I was born in a community that believed me to be a child until married off; my opinion never counted for anything, and so I decided to keep to myself.  For years, I watched as public spaces were claimed and utilized by adults for our benefit – but it was hard to be sure exactly who “we” were.  Community meetings were supposedly for men and women, although only men were allowed to air their views.  I watched as adults convened high-level meetings to speak about issues that affected youth and children.  Sometimes I wished to raise my hand, to speak.  To challenge the incorrect presumptions made by adults of what children thought and felt.  What made me truly feel numb was when a special envoy for the rights of women was elected.  The delegation was comprised of only men.

I had a lot of answers and solutions for the problems facing my community and nation.  l picked up a passion for contribution, and found a drive for change during my discourse with other youths.  We were frustrated; our conversations only seemed to happen amongst ourselves.  Nobody with true change-making power was interested in what we had to say.  In our despair, we decided to stand up for what we believed in.  We decided to speak out and contribute to our upkeep through political action.  At one community forum hosted by council representatives, we confidently raised our hands and awaited an opportunity to be called upon that we knew would not come.  Even after minutes of being ignored in faith, we continued to seek the audience of our elders.  After what felt like the longest wait, that opportunity was afforded to us.  As young people stood up, one after the other, to share their views, l saw the faces of our elders light up in awe; we shared solutions that had failed to emerge over the previous hours of back-and-forth dialogue.  That was the day that we discovered the power of a united youth, standing up for what we believed in.  United, we asked to be heard: firmly, but politely.

We had the answers and all we required was a platform to speak out.  That day changed my life; a fire was ignited in my spirit with the realization that everything else stemmed from deciding to speak up.  That was the day that my journey into advocacy began, and l have never looked back.  Hurdles are part of my life, of course, but l maintain the strong belief of all that is achievable by the young people within my nation.  It was time we demanded space, for it was never going to be freely given to us.

Come 2030, can we achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals if young people – and especially young African people – are included in the conversations that affect their lives, their communities, and their countries? I believe we can.  Africa’s young people make up the largest population as youth around the globe, and that should definitely count for something.  We appreciate the efforts made to include youth voices, however some are simply tokenistic gestures, masquerading as opportunities.  In reality, these forms of consultation are a tool to silence the youth.  How often are young people elevating to decision-making spaces in development? How often are our contributions taken as recommendations and implemented?  How long should we wait before we can see the achievements of youth participation in the global platform?

There is a misconception that Africa’s solutions lie in development aid.  This is an outdated model that paints the entire continent as helpless to fix its own problems.  Africa does not need aid, but rather, sound leaders who put the needs of the people before personal gain.  It needs youth with a mind-set to lead.  

To solve youth problems, there is need for youth-generated and youth-oriented solutions.  There is need for the continent to work together towards sustainable future and young people are a driving force towards this unity.  We work in various partnerships across the continent, and the findings of these initiatives can attest to the impact this has on community development.  As young people and as a continent we need to not only be included, but work together with all stakeholders for collective betterment.  It is possible. 

It’s time the International Development gave young people a genuine platform to speak out and be the change they want to see.  The battle continues and our passion keeps us going, but we cannot wait any longer.  This time is NOW!

 

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