We can all agree or at least most of us can, that young people across Africa are doing the most to create social, economic and political change. Whether it’s through innovation, movements, participation in civil society spaces, youth in Africa are no longer waiting on their governments to effect the change they want to see. It isn’t news that young people are participating. History indicates that it is young people that fought independence wars. The only difference is that youth participation today isn’t as goal specific like it was in the 90s. Lucky for us this isn’t a comparison piece on what the motivations of young people are to participate in advocacy with those of their predecessors.

This is about an Advocacy Accelerator webinar  hosted by Catherine Rogers, the Hub Director for Restless Development in Uganda with a panel of three youth advocates from Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria  on the topic, “Evolution of Advocacy Approaches in Africa: The role of youth in disrupting power dynamics”.

Those are all fancy words to mean Buky, Nana and Peter for one hour and twenty seven minutes interacted in the virtual space and shared about the advocacy work they do, what inspires it, lessons from the history of advocacy in Africa, how those lessons can be milked for everything they are worth, the challenges they face and solutions.

Let us start from the fun part, which is the inspiration part.

To disrupt power dynamics anywhere but especially in Africa, as a young person you need some trouble making skills. There is evidence to show that this trouble is worth causing because the status quo doesn’t serve this young continent.

Experience is how they all got inspired to start.  Nana from Cairo works in production of information in Arabic pertaining to feminism and sexual and reproductive health.  She found the language to articulate her struggle in a Sexual and Reproductive Health and Human Rights course. Even then, she treaded lightly by sticking to causes that were more acceptable like family planning for married people until she knew it was time to question the impact of,  “working on the same issues for a so long using traditional methods”.  Buky realized how as young people in Africa it is important to tell our stories. She was at University in the United States and was tired of people explaining “Africa-ness” to her. Peter started causing his own trouble at the University and was a dedicated part of the Kenyan Youth that pushed for the gender policy when Kenya was amending its constitution.

Great stories right?  Feels like a good time to give a shout out to the older generation. But how do young people really feel about the people whose shoes they are wearing as advocates in Africa? It is a mixture of gratitude and frustration.  In the spirit of, ‘glass half full’, let’s start with gratitude. The advocates of old (forgive my flair for the dramatic but it’s better than elders) created the spaces that young people currently occupy. They had opportunities to sit down with the people who make decisions and effect tangible change in terms of policy. Unfortunately this  is an opportunity that youth don’t have, unless it is just the one, token youth Member of Parliament who won’t even get a word in at the sacred decision making table.    This is where the frustration comes from. They didn’t leave a handbook or documentation of their tricks so there is a limited space to learn from them. Intergenerational dialogues are great, but it would have been nice if they was an archive from which information on successes, failures, lessons and everything in between would be accessed.

The youth advocates have learnt from the predecessors and documented a lot of their work. Having access to the internet helps. The connectivity also makes it possible to build local, regional and global bridges making it easy to mobilize and have a support system.  Youth advocates are showing the world in Catherine’s words that, “they are not just participating in development spaces and conversations to do the creative/ social media work but to drive change”.

Can we talk challenges now?

Young advocates have no money. The resources don’t match their innovation and disruption dreams. Budgeting and financial management aren’t exactly things youth are experts in but even for those who try, accountability becomes a trick yet donors usually expect, “to the letter kind of accountability”. There is no room to fail, so they fail without an opportunity for a second chance.

Then there is the big elephant in the room of replicating the same power dynamics that they are trying to dismantle. Case in point, giving up spaces.  Recently I was invited for a round table discussion on youth and unemployment in Uganda. In the room we were the same people who had attended a conference on the same topic a year ago.  I didn’t leave the room or anything dramatic like that because the hotel was nice and I like taking tea in fancy places, but I judged myself for being there. That doesn’t count but it explains my point. Youth advocacy in Africa runs the risk of becoming an exclusive club if the current modus operandi persists. If we keep sending the same young people to drink fancy tea and attend exciting dialogues, could in Nana’s words, “make youth advocates the people who know all the words without the politics”. And we don’t want that.

The problems are many and I don’t want to beat my word count without some solutions.

The panelists suggested having a support system and this isn’t emphasized enough. Having a pool of people to old you up should be a requirement for every young person before they wear their advocacy shoes. The women’s movement is very deliberate about creating sisterhoods because it recognizes that advocates  are going to need people not only to lean on but also to hold them accountable.

Money problems will always be with us but youth advocates can and should tap into partnerships that don’t have stringent requirements, of course those are few but being young comes with being creative right?

I have reached my word limit, but was this helpful? Thoughts? Otherwise how are you doing? 

This blog is based on the webinar discussion on “Evolution of Advocacy Approaches in Africa: The role of youth in disrupting power dynamics”. The audio can be accessed via

https://drive.google.com/open?id=123NwTtC6G-nQ1QhlcrEylXyoGRpiPcZP

This blog was written by Fionah Komusana. For more information about the article, kindly contact her on ikomusana.com.

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