The 4th Africa-Europe Youth Summit, held in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire on the 9th-11th of October 2017, brought together 120 young people, selected from over 7500 applicants, to discuss common challenges faced by youth in both continents. These discussions were then met with suggested solutions, and formalised into one youth declaration, which will be presented to Heads of State at the 5th AU-EU Summit, on the 29th-30th of November.
This Youth Summit called upon leaders in Africa and Europe to create tangible ways for young people to engage in the political process, and made recommendations for action in the six thematic areas of: education and skills, peace and security, governance and inclusion, environment and climate, business and job creation and finally culture and arts.
The overarching theme of this years AU-EU Summit is ‘Investing in Youth for a Sustainable Future’, and having the chance to meet some of the 120 young leaders participating in the youth summit really highlighted to me the brilliance, dedication, engagement and strength of young people across the world. To be honest I am a very cynical person in relation to these big institutions, and for the majority of my life I have strongly disassociated myself from such political processes, with the idea that these massive institutions are wasteful, unrepresentative and self-serving. My mind has not yet been changed to such ideas, but this experience was certainly transformative in how I will engage with my work in the future.
My personal transformation came with the multiple opportunities I had to meet and hear from young emerging leaders, mostly from the African continent and the diaspora, who cared deeply about their communities, their countries future, and who were engaging in activities both on a grassroots level and on higher political platforms. Basically I feel that every opportunity needs to be taken to make our voices heard, and as common as it sounds, if we do not put ourselves at the same table with the decision makers, then really we cannot complain when their actions do not represent the needs of our communities.
During the summit I sat and listened to a panel of young people, and one particular young leader stood out to me; Huguet Francis Mongombe, from the Central African Republic. Listening through the given earphones, which translated his french tongue to my english ears, and watching the passion in his eyes, he convinced me that I should be participating in political dialogues and actions at any cost. I wanted at that moment to transport him to the communities I work with in Uganda, to engage my family of hip-hop practitioners and community leaders, in dialogues around navigating political engagement in countries where most often than not, your life will be in danger if your words and actions are in opposition to the leading political party.
Presently I am not quite sure whether I should try and encourage the young people I work with to be more political in their work, or at least engage in alternative platforms that may heighten their voices and experiences within political spheres. For the moment I am going to navigate the field myself, engage in some of these higher level platforms (the Pan-African Youth Union, the Network of International Youth Organisations in Africa, and the European Youth Forum, diaspora organisations such as ADYNE, ADYFE and ACP-YPN) and see how I can best bring the strengths and practices from the ground, into these environments.
This definitely has and will be a continued struggle for me. Completely outside of my comfort zone, throughout the whole process of the summit, I was craving the energy of a cypher, missing my African brothers and sisters gifts, and how in each moment they are expressing their pain, love and everything in between through word, music, art, dance and wisdom. It has to be said that these environments really are deficient and dying from my perspective, through the absence of the arts and realness and brilliance of youth energy. The celebratory event at the end, for example, was hours of speeches from government representatives. For real we were placed in West Africa, amongst people from all over the globe, and we were sat listening to speeches?! Where are the traditional drums and voices so spiritually linked with this area? Where is the dancing representing the cultures and heritages of the people present? Where is the music in which is used across the world to unite and heal us? For certain these environments have a lot to learn from the communities and people I have been blessed to work with over my years.
In two weeks I will be part of a month long process which will allow 36 of the 120 youth involved in the summit, to meet leaders in Ethiopia, Belgium, Luxembourg and back to Côte d’Ivoire, to ensure that the ideas and suggestions written within our youth declaration, are properly presented within the AU-EU Summit in Abidjan, and are implemented within the actions of AU EU partnership.
Over the next 6 weeks leading up to the final summit, I will be actively engaging youth from my own networks and communities, in dialogues which will put their voices, ideas, experiences and opinions on these global platforms, thus strengthening youth participation in the decisions and actions of the leaders within the partnership and raising awareness of the brilliant work we are all already doing. I look forward to sharing my journey along the way!