The Pan African Youth Union Post Election Crisis: A window of opportunity?

From the outset, let me state categorically, the cracks in the Pan African Youth Union (PYU) are not resultant and did not begin with the recently held elections. The alleged sham elections are symptomatic of deep-seated organizational and leadership weaknesses and deficits in the PYU.

The integrity concerns arising from the December 2017 ‘Congress’ of PYU have, once again, brought to fore, the existing challenge of structured and coherent youth mobilization in Africa. The nexus between elections as a fundamental means of operationalizing democracy and good governance of institutions, is undeniable. As a result, having closely followed the purported elections and following consultations with various youth organizations and youth leaders, the African Union, on the 19th of January 2018, released a statement, de-associating itself from the PYU elections and stating in unequivocal terms that it would not recognise PYU’s new leadership, elected at the disputed December 2017 Congress in Khartoum, Sudan.

What exactly is the problem?

Observers of events leading to the PYU election noted and raised red flag, on the secrecy and lack of information on the working methods of the Congress and anticipated election of new leaders. In the lead up to the election, social media was awash with complaints from several National Youth Council on non-receipt of official invitations to enable them participate in the Congress. Some candidates argued that they were disqualified based on certain sections of the PYU Statues. Invariably, the seed for a questionable electoral process seemed to have been planted way before the actual Congress. Claims of inadequate participation and withdrawal of a number of Member States, thereby forcing a non-quorum for the election, were rife. Allegations of voter intimidation and disqualification of candidates meant the supposedly new leadership was going to face a tough task justifying the legitimacy of the elections.

With the African Union having made a decision on the elections, following an official report from the Liaison Office of AU in Sudan, the big question is, “what next for the prime youth body of the continent?”

To allow for carefully thought-through perspectives and potential solutions to this crisis, it is important to briefly interrogate the history of the PYU, its current modus operandi and why finding conclusive solutions to the current impasse, are inevitable.

The evolution of PYU

The Pan African Youth Union (PYU), formerly known as the Pan African Youth Movement (PYM), was borne out of the need for a coordinated continental youth voice and advocacy in the decolonisation struggles of the 1960s. In actual fact, the establishment of the PYM in Guinea, Conakry in 1962 preceded that of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). The establishment of PYM, was centered on sensitizing, informing and mobilising Africa’s young people to free the continent from all forms of foreign domination and attain economic and social independence as well as cultural rehabilitation and decolonization of the mind. Indeed, there was significant youth agency at the time and this was marshalled carefully towards advancing the decolonization agenda. Infact, the PYM was so potent at its early stages that it became a victim of the Cold War politics at the time, with many branding it a socialist movement. Regrettably, with time, one can hardly ascribe any ideology to its successor organization PYU, let alone socialism!

At present, the continental challenges are quite different and more complex. At the heart of these challenges are the widening socio-economic and political inequalities, which places young people at a great disadvantage. Therefore, naturally, one would have assumed that PYU would have tackled these challenges with much more tact and long-term foresight that speak to the demands of the youth. Unfortunately, since its 9th Congress in Namibia in 2003 very little seem to have been achieved beyond the transformation of its nomenclature. Prior to the 2003 Congress, very little was heard of the PYM after the 1993 Pan African Youth Festival in Tunis. The apparent vacuum created by PYU hiatus led to several attempts at creating other coordinating platforms for the young people on the continent. Between 1994 and early 2000s, a number of initiatives including the African Youth Network, which was promoted by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), was initiated. In 1996, the OAU hosted the African Conference on Youth and Development with a resolution that recommended a number of initiatives including the convening of a biannual youth Conference, Youth Creativity Awards and surprisingly a Youth Fund!

Ten years later, precisely January 2006, a youth experts’ meeting was organized to review the draft of the African youth Charter and the proposed Pan African Youth Federation. The drafters were so ambitious, they had proposed a Federation with a Youth Parliament, Executive, Congress and a Secretariat. However, this proposal was later set aside for the consideration of the revitalization of the PYU.

Eleven years later and in 2017, PYU was yet to pull its weight. Its recent claims of advocacy for the establishment of an African Youth Fund is rarely its novel idea. As earlier noted, as far back as 1996 — twenty one years ago — there has been a subsisting decision of the AU Assembly on the Fund. The problem which the PYU is yet to help resolve, is providing a clear guidance and clarity on the fund and what it intends to achieve in its utilization. This exemplifies the problem with PYU, as currently constituted.

In many ways and without necessarily putting the blame entirely on the current crop of leadership of the PYU, the organization has failed to evolve despite several attempts. It’s capacity to provide quality leadership for youth issues have been non-existent. The organization has shown demonstrable inability to move with the times and become a formidable platform — even a rallying forum — for credible voices on youth empowerment and development. It has simply failed to inspire. For instance, its membership still largely revolves around National Youth Councils, which in many instances are moribund and ineffective. Where they do exist, it is largely led by ‘youth industry’ jobbers. In a particular country, the National Youth Council has more than 10 Presidents with each claiming to be the legitimate leader.

In a continent that has experienced what some have termed — the 4th wave of “youthivism” — it is appalling to see that leadership on youth related matters have been largely from ad-hoc structures put together by young people to clamour for a better share of decision making, on issues that affect them.

Right now, where is the voice of PYU on migration issues particularly as the vulnerable youth continue to take precarious journeys across the seas and deserts for a non-existant Eldorado in the West? Where is that voice when our continent is ridiculed by one character who does not seem to appreciate the impact of his words? Where is the voice of PYU on the issue of illicit financial flows out of the continent and how such monies rob the youth the dignity they could benefit? What is its position to upcoming AU Summit on the theme — Winning the Fight against Corruption? Why has the PYU remained silent on the challenge of limited opportunities for young people?

