MONROVIA – Youth and student leaders from Liberia and South Africa have made clarion calls on leaders of the continent to place the agenda of the young people at the center of the body politics to change the story of the African Continent from bad to good.
The youth made the call on Friday at the Liberia Youth and Peace Dialogue Series organized by the Embassy of South Africa to Liberia.
Gerald C. Koinyeneh – [email protected]
In his opening statement, the Ambassador of South Africa to Liberia, Prof. Iqbal Jhazbhay, said While youth role is critical to peace and development, there continues to be limited equitable access to employment, education, and other opportunities for empowering young people.
He said opportunities for engagement is limited, thus leaving the youth with little option other than protesting to forcibly air their positions and grievances on key national issues; adding this make them feel marginalized and frustrated and overtime, this may likely have negative consequences.
One way to address some of these challenges, he said, is to invest in building the capacity of youth to actively participate in the dialogue processes; adding there is need for youth to effectively engage with and influence national policies that have direct impact on them.
The purpose of the Liberia Youth and Peace Dialogue Series, the Ambassador noted, is to create a space where decision makers and other key influencers can exchange on key issues or topics and chart a way forward, he told the gathering.
The dialogue featured two top ANC youth leaders and several of their Liberian counterparts and diplomats including Ambassadors for several foreign missions and international organizations.
Seizing the moment, Nonceba Mhlauli, aMedia Spokesperson in the South Affrican Government and an ANC youth leader said it isa fact that widespread poverty, unemployment, inequality, and underdevelopment are the biggest obstacles since they lead to violence, and despair.
Ms. Mhlauli said the struggle of the continent to transform its demographic dividend in the form of a sizable youthful population into actual economic value is undermined by the deficiencies in capacity development, health care, housing, access to technology and innovations, and entrepreneurial prospects.
“Comrades and friends, our underutilized and neglected African youth constituency increases the number of people engaging in both internal and external migration under these circumstances,” she said while addressing her youthful colleagues and the diplomates who have turned out for the event.
“While this helps the global exchange of knowledge and wealth through remittances, it is also linked to the deaths of migrants and refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea as well as the increase of xenophobic and racist attitudes in Africa and across the world,” she added.
A rally for AfCTA
Speaking further, Ms. Mhlauli noted that there is great opportunity for young people to use their youth demographic to change the narrative of an African continent which is undeveloped, poor and wrath with conflict.
One way this can be done is to “use existing regional and continental forums to place the youth agenda at the centre of our body politic on the continent,” she said.
She called for the use of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) as a means to promote trade among Liberia and South Africa, with a particular emphasis on youth owned businesses.
The AfCFTA is the African Union’s flagship projects aimed at bringing together the 55 countries of the African Union (AU) and eight Regional Economic Communities (RECs). Its overall mandate is to create a single continental market with a population of about 1.3 billion people and a combined GDP of approximately US$ 3.4 trillion.
As part of its mandate, the AfCFTA is to eliminate trade barriers and boost intra-Africa trade. In particular, it is to advance trade in value-added production across all service sectors of the African Economy.
Liberia’s membership is still pending ratification by the Legislature. The ANC Youth leader called on her colleagues to engage their respective heads of states to establish a youth development accord at the level of the AFCTA in order to broaden and open markets for economic activities driven by young people on the continent.
She called for the creation of an African Youth Economic Expo, similar to the Dubai Expo, for the exchange of ideas and innovation to boost trade and economic empowerment.
She also called for youth exchange programs in education, sports and infrastructures development.
She emphasized the need for a “VISA-Free continent to allow the freedom of movement on our continent as our borders remain artificial constructs of the colonial masters. Given the crisis of immigration on the continent, we must agree that at least between our two countries, talks at state level must ensue to allow the free flow of movement in and out of respective countries.”
Also speaking, the Secretary-general of the Student Unification Party (SUP) of the University of Liberia, Jusu Kamara said it was time for African youth to demand from politicians their just benefits including assets to education and healthcare, employment opportunities.
“Politic is what determined the transformation of a society. In these elections. We have to bring our plights on the table to have a conversation. We should be able to demand for jobs and other opportunities. This is the only way can we can make our voices heard.”
Kamara said SUP, one of the oldest student movement on the continent, was open to meaningful conversations about the transformation of Liberia; contrary to the perception that SUP is intolerant.
However, he pointed out that SUP is of the staunch belief that only a good political leadership that follows the tenants of good governance can transform any nation and its citizens.
“Contrary to the perception that SUP members cannot have a conversation, SUP can hold conversation for the right things to be done, but not with people who steal and practice corruption,” he said.
The president of the Liberia Medicine Students Association (LMSA) Patricia Gray, called for healthcare delivery to be given top priority. Ms. Gray also wants youth’s participation in national dialogues to give them opportunity to proffer their interests and not to always be dictated to.