The National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the African Union (AU) Commission, the executive branch of the African Union, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on June 18, aimed at increasing youth involvement in democratic processes on the continent.
The MOU builds on an existing partnership between NDI and the AU. Since 2013, NDI has partnered with the AU’s Department of Political Affairs (DPA), responsible for democracy and governance initiatives, to create opportunities to engage young leaders in ongoing regional dialogues on democracy, elections and governance. The MOU envisions strengthened cooperation on youth-related activities and programs along the AU’s five thematic clusters: democracy, human rights and transitional justice, governance, constitutionalism and rule of law.
The agreement was signed on behalf of NDI by Keith Jennings, senior associate and regional director for Southern and East Africa programs, and, on behalf of the AU, by Aisha Abdullahi, commissioner for the DPA.
As a means to overcome barriers to youth engagement in politics, AU institutions can provide entry points for young people to exert greater influence in the development of their respective countries, including by using continental protocols like the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance.
In cooperation with the DPA, NDI surveyed youth organizations to elicit their views and understanding of the AU and how it works. The survey showed that young people were clearly interested and willing to engage more with the DPA, and the AU as a whole, through the establishment of a youth working group to address issues of concern and prepare youth for future leadership. Respondents made it clear that their involvement would be most effective by providing input on youth challenges and perspectives via social media and other new communication channels; contributing toward youth-focused research and knowledge dissemination; serving as peer educators; and actively participating in AU programs and meetings.
To integrate these views into the AU’s work, NDI and the DPA organized two regional and one continent-wide consultation last year on “Youth Building a Culture of Democracy and Peace in Africa.” These sessions brought together young leaders from more than 15 countries to identify how the AU could involve young people in decision making. At the end of the sessions, participants drafted a list of recommendations to bolster the role of youth in Africa’s democratic governance. The recommendations were presented by 15 youth delegates at the AU’s 3rd Annual High Level Dialogue on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance, addressing the theme of “Silencing the Guns in Africa.”
After the meetings, NDI worked with the DPA staff to draft and validate its first-ever Youth Engagement Strategy. The strategy outlines how the AU can work more effectively with young African leaders to enhance youth participation in conflict prevention, peace building and democratic governance. The strategy calls for developing a continental youth mentorship program; organizing Model AUs through various higher learning institutions on the continent; and establishing AU “Youth Ambassador” positions.
NDI will conduct three more regional consultations this year to provide young people with a platform to engage in democratic dialogues and assist in the development of long-term strategies for political participation. Along with focusing on broader youth issues, discussions will also focus on the AU’s 2015 theme, “Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063.” Going forward, NDI will work closely with the AU to assess progress, evaluate the effectiveness of the youth engagement strategy and support the AU’s initiative of harmonizing and channeling youth perspectives in its existing organs and processes.
Published on June 25, 2015