Summit of its Parts?

African Union - European Union (AU-EU)


People take part in a parade during the 5th African Union - European Union (AU-EU) summit in Abidjan, Ivory Coast November 30, 2017. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

African Union — European Union (AU-EU) Summit theme overshadowed by the migrant crisis in Libya and the Mediterranean.

As you might expect of a triennial gathering of no less than 80 of the world’s most important politicians, there were a few things to talk about at the African Union-European Union (AU-EU) summit, held in Abidjan last week.

The official theme of the summit was “investing in youth for a sustainable future,” however, owing to CNN footage of a human auction in Libya that shocked the world earlier this month, the emphasis shifted to putting a stop to a global migration crisis that is fast spiraling out of control.

Oxfam turned on the pressure by stating that if no resolution to the Libyan migrant disaster was made at the end of the two-day summit, the meeting could be considered a sham.

In fact, on the evening of the first day of talks, several heads of state participated in an emergency meeting to thrash out possible solutions to the crisis. Plans were announced for the immediate evacuation of some 3,800 migrants stranded in Libya.

Kwesi Quartey, the Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission tweeted an image of the draft joint AU-EU declaration on the migrant situation in Libya, a document whose content has not yet been disclosed.

However, as the summit wrapped up, and the heads of state departed, many of the youth groups who were promised significant participation were left feeling cheated. DSW, a German youth advocacy group took to twitter to complain about the treatment they had received at the summit, claiming they had been sidelined.

In the eyes of these young critics the situation is highly ironic: the majority of country representatives stressed the need to tackle the “root” of migration and security issues in Africa, but failed to follow through on promises to spearhead joint measures to bring down youth unemployment, improve basic skills development, or reduce financial exclusion among under-25s.

Indeed, we should remember that a large number of those suffering currently in Libya are young economic migrants, forced out of their homes by deprivation, zero job prospects, and the promise of a better life elsewhere.

In Africa, according to figures released by the AU-EU summit organizers, 60% of the population is under the age of 25. In the Commonwealth Youth Development Index, all of the ten lowest-ranked countries in 2016 are in Sub-Saharan Africa, with Mali at number one.

It was not for nothing then, that the African and European Unions underscored youth empowerment as the key, necessary goal for the two continents as they move closer to achieving the AU’s 2063 agenda.

And yet, cynics argue, if the combined force of 80 high-profile dignitaries was unable to produce much more than rhetoric on the subject, concrete initiatives are nothing short of wishful thinking.

Noticeably, few of the heads of state present dwelt on the problems of youth unemployment faced at home and abroad.

Jacob Zuma, for instance, mentioned the word “youth” just once while addressing the floor, and this in reference to the summit’s title. Rather, throughout the event he was focused on reconciliation with Morocco, and on how best to stem the flow of illegal migrants.

A listener might have been forgiven for thinking that South Africa is not afflicted with job shortages among its young people, like so many of its neighbors.

This is not, however, the case. South Africa’s national statistics service reported last year that 27.7% of its country’s population is unemployed, and 54.3% of that total can be considered youth.

However, not all African leaders glossed over the summit’s title theme. “We want young Africans to stay in Africa,” stated Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo in a rousing speech that has since gone viral.

He pointed out the resilience, ingenuity, and energy of young people who are making life-threatening moves to migrate. “We’re going to have those energies working inside our countries if we begin to build systems that tell those people that their hopes, their opportunities, are right here with us,” he said.

Akufo-Addo linked this to his own slogan “Ghana Beyond Aid,” stressing the need for Africa to emancipate itself from aid dependency on the Europe and other western parties, in order to create more opportunities for its young people at home.

Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, whose presence at the gathering raised some eyebrows following his controversial re-election, set out to appease by announcing a policy to earmark 30% of government procurement for enterprises owned by youth, women, and people with disabilities.

Similarly, for several years the island of Mauritius has been implementing an exemplary Youth Employment Program. This is a joint public-private initiative, whereby the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development subsidizes the cost for businesses to employ and train young apprentices for one year, in exchange for the a commitment of future employment for 50% of the program participants.

Mauritian President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim highlighted how investing in youth was a priority for her nation during an exclusive interview with TBY on the sidelines of the Global Business Forum held in Dubai earlier this month. She said that the demographic imbalance in Africa could become a bane if not properly managed, but a boon if it is.

It is true that the potential spending power and productivity contribution of Africa’s youth demographic could be a game-changer. According to Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Africa stands to gain 10-20% annual economic growth if the youth employment challenge can be overcome.

The AfDB also came up trumps last week, announcing the launch of their Presidential Youth Advisory Group (PYAG), which will concentrate on investing in skills development for technical fields, pivotal, Adesina claims, in unlocking Africa’s youth potential.

On the whole, however, the EU-AU summit did nothing if not highlight the stark absence of more prominent and robust thought-leadership for addressing the massive problems facing Africa’s growing youth population.

There is no denying that immediate resolutions to the migrant crisis are of the utmost importance. And yet, executive-level brainstorming on how best to “invest in youth” is necessary in equal measure if we are to tackle the root of this crisis, and see any progress over the next three years, before its time for the next meeting.

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