In addition, the organization has not been able to demonstrate the ability to organize itself. A quick look at the organization’s website will reveal some of the inadequacies of its leadership. For instance, its Projects, Members and Library pages are either under-construction or contain outdated information. Infact, its elected Executive Committee has not been updated since the ‘purported election’ in December 2016. In short, verifiable source of information on and/or from the PYU does not exist. Its Secretariat in Khartoum has been non-functional for years. In saner climes, the PYU would be the “to-go-to” organization on any matters youth in the continent. But how can it be when you cannot even find its Statutes on its own website?

This last Congress and the crisis it has generated, thus provide a window of opportunity for all well-meaning Africans, particularly young people to demonstrate the kind of leadership which it yearns for in the continent. What good is it to clamour for youth involvement in governance, if there is no evidence of a transformative youth leadership in its own structures!

Where do we go from here?

It certainly is not all lost. The AU has taken an auspicious moment to yield the calls of many who have questioned the organization of the last PYU Congress. The AU is headed into its 30th Summit under theme, ‘Winning the Fight Against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation’. While the emphasis will be on financial corruption and illicit flows out of the continent, political corruption which robs the continent of transformative leadership will also take center stage.

Dissociating the African Union from the PYU and non-recognition of those parading as its leaders, are necessary first steps. However, it must take a step further, to call for the reform of the PYU. The AU itself is undergoing internal reforms and the PYU can also benefit from such exercise.

Practically, the following action points are proposed:

1. AUC should establish a Caretaker Committee that can help midwife a credible reform process that will culminate into the election of a credible leadership for the PYU. This Caretaker Committee must embark on continental consultations with various stakeholders aimed at redefining the focus, working methods and develop a strategic plan for the PYU. The Committee should also help to review the PYU Statutes to address the challenges associated with representation, gender equity and inclusiveness of various youth formations and issues of clinging onto power. The Committee should further be given atleast two years to undertake its assignment. As part of the output, the Committee must prepare a clear strategic plan with detailed implementation plan for programmes and activities of the PYU.

This process must be seen as a cardinal component of the Agenda 2063 initiatives particularly in line with the decade dedicated to harnessing the demographic dividend through investments in youth.

The Caretaker Committee must be headed by an appointee of the AU Commission with members drawn from credible National Youth formations, other credible thematic based Regional and Continental Youth Networks, AU Departments of Human Resource, Science and Technology, Political Affairs, Legal Counsel as well representatives from Private Sector, Media and other professional fields needed for the institutional reform of the PYU.

2. In addressing the membership challenges of the PYU, a continental membership drive must be undertaken with the aim of encouraging national level reforms of National Youth Councils. In addition, membership based on pre-determined categorization must be open to thematic based and professional youth led- oriented organisations to broaden the membership base of the PYU and foster healthy competition amongst members. In doing this, special attention must be paid to vulnerable and under-reached youth groups.

3. In terms of its programmatic focus, the ideals that led to the formation of the Pan African Youth Movement — decolonisation — has significantly changed over the years. The leadership of the PYU must articulate a clear agenda and rally Africa’s youth behind it. Even at a time when Africa’s youth face unprecedented unemployment challenges, the PYU cannot point to one major intervention it is supporting across the continent in this direction. PYU needs to develop a clear programme of action that seeks to support efforts at national, regional and continental levels on youth empowerment and development.

What is the PYU strategy for advancing AU Agenda 2063, the AFDB Hi5s and the UN SDGs? How do we ensure that we are documenting youth led actions across our continents which are contributing to the attainment of these agendas? These can be starting points for a strategic plan.

4. In defining its new working methods, emphasis must be placed on fostering partnership across various groups and divides on youth empowerment and development. The idea of creating a monopoly over youth issues and to be seen as the only credible voice for Africa’s youth is impossible. The beauty of democracy is that it guarantees the right of association to every individual and the PYU must be a leading light in encouraging credible youth voices to work together and partner for impact.

The fear of hijack or irrelevance becomes real when the PYU itself is found wanting in providing leadership!

5. More radically, the current situation may have provided an opportunity to push the envelope further on youth empowerment and development in Africa. Beyond a soft law — declaration — which confers some recognition on PYU within the AU, this is the time for the AU to consider establishing an Organ dedicated to youths. A reformed PYU may consider becoming an organ of the AU just like the ECOSOCC with a Secretariat (hopefully the Youth Division becomes a Directorate and then has a Division in charge of this) responsible for its day to day programming while its elected officials can focus on political engagement and advocacy, which its leadership over the years has shown some promise. Infact, the AU will be leading the way for the UN where Nigeria is currently clamouring for the creation of a UN Agency on Youth. The AU already has a Directorate for Gender which amongst others focuses on issues of women as well as an Organ dedicated to Children. Now is the time to call for the AU Commission on Youth!

In conclusion, this should be a period of introspection for those who consider the PYU a veritable platform for youth leadership. Hopefully the current leadership will come off its high horse and look in the mirror. The political weight which they claim to have can be put into some qualitative use in calling for a reform that will benefit the over 800million young Africans which they purport to represent.

This is a time for a bold statement, actions and proactivity.

A defensive attitude or intimidation of the AUC as the current PYU leadership attempts with its rejection of the AU position, will not resolve the current debacle.

Elections cannot be an end to itself. There must be credibility and willingness and ability by the PYU leadership. This is a time to show clearly that PYU is for Africa’s youth and not for a select few.

NOTE: This article is a personal opinion of the author and do not represent the views of any of the institutions he is associated with. As a young African, this is a moral responsibility and an exercise of his youth agency.

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Proud Nigerian and African II Organiser of People, Place & Systems II Development Worker II #TeamDoItRight

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Proud Nigerian and African II Organiser of People, Place & Systems II Development Worker II #TeamDoItRight

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