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Dreaming the dream with African Think'rs

Dreaming the dream with African Think'rs

The Young African Think’rs - a youth led initiative hosted delegates from many African countries inside the headquarters of the African Union. The opening of the convention heard from the Deputy Chairperson of AUC Kwesi Quartey and Kassim Khamis, one of the architects of Agenda 2063 – an ambitious document that lists a number of visions for the continent. Here, Wongel Abebe, 21, a leader from the Young African Think'rs, sits down with Samuel Getachew of The Reporter  to talk about the convention, the importance of being an engaged citizen and the reasons the youth of Africa are optimistic of the future of a continent that has a slew of challenges and plenty of opportunities to move forward. Excerpts: 

Tell me about the Young African Think'rs Convention (YATC).

YATC is a gathering of young bright minds from across Africa who are highly convicted by Africa’s vision and highly motivated to use the potential within them to bring it to reality. It was birthed when young people from a youth department of Beza International came across Agenda 2063 last year in March. We read the document that our AU leaders had put together and were inspired by it.

 It is a dream book filled with the aspirations of what Africa would be after 50 years. Of course, none of them would live to see it. In fact, I myself will be close to 70 years of age by then. So, until the youth of Africa know of this vision, own it, and then plug their personal vision into the continental one, we will not get anywhere. Through YATC, we not only sensitize young people to the Agenda but also give them room to explore how they can contribute to it. Through this exercise, we come up with tangible, sustainable and homegrown solutions to African issues. Our first continental convention was held last year, August 10 – 12, 2016 at the African Union Headquarter here in Addis. It brought over 15 nationalities together. Throughout the year, beyond working towards the implementation of the convention’s outcomes, we also host it nationally. In March, 2017, it was held in Lusaka, Zambia, under the theme ‘I Stand for Vision 2030’.

What were the highlights of the convention that concluded last weekend?

We had close to 100 participants this year who took on six different thematic areas of discussion. They worked for three days, some throughout the night as well, to come up with tangible and sustainable solutions for challenges that were presented to them. During the final day of YATC 2017, which was also International Youth Day, they presented their outcomes to a panel of high level officials. The outcomes ranged from an Android and IOS app for Agenda 2063 from the tech team to a project based approach recruitment strategy for Pan-African Organizations from the Human Resource team. YATC 2017 was a success.

There have been plenty of gatherings of talented young Africans with lofty goals. What do you think sets the Young African Think’rs apart?

For one, I would say that what sets us apart is that we aren’t necessarily ‘youth advocates’ fighting for youth rights. We see ourselves primarily as African citizens, and it is from that identity that we discuss on different thematic areas. Hence, we are not boxed to tackling what most would label ‘youth issues’ – we tackle African ones. I believe that this is quite an important facet as it shifts our thinking from ‘what young people deserve to have’ to ‘what we can contribute as citizens.’

Let’s reflect on some of the initiatives of the African Union; one of the authors of Agenda 2063 was a speaker. By the time the ideals of Agenda 2063 are realized, the youth of today will be senior citizens. The concept your team presented says ‘tasked the youth with the responsibility to realize the vision’. Please explain.

In Agenda 2063, under Aspiration 6, one of the points mentioned reads: “The creativity, energy and innovation of Africa’s youth shall be the driving force behind the continent’s political, social, cultural and economic transformation.” This statement in itself mandates us, as young people, to be bearers of the vision and work towards its realization. With this, our leaders have tasked the youth to drive the change towards the Africa we all want to see. The Young African Think’rs is an answer to this call – it is the young people receiving the baton and owning up to the responsibility that the fate of the continent lies in their hands.

The most vulnerable citizens of the continent are the youth, yet YATC states how the youth are tasked in the transformation of the continent; isn’t this letting the older generation off the hook from their responsibilities?

As Young Think’rs, we are very solution oriented, we don’t believe in pointing fingers. Yes the older generations have made mistakes, as they have also made strides forward. The blame game wouldn’t get us anywhere – in fact, it would hinder development. I say this because, if instead of letting go and embracing one another, we continue to point fingers, we will widen the generational gap that has already caused so much problems. The blame game denies the younger generation a chance of mentorship, a chance to actually receive the baton from its predecessor.

 At YATC, we don’t believe that we ‘deserve’ a better Africa. We want a better Africa. The difference here is that, when we deserve something, then someone ought to give it to us. But, if we want something, it is up to us to work to reach it. If we’re going to transform this continent of ours, we will need to carry a heart that is burdened with the cause–not one that feels entitled to it. 

YATC is on a drive to host similar gatherings in many African countries. This seems like a method used by older generations–endless gathering with ambitious announcements that go unfilled overtime. Isn’t there a better way to be engaged in today’s world and be more pro-active and why are ‘in-person’ gatherings important?

The ‘old’ way of doing things, as you termed it, is not necessarily an obsolete or an ineffective way. Yes other mediums such as online chat rooms, video conferencing and social media discussions have opened up the possibilities of such engagements to be quicker and more cost-effective. We do utilize such mediums. Nonetheless, it cannot fully replace the ‘old method’ based on the dynamics that is created with physical, face-to-face interactions. More than just dialoguing about our opinions over text, it is important to put a person behind each thought to consider the stories and background that shaped one’s worldview. Sitting together in one room, finding a solution to a certain problem is irreplaceable by the online media platform. For YATC, we are interested in bringing like-minded people together to create not only meaning discussions but lasting relationships and partnerships as well.

In reflection of YATC, what do you hope the end game will be?

We hope to see a generation awakened, recognizing the needs of their society and actively working to meet them. The solution to every problem we face is in the inside of us–if only we dared to believe it. We believe that a personal vision that doesn't plug into the national and continental vision contributes negatively to it. So at a bigger scale, we hope to see a better partnership between those of us at the grassroots and those at a higher level decision making positions as a result of an alignment in our aspirations. That way, we will indeed realize the envisioned Africa. 

The ideals of AU were to create the mechanism to make the pan-Africanism dream a reality. Do you think the young generation still aspires to achieve that idealistic dream or is that too unrealistic to achieve?

We had one team during YATC 2017 discussing this very issue. What does Pan-Africanism mean in today's time, to the young generation? When it started, it was a movement born in the diaspora towards solidarity and cooperation between people of African descent. It was birthed from the frustration of slavery and colonialism. The OAU primarily carried the Pan-African dream. Now, after decades, my fear is that it hasn't been properly translated to the younger generation, and so it is not owned amongst them - or 'us' I should say. The phenomenon we see of hundreds of thousands drowning in the Mediterranean and young people joining violent extremist groups are evidences of this. I think Pan-Africanism has been made too political than it should be. I believe that it is a belief system that we, as Africans should have. One of pride, love, solidarity and loyalty. Pan-Africanism would make our world view less individual and more thoughtful of society as a whole. So Pan-Africanism is less of a dream to be achieved, and more of a set of values we ought to own now. I don't want to boldly assume and say that Africa's youth don't embody this, but I will say that the tough circumstances and situations they face are not helping.

The continent is in a rush to transform the expectation of the average young African that is facing real challenges in unemployment and extreme poverty. There are millions that are being left behind. Do you think YATC can represent the voice of that segment of society?

The Young African Think'rs represents the young people in Africa who face the challenges you stated but who are determined and motivated by vision to change their own realities. The Think'rs are the youth who are not only victims of their circumstances and beneficiaries of the transformation, but we are also the change agents who will bring it to pass.