The ECOWAS Commission is partnering with the African Union (AU) on the empowerment of the youth of the continent with a bid to release their creative energies, raise their productivity and turn a vibrant human resource into an African development force.
To this end, a three-Day regional consultation meeting on the theme: Harnessing the Democratic Dividend through Investments in Youth began at the ECOWAS Commission, Abuja, Nigeria on the 12th of September 2017.
Declaring the West and Central African cross-regional consultation meeting open, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security Mrs. Halima Ahmed said the platform provides open, collaborative and inclusive space for young people to “critically and objectively reflect on progress made so far, challenges encountered, and prospects for enhancing meaningful youth participation in Africa’s democratization processes”
Coming on the 10th year anniversary of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Good Governance (ACDEG), the meeting is timely with the world’s youth population projected to get as high as one third of the global figures by 2050 and with west, central and east Africa expected to account for much of the rise.
Commissioner Ahmed noted that since youth are critical in bringing about social and political transformation, there is need “for deliberate, constructive and strategic efforts to ensure that the size of our youth population in ECOWAS Member States is depicted as a ‘democratic dividend’ carrying hopes for future growth and development in the region”
She also stressed the importance of partnering with the ubiquitous private sector in order to advance the cause of the youth.
The acting Head of the AU’s African Governance Architecture (AGA) Ambassador Salah Ahmed stressed that Africa cannot be a better place for its people unless the youth take up the gauntlet to become the genuine leaders of tomorrow. “We must find a way to eradicate the negative definition of youth. We recognize that youths are key stakeholders in the drive to create a healthy continent” he added.
The AGA had launched its Youth Engagement Strategy (YES) as framework for instruction of youth in realization of, and among other facts, that 60 percent of Africa’s population is made up of young people.
Urging participants to take a critical look at the normative frameworks on youth participation to be presented, knowledge sharing as well as insight to meaningful peer review with the requisite networking, he noted: “the ideas shared today will also be shared within our member states”
The Regional Director of National Democratic Institute (NDI) Mr. Keith Jennings, stressed the imperativeness of the meeting for educating the youth on electoral procedures. He disclosed that over the next two years, there will be over 30 elections within the African region.
He stated in this regard: “The roles young people will play matter a lot. Stop asking for permission and just do things. We all have to do something especially young women who are political aspirants who will face a lot of gender biased situations”.
The head, ECOWAS liaison office at the AU Raheemat Momodu while expressing joy at the growth of AGA, emphasized the importance of youth interactions as the Abuja gathering acts like a bridge for people of different age groups to converge and forge a common ground of understanding eradicating the feeling of societal alienation in the process.
Nigeria’s commissioner at the country’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Mrs. May Agbamuche Mbu urged a change of the narrative of the marginalization of youth. “We cannot continue with the situation where the youths feel marginalized while their future is being molded and decided for them” She stressed.
The meeting is being convened by the AGA Secretariat in conjunction with ECOWAS and NDI to among others broadly assess and exchange ideas on the encouragement of youth participation in electoral processes and decision making.
Among the recommendations expected at the close of the mind rubbing exercise is a vista on increasing civic education to promote youth participation in countries with a history of closed, non-competitive elections and where youth-voter turnout are influenced by a lack of understanding of electoral processes.
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