Championing the African Youth Charter

“Understanding the Economic and Political Landscape of Africa” was the theme for the recent African Youth Charter Summit (AYCS) hosted by Zayrah in Magaliesberg, South Africa. Zayrah is a youth led development agency focusing on socio-economic development in fragile states. Young Africans gathered to reflect on the status quo of the Charter in their countries, share experiences and chart a way forward for youth’s meaningful contribution towards full realisation of the Charter.

The African Youth Charter is a political and legally-binging framework which provides a strategic direction for youth empowerment and development activities at continental, regional and national levels the continent. The Charter was adopted in Gambia on 2 July 2006. The Charter is in line with the African Union Commission (AUC)’s efforts to provide an avenue for effective youth participation in development process and is part of the efforts to implement the AUC’s Strategic Plan (2004-2007),The Charter aims to touch on pertinent issues that affect youth in the continent.

The discussions were framed around the reality many of the young people in the room were experiencing. One of these realities is the existence of national youth policies to guide countries. This is covered under Article 12 of the Charter, which calls on AU member states to develop cross sectoral policies and programmes, which take into consideration the inter-relatedness of the needs of youth. South Africa has signed and ratified the Charter and has a national youth policy in place. However, it’s efficacy and how far-reaching it is when it comes to transforming the lives of South African youth is another issue. Botswana, as a case in point, was one of the first African countries to introduce a youth policy in 1996 yet, their government has yet to sign or ratify the Youth Charter. While on the other hand, a country like Tanzania has ratified the charter, it has placed reservations on certain articles.

As part of its effort to fulfil Article 14 which provides for Poverty Eradication and Socio-economic Integration of Youth, youth from Zimbabwe presented an overview of the land reform of 2000. A bold decision taken by their government to fulfil a promise made to its people in 1980. The Ministry of Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment is a government ministry, responsible for youth issues and economic empowerment in Zimbabwe. Through the indigenisation process many young people are able to access land which is slowly translating to some economic activity. Further to this, in pursuit of a new trajectory of accelerated economic growth and wealth creation, Government has formulated a new plan known as the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim Asset): October 2013-December 2018.

As much as the AYCS Summit looked at creating awareness around the Charter as a whole, quite some debate was dedicated to Article 26 in line with Zayrah’s objective of ‘obtaining strong commitment from and young people to popularise the Charter’ and alignment of delegates’ their organizational policies. This Article details the responsibilities youth have towards themselves, their communities and the continent. It provides for participation in policy making, governance and voting.

While the Charter is a legally-binding framework. Its enforcement still remains a challenge. Getting the required signatures at the domestic level requires quite a lot of time and effort and this has a direct implication on the realisation of the Charter’s legal obligations at the international level.

The African Union is composed of fifty two republics and two kingdoms. Only, 36 member states have ratified and deposited the Charter, these countries include South Africa, Angola, Zimbabwe,Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana and others while three have not signed – Botswana, Eritrea and Somalia. Once a state ratifies a treaty, the ratification remains effective unless it is withdrawn or revoked. Those who have ratified are in a position to actually work towards implementing the charter, while the remainder have merely signed or abstained, a decision which affects millions of young people in these countries.

For AU, failure of any Member State to comply with any obligation under any instrument of the AU attracts sanctions that can be economic or political. They include, but not limited to:

  • Sanctions for failure to pay contributions;
  • Sanctions for engaging in unconstitutional change of government;
  • Sanctions for failure to comply with policies.

Therefore, the issues of ratification and implementation are absolutely critical in ensuring any real or tangible changes for youth. There are a number of ways this can be done, i.e., creating youth ministries as in the case of Zimbabwe, establishing structures such as the South African National Youth Commission, national governments must mobilise their people around the visions of the Charter. Regional and continental bodes can contribute by creating an African youth programme of action which can provide practical guidelines for policy makers and youth in the continent.

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