Youth engagement is defined as the meaningful participation and sustained involvement of a young individual in innovative and developmental activities with a focus outside of himself or herself.
African countries are ranked as developing countries (World Economic Situation and Prospects WESP, 2014). According to UNESCO sub-Saharan Africa has the largest rates of education exclusion. Africa has her own share of conflicts and crises; civil conflicts, violent conflicts, gender-based violence, insurgency, added to all of these are corruption, poverty, and hunger.
With all of these issues begging for change, with the continent ripe for development, African youths just like other youths around the world are rising up for change. I am sure the following names will ring a bell in the minds of activists and volunteers; Malala Yousafzai, Victoria Ibiwoye, Zuriel Oduwole, Greta Thunberg, Hauwa Ojeifo and a host of others.
Over the years, youth participation across the continent has continued to be on the increase. The days when youth were seen as young people who can easily be manipulated are fading into the past. “Youth are not only leaders of tomorrow but they are drivers of change today”. This acceptance is clearly visible in the ‘Not Too Young To Run’ bill which became law in Nigeria in the year 2018 which stipulates that at 25 years of age one can run for the House of Assembly and House of Representatives, at 30 years old for Senate, Governorship, and office of the president.
Youth-led organizations have stepped up into different positions focusing on a myriad of issues in the society such as environmental protection issues, equality, empowerment, social justice, health, and education. One African Child (OAC) Foundation for Creative Learning is a youth-led organization that focuses primarily on the education of the African child; Africa Matters Initiative focuses on empowering African youths; Careducate Initiative specializes on education and youth mentorship; Africa Youth Leadership Forum concentrates on training University students for leadership; etrash2cash focused on environmental management and protection, She Writes Woman focused on raising awareness about mental illness.
If you are still asking, why should youth be engaged for change and development? Here are your answers:
- They bring in fresh perspectives
- They understand the needs of other youths who together with them make up more than half of the population in some African countries.
- They know how to reach and engage other youths.
- They have been innovators in development.
- Their engagement leads to intergenerational collaboration which enables problems to be dealt with from different perspectives.
A lot of youths are engaged and working for change and development but we need more youth engagements as we still have a long walk taking Africa to where it truly deserves to be.
Youth engagement can be done in a lot of ways examples of which are highlighted below:
- Encourage youths to join a youth-led organization like One African Child.
- Train youths on different skills that will be beneficial for the development of society. Not just technical know-how but also soft skills such as effective communication, financial literacy, teamwork, conflict resolution, and others.
- Support other youth-led organizations.
- Create opportunities for internships where they can learn practical skills.
- Provide a mentorship platform for marginalized youths within our societies.
- Encourage youth participation in politics.
The theme for International Youth Day 2020, “Youth Engagement for Global Action” is focused on highlighting youth engagement at local, national, and global levels. The theme of International Youth Day 2019 was “Transforming Education”. The theme of International Youth Day 2018 was “Safe Spaces for Youth” and in 2017 was “Youth Building Peace”. While it is obvious that the International Youth Day is a day focused on celebrating youths and spotlighting their challenges, this year is more auspicious as it brings to focus what the youth can do and are doing by directly getting involved in decision making for the benefits of their society and the world at large.