The 17th African Union (AU) Summit was held on 30 June-1st July in Malabo, in Equatorial Guinea and was devoted to the theme of “Accelerating Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development”.
There is a consensus among African authorities that the worsening employment situation in Africa has resulted in a widespread increase in the number of people in insecure jobs throughout the continent, and that young people in particular have been affected by this phenomenon. Nevertheless, it is important to recognise that the continent is facing a severe employment challenge and that it is necessary, even urgent, to address not only the problem of youth unemployment and the lag between the educational system and the labour market needs in particular, but also the situation of people employed in the informal economy. Indeed, some recent major AU meetings, in particular those of March 2010, April 2011 and July 2011 successively have provided opportunities to raise the related themes which can be summarised as follows:
- employment policies and their financing with a view to reducing unemployment;
- social policies and the promotion of youth employment;
- acceleration of youth empowerment.
The specific declaration on youth employment, in Yaoundé, at the 8th session of the African Union’s LASC, called upon this 17thAssembly of AU Heads of State and Government to promote youth employment. The determination of AU leaders to improve the employment situation will undoubtedly reinforce the commitment made in Yaoundé, by Ministers of Labour and Social Affairs, AU employers and trade unions to reduce unemployment of young people and of women by at least two percent a year over five years, and to harmonise labour market information systems by supporting the development, implementation and evaluation of employment policies.
This 17thsummit was an opportunity for African Heads of State and Government as well as young men and women to participate in an unprecedented exercise: a frank and open debate.
The continent’s youth, represented by young people from the continent’s five regions, the Pan-African Youth Union and young voluntary workers form the AU, was able bring a strong message to the attention of the Assembly on the threats posed by youth unemployment, lower levels of education and inaccessible labour markets.
For their part, the African authorities took the opportunity to pay tribute to African youth, while acknowledging:
- the limited access of young people to labour markets;
- young people as the principal victims of social, political and economic alienation;
- youth unemployment as a factor that intensifies illegal immigration.
The Heads of State and Government showed themselves to be receptive to this message and declared their willingness to respond to the expectations of young people. Thus they proposed, as sustainable solutions to the concerns of the continent’s youth:
- increased investment in education and training;
- increased investment to improve the integration of young people into economic , political and social life;
- introducing vocational training that corresponds to labour market needs;
- promoting grass-roots participation in decision-making processes.
These strategies could form “a development incubator”, by permitting reduced social deprivation, improving the competitiveness of the education system and promoting youth empowerment.
The Heads of State and Government did not simply review what needed to be done; they also put forward concrete proposals on ways of providing better support for young people in Africa. In this context, some of them put forward recommendations and described the actions undertaken in their respective countries to promote youth empowerment, such as, for example, investing in agriculture and green economies in order to reverse the trend of deindustrialization, developing youth training and apprenticeship programmes, promoting entrepreneurship and rural employment (case of the “Youth Employment” programme in Mali). There was also a consensus on the pressing need, henceforth, to go beyond strategies and focus more on concrete action.
In his presentation of the AU’s general youth policy, the AU Commissioner with responsibility for human resources, science and technology, Professor Jean-Pierre Ezin, reminded the meeting that, in order to remedy the high level of youth unemployment, it was necessary to “create in all Member States an environment conducive to job creation, allocate additional resources for the implementation of employment policies and invest massively in education in order to prepare young people better for the future”. He emphasised the AU Commission’s participation in several programmes and projects intended to promote youth employment and increase their participation accordingly; this is proof of the determination to put young people at the heart of the AU’s priorities. These initiatives included, in 2006, the adoption of the African Youth Charter, which entered into force in August 2009 and marked the beginning of a dynamic era for the participation of young people in the dialogue and formulation of development policies and initiatives in order to ensure that their opinions are taken into account. Other initiatives in the same vein included:
- celebration of African Youth Day in 2008;
- institutionalisation of African Youth Day;
- putting in place the African Youth Volunteers Corps;
- proclamation of the Decade of African Youth Development (2009-2018) as well as elaboration of its ten-year action plan;
- declaration of the promotion of technical and vocational training.
In addition, the creation of the Pan-African University and centres of excellence in accordance with international standards, the platform for the development of science and technology and ICT are just some of the many proposals for the promotion of youth employment. The Commission has also called for the reinforcement of educational institutions and the acquisition of knowledge at all levels of the African education system.
In the final analysis, young people were able to convey a solemn message to Heads of State and Government, expressing not only their recommendations for improving the integration of young people into economic, political and social life, but also their support to help meet developmental challenges. More specifically, they asked the States which have not yet done so to ratify the African Youth Charter and called for the creation of national youth councils, the establishment of a culture of volunteering and learning and for young people to be included systematically in national delegations taking part in AU meetings. They also called for the creation of a United Nations youth agency and for a budget allocation to make the Pan-African Youth Union autonomous. That could enable young people to become the “vectors of the emergence of Africa”.