AGENTS OF CHANGE - African Youth between Narratives and Realities

Following the NOW Conference in Kampala earlier in September this year the International Institute for Peace and Act.Now decided to continue on working on the issues that have been discussed there. Therefore both organizations invited experts from various fields to the Hauptbücherei am Gürtel in Vienna on the evening of the 12th December 2017 to debate about ‘Agents of Change – African Youth between Narratives and Realities’.

The event was opened with a keynote by Victor Ochen, who himself is an ambassador for the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, advisor to the UNHCR, nominee for the Nobel Prize for Peace and founder of the organization African Youth Initiative Network in Northern Uganda. He started his talk by giving insights into his personal experiences as a child who grew up in Africa and witnessed the times, hardships and cruelties of war. All these hardships people have to experience during war times, he says, don’t create new problems we face to face. We rather have to invent new solutions for these problems in order to create a more peaceful and less suffering world from human rights violations and war. The link between war, poverty and migration for him is obvious. People used to migrate since forever for various reasons, but mostly at aiming for better life conditions. Migration happens on all imaginable levels, be it a person who migrates to the closest city to find a job, or a refugee crossing borders or even oceans to reach a safe place. However, Victor Ochen mentions, the recent happenings like the slave trade in Libya give us the opportunity to speak publicly about these issues and attack them by action. In the end of his keynote Victor Ochen shared an emotional memory, where he met rebel groups in South Sudan and experienced very ambivalent emotions among them. Some of them feel misunderstood and suspended by the international community and their own governments and their only chance, they think, is to fight back with weapons. When Victor was back in Uganda, some of the rebels also came to Uganda as refugees, refusing to fight under arms from now on. They trusted Victor, because he

was the only one in this crucial situation who would listen and talk to them. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Victor promoted, have been seen by the rebels. As a reaction they decided to lay down their weapons and follow Victor’s path of a peaceful life. It was the first time Victor experienced the real potential behind these goals including the possibility to change realities and people’s lives for the better. If we gather all our resources to build up an infrastructure for peace through capacity building we can enforce this change.

The first panelist, Youssuf Diakité (Chairperson African Diaspora Youth Forum Europe) ,in a short opening statement, pointed out that the common assumption of Europeans that all African people want to migrate to Europe in order to have better life conditions is simply not true. He himself used to have a better life in Mali than in his first years in Europe. His organization, the African Diaspora Youth Forum Europe, is connecting with other organizations including the UN to establish a new narrative for Africa’s youth.

State secretary Muna Duzdar highlights the chances that come with the digitalization. As Africa more or less missed or struggles with the process of industrialization we can observe a digital community in Africa which is striving to give solutions for problems related to agriculture, poverty, human rights, development or fair distribution of goods. It has reached a point where some experts speak of an African pendant to the Silicon Valley called the Digital Savannah.

For Dr. Hannes Swoboda (International Institute for Peace) economic and social development are still crucial when we talk about a giving the world a new narrative for youth and migration in Africa. He sees the IIP as a platform to communicate between actors from all over the world and share the knowledge about the linkages in a globalized world by referring to rare-earths in Congo and the striving for technological development in the Western hemisphere.

Victor Ochen identifies the declining legitimacy of democracy as a root cause for the lack of development, poverty and migration we can still find on the African country. He says that the biggest challenge is to restore the trust in democracy, which has lost legitimacy because of wrong political leadership over the last decades. Secondly, the tribal nature of politics in Africa makes it so difficult for politics of inclusion for rise. The young generation in Africa is under high pressure for bringing these changes including the fight

against corruption as well as restoring and maintaining the trust in democratic structures.
Ana Kalin (Forum for Equitable Development, Slovenia) spoke about her disappointment of the AU-EU summit in Abidjan. As being a civil society actor herself she accused the summit of being exclusively for decision makers. The makers of the summit claimed trying to find African solutions for African problems, especially Africa’s youth, but excluded the people who are affected by these solutions from creating solutions. For her, this is a gap that has to be filled with actors from civil society in order to fulfill the determined goals and establish the new narrative of the European-African eye-to-eye partnerships.

Youssuf Diakité disagrees with this argument and mentions the Youth summit which has taken place right before the official summit and was partly organized by his organization. Nevertheless it is important to seriously include African people into the process of designing a new narrative in development. Giving clear and real perspectives of inclusion rather than just inviting them to discussions can bring us closer to solving the issues. The African diaspora as a civil society actor has the means to build capacities or transfer know-how, but it has to become a recognized institution. Dr. Swoboda agrees on this argument that the diaspora has the potential of being a bridge between the two continents and to strengthen partnerships. In terms of development for Africa, he adds, it is of high importance that Africa admittedly can learn from the mistakes and accomplishments Europe has done, but neither should they imitate the mistakes nor the accomplishments because of a completely different context.

To the question what we can do against the issue of brain drain from the African country towards Europe, Victor Ochen mentions that it is not simply a question of unjust appreciation of what you are doing between the two continents, but rather a question of justice within African borders. He adds that many young and well-educated people in Africa face problems like corruption and therefore are keen to leave their countries behind. However, the goal should be the disintegration of a corrupt system within Africa’s boarders to empower and encourage young African people to stay. This will only be possible with the full economical and social appreciation these young people deserve in their home countries.

The audience’s questions after the panel discussion aimed at a specification of the economic subcategories in which the African-European partnership has to be

restructured or strengthened. People from the audience experienced a hunger for knowledge among the young Africans and the willingness exchange knowledge with European partners, build social and economic infrastructures in order to improve the overall situation. The problem is that trade partners from other continents are mostly searching for the most affordable deal and more or less simply do not care about fair trade relationships. This lead to another question aiming at the growing Chinese influence on Africa. Victor Ochen states that this growing influence or the Chinese investors themselves are not an imminent threat to Africa, but unfair trade options are. However, Europe should not see itself in competition with the Chinese on African soil, because this will lead to unfair trade conditions and deprivation and therefore prevent a prospering Africa.

In the end, all the panelists generally agreed that African-European relationships or partnerships should be more equal and institutions like the African Union should be strengthened in order to build peaceful and beneficial infrastructures for Africas’s youth to prosper in.