This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: Empowering Youths On Regional Development Goals

Abimbola Akosile examines a regional forum organised by the Government of Benin Republic and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Cotonou for youth networks, private sector and governments on the post-2015 development framework

The Government of Benin recently organised a three-day regional forum in Cotonou to share successful experiences of youth networks, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), private sector and governments on youth related issues.

The government recognised young people as invaluable agents of change, capable of driving social and economic development, defining norms and values, and determining the security of their nations for decades to come.

The forum brought together young leaders from across the African Union, as well as high level representatives from the African Union countries, civil society, the UN, the private sector, the donor community and government institutions.

The goal of the forum was to better incorporate the issues most important and relevant to young people into the review process for the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and put African adolescent and youth prominently on the map of the post 2015 development framework discussion.

Its aim was to provide key recommendations on a variety of critical issues related to youth, which will feed into the Global Youth Forum to be held in Bali, Indonesia, on December 4-6 in view of the ICPD beyond 2014, or the 20th anniversary of the ICPD.

United in Focus

A welcome address was delivered by the Minister for Sports, Youth Development and Leisure of the Republic of Benin, Mr. Didier Aplogan, wherein he welcomed all participants and informed them that the theme of the meeting was aimed at promoting the MDG goals and action plan on ICPD.

The minister expressed gratitude to the UNFPA Executive Director, Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin and noted that his presence at the opening session of the meeting was a testament to UNFPA's interest in youth development. Furthermore, he observed that the meeting was a follow up to the recent 45th session of the Commission on Population and Development which held at the United Nations in April 2012.

He remarked that it was important to pay attention to issues of youth development given that the population of young people is estimated to increase by 40 per cent in Africa. There have been efforts to promote youth development issues but progress has been slow and unequal. In addition, the political framework for implementing efforts in this regard was still very weak.

Aplogan noted that the meeting provided an opportunity to lay a foundation for concrete recommendations to serve as the input of African young people to the Global Youth Forum slated for Bali, Indonesia. Finally, he urged for full participation and commitments of all participants in the themes of the meeting in order to achieve objectives of meeting.

In his opening address the UNFPA Executive Director, Osotimehin thanked President Yayi Boni and the people of the Republic of Benin for awarding him the highest honour of the country. He informed the meeting that Africa was at an inflection point, and that population demography and the composition reflected a youthful population - 60 per cent under the age of 30.

According to him, "Africa has responded in various ways to addressing the challenges including the development and adoption of an African youth charter. This indicates an understanding that there has to be a response and a programme to take advantage of the vitality that young people bring to the table. Young people are increasingly becoming visible in development process in Africa."

He cited the example of the young people's address to African Heads of State at a recent AU Heads of State meeting in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. He however noted that there is need for a more systematic involvement of young people in Africa's development.

Osotimehin noted that CSO and development workers alike may have to admit a lack of understanding to the desires and needs of young people sometimes. There is a need to rethink how to engage young people, he said and affirmed his belief that young people are responsible. The former Nigerian Minister of Health noted that the best people are the young ones given opportunity to participate and express themselves. He called on development actors to invest more resources in young people's concerns, and asserted that development in the African continent would be unsustainable if young people are not involved.

He noted that there are countries in the world with no natural resources but places a premium on the development of human resources. He urged African governments and development actors to expose its young people to innovations and technology and ensure that Africa rises through this young people.

President Yayi, current Chairman, African Union Heads of State Meeting, in his address, welcomed Osotimehin to the African continent and reassured young persons of the support of his government to youth development and urged them to be proud to be Africans.

He noted that the African continent was a cradle of humanity and the prosperity of the future. African continent is a continent of hope. "In fifty years, Africa will be the most populated with more than 60 per cent made up of young people. With systematic involvement of youth and effort to promote youth development Africa will indeed be prosperous."

He recounted development challenges of the African region to include - insecurity and terrorism; lack of good governance, corruption, poor quality of education, youth empowerment, reproductive health, and drug addiction.

The President appealed to the youth to protect themselves and distance themselves from violence and terrorism and work to promote the cardinal values of democracy and rule of law. He reiterated his commitment to youth development and finally declared the Forum opened.

So Many Needs

During the forum, participants identified some needs to enhance the development process in West Africa and the continent as a whole. These include the need for development policies of countries to integrate youth participants in the process of development and youth concerns in contents.

To them, employers of labour should be provided incentives to employ more young people without insisting on experience gaining; there is need to a broad assessment on the situation of youth in Africa; need for government to promote internship for young people; provision of vocational skills; and more access to education for young people in rural areas.

Participants stressed the need to provide qualitative education, use of ICT, data to show short falls in career gaps to inform planning over a long time; investing of resources by budgeting; entrepreneurial training - access to credit and mentoring; best practices (Shongai model of farming).

"It is important to scale up to implementation not only for media publicity; need to ensure that resolution from the meeting to be submitted the resolution to the African union; and need to provide real-time data to influence employment policies on the continent with examples of the United States of America that produces its employment and consumer data on a monthly basis. Such data will aid accurate planning and policy development", the forum noted.

Crucial Outcomes

The participants continued deliberations at group levels to articulate recommendations that culminated into the final recommendation. The forum ended with a closing ceremony which also doubles as a launch ceremony for the UNFPA 2102 SWOP Report.

The ceremony was attended by the forum delegates, the UNFPA Representative in Republic of Benin and Mali; top government functionaries which included the Ministers of Youth, Sports and Leisure, Minister for Development and Future Prospects and His Majesty, King of Sawaou.

The outcome documents of the meeting, which will be presented at the Global Youth Forum in Bali this week, had some recommendations amongst several others.

It called for the creation of counselling centres run by and for young people and to follow up on the centre's evolution by providing funding, technical support and ensuring its sustainability in the long run, and the reinforcing of the capacities of peer educators and youth leaders in order to build a community of youth leaders trained to reach out to their peers on several issues including adolescent and sexual reproductive health.

The forum sought an improvement of the training of young people (professional and technical) with emphasis on practical training, with such trainings tailored towards recent realities and identified gaps in the job market.

It called for improved integration of young people in the development process from concept development, implementation and monitoring and evaluation by ensuring young people are involved in decision making efforts and policy processes that affect their lives.

The forum also wanted the support of the structuring of youth organisations by financing the human resources and operational costs so that youth organisations and associations in Africa will be as sustainable as their counterparts in different parts of the world

"African Government should implement its AU Heads of State Malabo commitment to reduce annually by 2 per cent youth unemployment on the continent and to dedicate an increasing amount of resources to creating the right environment for businnesses to thrive", the participants added.

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