By: Kondwani Muthali, Malawi
The African Union still lives in the past that is a fact. They were the last to realise that Muammar Gadafi was not going to rule Libya anymore, whether they recognised the National Transition Council or not.
The AU, even with the Youth Volunteer programme, does not see anything long-term to keep training young people without creating room for placement. Someone, as one Commissioner told us, is worried more of the image (quick results) than long term outcomes that can shape the continent.
After making noise on the Youth Charter, the AU has failed to push states to invest in Young Africans and allow them active participation in all issues. In today’s a fast changing globe, the Commissioner responsible for Youth at the AU is probably the oldest man at the institution.
African Youth have lost the revolution from the beginning.
I was in Tripoli in 2000, when the deposed Libyan dictator, Muammar Gadafi, hosted the Organisation of African Unity Summit for Youth and Civil Society to consider the United States of Africa concept that starts with the African Union.
I recall my Youth Agenda colleagues Kepta Ombata from Kenya and Vukile Nkabinde from South Africa and the then President of the University of Malawi Students Union John Ng'ambi protested the format of the meeting, which was continuously chaired by Libyans and were all praising Gadafi vision, wisdom and foresight. We got sick of the praises and abandoned the meetings, with our French Speaking brothers praising him louder than the Arabs themselves.
I learnt a great deal from Mauritanian and Chad immigrants on how Gadafi treated his own people, despite the whole show he put up for us to show us a successful Libya. I was in Cuba in 1997 when I learnt how to please or piss off dictatorial regimes, which kept following its own people. I still cherish the double faced talk of our guides and street youth when we asked them what they thought of Gadafi.
In 2001, the United Nations Youth Unit, hosted the 4th Session of the UN Youth summit in Dakar, Senegal. An old man had just ascended into office as a President and a woman was Prime Minister. The International Youth Day found us in Dakar and we went into a stadium where President Abudulaye Wade made a speech about the struggles of the youth and how the future belonged to the young generation.
Interestingly, even his Minister of Youth was quite an old man. I did not see any opportunity for the Youth of Senegal. But the anger, listening to the speeches was swelling among the unemployed, drop outs and those that had no opportunities in a country everybody claimed was progressing.
In 2002, there was that famed launch of the Youth Employment Campaign in Egypt. The YES Campaign is officially supposed to have created jobs for young people by 2012. In contrast, millions of jobs have been lost globally and a decade later young people are nowhere near the driving seat. The Patron of the YES Campaign was Madame Suzzane Mubarak and the other one Bill Clinton. All the great team of youth activists including Dumisani Nyoni of Zimbabwe and Fredrick Clark, an Australian who moved to Boston, left the campaign. These were young people with a mission and a vision, but something happened along the campaign and they left for other things.
In 2003, the Youth Development Network based in South Africa launched a regional youth employment programme and after a meeting in Swaziland, another regional programme would be launched and in Malawi it would include Andiamo Youth Cooperative then headed by Lucious Kanyumba, who would in 2009 become Malawi's first youth activist to make into the office of Cabinet Minister.
Between 2003 and 2010, most youth movements were absorbed by easy funding for HIV and AIDS, Gender, Environment and ICT Development. These were mainly connected to the Millennium Development Goals that employment became a forgotten area for most African advocates.
But each year, many young people dropped from school, many girls got pregnant and needed income to survive and more importantly, many simply have completed school but there are no employment opportunities after school.
Underemployment in some sectors and the poor working conditions in careers like Education and Health have seen high brain drain rates for the continent and very few young people being attracted to these professions locally.
Many young people today go into prostitution (the internet being the easiest kind), internet fraud, petty and professional theft, drugs, human trafficking, mercenary armed programmes and into sex, early marriages and political abuse.
Political parties, especially in Africa, have found youth as a great asset of abuse by providing handouts to attack their own perceived enemies even in self-proclaimed democracies. The abuse of the youth cohort today is creating a dangerous future, where for example in Nigeria – in the Delta region – young people are lured into easy money traps by being attracted into ruthless armed gangs to kidnap, rape and kill.
In DR Congo, some militias have found young people to be the weapon of terror, asking them to rape their own sisters and mothers and kill them, all in the name of seeking liberation.
In Zimbabwe, the case of youth disguised as veterans were sent to attack fellow Zimbabweans who differed in political opinion especially in the run up to a second round of elections in 2008. The negligence of young people across the continent and Government's failure to gauge the frustration of its young generation, which is now in a majority, saw dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya waking up to revolutions.
I salute the courageous young generation of these three countries. The speeches, promises and chants have turned into reality.
In South Africa, Julius Malema is trying to make an economic case for the young people; other youth in the South African Communist Party opted for a Jobs Summit. While I do not necessarily agree with Malema's reasons of economic freedom, looking at his opulent life that resembles many of the political oligarch's of Africa, I find the Communist Youth League’s position as very strange and youth unfriendly.
The Youth of South Africa need to unite and send a message, that through democratic and legal means we will all stand and go into Parliament, pass policies that reflect the needs and demands of the young Africans.
If the legal means take another decade just like the Tripoli Summit in 2000 to the African Union Youth Volunteer Corps launch in 2010, then the Youth of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya will serve as a role model to other African Youth.
Participation of Young Africans is now a must. Deliberate actions should be taken by the African Union to ensure Governments (those that have and have not ratified) recognise that the Charter is a matter of urgency and its integration into national youth policies and legal systems cannot wait.
The biggest challenge is that in all countries where young people will rise up, they will remain a force for the next two decades, which will create a completely different democracy. For any perceived wrong people, demonstrations will take to the streets and change will be demanded once more.
As people of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya celebrate their liberation, I am still shocked that the old-guards have still found their way back into the system. Some of them were last day defectors and have managed assumed political control of these three nations.
So where are the youth who led the revolution?
I looked around and in Zambia; it was young people who took long time opposition leader Micheal Sata into power. He promised jobs and to make sure Chinese companies do not exploit mine workers. But a Human Rights report slapped Sata this week and he is now talking about conversing with Beijing using Kenneth Kaunda.
Micheal Sata equally picked his old colleague, Guy Scott as his Deputy. He could not think of training the young Zambians that essentially elected him and creating a role model for other Africans that youth have equal potential.
In Botswana, Ian Khama, relatively young by African standards, is looking at an old generation for his possible successor. In Swaziland the young King is now attacked for failing the nation. And in DR Congo, the Youthful Laurent Kabila is now clinging tight.
Hey, they are not young people anymore, it is time for the real young people to stand up in Africa, run in elections and dare the establishment that we have enough numbers to make the revolution that started in Tunisia to stand.
We cannot wait for another decade when they are all in their 90's. History will judge us, as a failed generation, which launched a failed revolution.
Kondwani Munthali is a Malawian Youth worker, journalist and public health specialist. He is founder of the Youth Alliance in Social and Economic Development, Youth Media Malawi and was part of youth consultants to the setting of the Youth Employment Campaign, AU Youth Volunteers Corps. His blog is www.munthalikondwani.blogspot.com and email is firstname.lastname@example.org