehow. 

But even though the translation of the charter into the legal system is unique for each country, we need a common continental mechanism to ensure there is consistency. Countries have agreed to implement the Decade on African Youth Development Action Plan (to be examined in coming articles), which is basically a continental road-map for the implementation of the charter. If efforts to implement what countries have ratified as part of the charter are in line with this continental action plan, then the need for a common monitoring, data collection and review mechanism is more than justified and is needed now.

The broader implications of the Charter

We have discussed in an earlier article the issue of "Africa's Demographic Dividend". The continent can not afford to waste anymore time. Estimates suggest that the youth population will peak in less than 2 to 3 decades. We have little or no time for trying out approaches and initiatives to see what works. We need to get it right now. So with the African Youth Charter and its supporting strategies bringing the African continent together on youth development, we need the resulting actions to be "collective". If we can get the excellent provisions in the charter to work, we can very well claim the dividends.

The African Union and the Open Society Foundations will be hosting an experts meeting to examine the challenges and limitations to the implementation of the charter early November 2011 (information on this meeting here). We will follow-up on this article, together with your feedback, by looking at the discussion generated from this meeting.

What are your thoughts?

We want to hear from you on this. Send us an email, leave a comment under this article or join our Facebook community and leave a comment there also. So some questions;
  1. What are your experiences with the African Youth Charter?
  2. Has your country signed or ratified (or both) the charter?
  3. Do you have a national youth policy? and,
  4. Where do you think we are and should be heading with the implementation of the charter?
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Editorial Team.
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