Youth pledge fight for Millennium goals
For young people across Africa, education is vital, argues Mohammed A. Latif Mbengue, a 28-year-old graduate student at Senegal's Cheikh Anta Diop University. The fact that African countries have not yet succeeded in working together to solve the continent's problems has hampered access to education. "The lack of coordination makes it very difficult for me if I want to study at another African university."
He believes that the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), which emphasizes regional integration, can help. He also thinks that the global campaign to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is essential. Endorsed by world leaders in 2000, the MDGs campaign has set targets that include reducing by half the number of people living in poverty by the year 2015, to ensure that all children complete primary education and to combat HIV/AIDS. When African leaders drew up NEPAD the following year, they incorporated the MDGs within their plan.
The African youth leaders identified conflict, HIV/AIDS, poverty and corruption as the main obstacles to Africa's progress. They agreed to establish an ongoing network, via the Internet, to coordinate efforts to advance the MDGs.
Mr. Mbengue and about 150 other youth leaders assembled in this Senegalese capital on 28 June1 July, for the first-ever Pan-African Youth Leadership Summit. Organized by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Peace Initiative of Women, a non-governmental organization, the summit focused on mobilizing the next generation of Africa's leaders behind the push to achieve the MDGs.
Ms. Eveline Herfkens, executive coordinator of the MDGs campaign, noted that young people under the age of 35 account for 60 per cent of Africa's population. They should not be considered only in terms of Africa's future, she said, but also its present, urging them to unite to call on governments to take up the challenge of combating poverty.
In a declaration, the African youth leaders identified conflict, HIV/AIDS, poverty and corruption as the main obstacles to Africa's progress. They agreed to establish an ongoing network, via the Internet, to coordinate efforts to advance the MDGs and other development goals.
When asked specifically about their views of NEPAD, some delegates responded that the programme remains a mystery, since they have received little information about it. Some were confused about the relationship between NEPAD and the MDGs campaign.
"I'm aware of the objectives of NEPAD, but many of the young people in my country are not, and that's because there has been almost no information directed towards them," said Ms. Marie Tamoifo Nkom, executive secretary of the Cameroon Association of Green Youth, an environmental advocacy group. Nevertheless, she told Africa Renewal, NEPAD's objectives address many issues, especially employment, that concern young people in Cameroon.
Ms. Aliaa Ahmed Mossallem, a 22-year-old from Egypt, saw hope in NEPAD's Africa-wide perspective. "NEPAD and the MDG effort are things that concern all countries, including my own," she said. "I think that it's important that youth be empowered to help make these efforts a reality."
Some believed that despite the summit's calls on young people to play a more active leadership role, the development programmes of governments and international organization must themselves devote greater attention to the specific interests and concerns of youth. "It's important that NEPAD and all these other initiatives focus on youth," Ms. Kaltouma Nadjina told Africa Renewal. A champion runner, she represented Chad at the Olympic Games in Athens in August and is also UNDP's Goodwill Ambassador in the country.
Unfortunately, added Ms. Aku Xorman Adzraku, who works in the youth division of the Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana, too few young people in Africa are yet aware of NEPAD. "Ways must be found to get young people involved, and one way to do that is to make information available that directly deals with young people." She noted that many of the young people she works with are concerned with the same issues addressed by NEPAD and the MDGs campaign, such as having food to eat, clothes to wear and the opportunity to advance their education. "Youth in my country are worried about their future."