By Erin Mazursky, Youth Advisor at USAID
Last week, I was honored to participate and present alongside colleagues from the State Department and the U.S. Mission to the African Union (USAU) at the African Youth Forum in Addis Ababa, where USAID sponsored the participation of ten African youth from all over the continent. They were part of over one hundred youth participants in the event. The Forum was held in partnership with the African Union Commission on Human Resources and Youth in advance of July’s annual African Union (AU) Summit, which will have a special focus on youth empowerment.
The Forum brought together young civil society leaders, members of national youth councils, youth members of parliament, and entrepreneurs. They highlighted top priorities such as education and empowerment in addressing the challenges as well as the opportunities of African youth to contribute to the promotion of economic growth, eradication of poverty, and stronger, more transparent democracies. On the last day, youth participants created a resolution that will be presented to African Heads of State at the July AU Summit that states how they can support these priorities.
Throughout the Forum, I conducted one-on-one interviews with participants, each with a unique and inspiring story and passion for how youth can positively contribute to development: a climate change activist from Kenya who has mobilized youth throughout the continent, a business entrepreneur from Zambia who sells affordable baby diapers to low-income women, an HIV/AIDS advocate from Cameroon who works in universities to make contraception more available, and a consultant from Tanzania who started her own firm to help youth build capacity in their work.
The young people encouraged the U.S. to continue the conversation we started with the President’s Forum for Young African Leaders in Washington last August to create a common vision for our development efforts. An exchange of ideas, skills and capacity-building were among the top recommendations for how the U.S. could continue to support their work.
USAID, the State Department, and USAU participated in panel discussions, including the “Friends of Africa” panel, where U.S. Ambassador to the African Union, Michael Battle, emphasized the important role African youth play in shaping the present and future of Africa. He reiterated President Obama’s promise that the U.S. is ready to stand by them every step of the way. I was also happy to announce USAID’s effort to create its first-ever global Youth in Development Policy. The young participants thanked the U.S. government for their continued engagement with young people throughout the continent and for making youth a priority.
Forum participants urged the international community to focus on the assets and opportunities African youth have to build upon Africa’s progress. Unemployment also ranked among their top priorities, and it was broadly recognized that the best way to create jobs was through entrepreneurship. They saw themselves as future employers rather than employees. Youth participation in all levels of society – from households to schools to politics – was also stressed. The more youth can be productive members of their communities, the greater opportunity for youth to be a part of solutions.
USAID and USAU were proud to lead the response for African Union support at the Forum. USAID’s presence at the event helped convey the priority we place on youth in underlying the success of our work. Overall, our support proved minimal in relation to what we were able to gain in listening and learning from innovative and forward-thinking youth from across the continent.