Building bridges between African and European young local leaders to tackle common challenges

1 julio 2021

“Three quarters of the African population is below 35 years old, yet they are often excluded from political participation” stated Annica Floren, Acting Head of Unit for youth, education and culture at the European Commission’s Directorate General for International Partnerships (DG INTPA). She was speaking at a two-day online event co-organised by CEMR, PLATFORMA and UCLG Africa on 23-24 June.

The inspiring panellists answered some of these questions: How can we ensure that young people are given a place in the political arena and on the international stage? How can we work to understand better their needs and desires to build the world of tomorrow? And finally, how can this partnership contribute to building bridges between African and European youth to face their common challenges together?

Creating the conditions for youth engagement

“The youth has the potential, and we have to work together to create the opportunity for them”, stated Jacqueline Moustache-Belle, Director of the Gender and Youth Department at UCLG Africa.

While youth has a major role to play in today’s world, they face many obstacles and challenges that are important to address. Adelaide Hirwe, Secretary General of the African Union Disapora Youth Initiative, thus explains: “Young people have a small number of resources, therefore there is a need to support and give recognition to their initiatives”. For Daniel Ajudeonu, President of Generation Action Africa, “the issue of unemployment is crucial”. To help young people face these challenges, we need to provide the adequate conditions for them to become economically independent, and thus allow them to participate to the political debate.

According to Bitania Lulu Berhanu, Special Adviser on Youth to EU Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen, this requires investments in capacity development aimed at young people. She believes education is also essential to create awareness on current political debates and ensure research driven advocacy. It is also a great way to make sure the skills developed meet the market demands and nurture the attractiveness of a territory and its development.

Moreover, what better way to understand the needs and desires of the youth than to involve them directly in decision-making process? Thérèse Faye Diouf, Mayor of the municipality of Diarrere, Senegal, explained that “Involving youth at local authority levels is important to give them social representation”. “Working with young people allows to identify certain demands that are often avoided by the political discourse”, added Çemal Bas, Municipal Councillor in Keçiören, Turkey. In fact, as there are many different issues affecting African and European youth, it is crucial to listen and distinguish them.

Youth in action: building a long-lasting partnership

According to Adelaide Hirwe, “youth engagement is important and multitopic”. Indeed, there is a variety of topics which impact youth and on which they have their say in it. For instance, Maria Grazia Montella, Project officer on Integration & Migration at CEMR, explained how climate change particularly affected young people and children in Africa, and how it would more and more be a cause of migration in the future.

It is therefore essential to allow today’s youth to express themselves on the challenges they already face. “UN and other organisations have engaged the participation of young people and they should be taken as an example”, explained Bitania Lulu Berhanu. She also highlighted that “Not only politicians can influence, but small actions together can also provide lasting effects.”

In fact, a variety of great initiatives supporting cooperation African and European youth already exist: Maialen Mendizabal talked to us about Diversity4Equality, an initiative she launched with a group of friends between Basque and Kenyan youth around social entrepreneurship, and now expanding to other countries. Aoudou Mounchili also presented the AU-EU Cooperation Hub, which gathers 50 young experts on seven different topics to co-create solutions to challenges on both continents. Finally, Fiorella Perotto, Policy Officer for Africa at the European Commission’s DG EAC, told us about the new Erasmus+ programme for 2021-2027, whose budget has been doubled, which should make it possible to reach the ambitious goal of 100,000 mobilities between Africa and Europe over the period.

Learning about all these projects was a reminder that this developing partnership is not meant to replace or add to all the already existing great platforms, but to complement and promote them in order to strengthen the cooperation between African and European youth.

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