Panel Discussion - Youth and the Future of Africa: Challenges and Opportunities

Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs

Mr. Cheick Sidi Diarra,
His Excellency Mr. Teté Antonio,
His Excellency Mr. Jean-Francis R. Zinsou,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to thank the Office of the Special Advisor on Africa for organizing this event in partnership with the UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development.

Through this event the organizers are raising awareness about one of the most valuable and under-utilized resources in our world today: youth.

They have heeded the United Nation’s call to celebrate and support young people this year – the International Year of Youth as designated by the General Assembly.

During this International Year, UN system entities are giving a special focus to its youth programmes and encouraging Member States, NGOs and other partners to do the same.

Together we need to raise public awareness about the power of investing in youth. This can be done through public information campaigns, educational programmes and media events that highlight the dynamism and productivity that young people bring to the public and private sector.

Another objective of the year is to mobilize and engage young people in their local governments, academia, the NGOs, media and the private sector. We ask that all organizations make special efforts this year to reach out to youth, to employ them if possible but also to engage them through volunteer positions, internships and community-based activities.

It is easy to forget how much young people look to their elders for guidance and support. Let us remember that they will follow our example in countless ways, especially in terms of how we treat those from different cultures, religions and generations.

The International Year calls for us to increase inter-cultural understanding among youth. Activities and events should foster tolerance of others’ backgrounds and viewpoints.

African Member States and UN offices in Africa have shown strong support of the International year. Events have taken place in Darfur and Addis Ababa to celebrate the African Union’s launch of the Year and African Youth Day.

In terms of the key challenges that face African youth today, unemployment is perhaps the most pressing problem.

The global economic crisis had a disproportionate impact on youth in developing countries, especially those in Africa. Investment in young people is needed now, and country- and youth-tailored measures must be adopted to address the constraints that youth face in the labour market.

Education is also a seed of a more prosperous and stable Africa.

Even though the numbers of those with access to a basic education Africa have increased, too many young people have few or no opportunities to continue their studies and develop careers. The girl-child is particularly vulnerable to a stunted educational experience.

The fight against HIV/AIDS is also a major challenge for African young people. So many of them have never known a world without this disease, a disease that has taken the lives of their parents and other caregivers.

In the face of these extreme losses, African youth are making remarkable efforts to combat the spread of HIV/AIDs and to curb the path of its destruction.

They need, however, more resources in this long-term battle, and to be supported by governments and organizations that engage them and their skills in this health crisis.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I look forward to the outcome of the panellists’ discussions about youth employment, education and young people’s role in fighting the HIV/AIDS crisis, particularly on the best ways to address these issues.

Young friends,

The United Nations stands ready to assist you and your youth-led organizations in reaching your goals, especially those that relate to Africa.

I also invite you to continue helping the UN reach its goals – key among them the eradication of poverty, hunger and disease, the halting of climate change and the advancement of women’s rights.

We appreciate the energy, enthusiasm and talents that you have and we realize how crucial you are to solving the ever-increasing complexity of today’s challenges.

Thank you for being here today and I hope that this is just the beginning of our collaboration.

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