Solidarity among Africa's youth

Photo by International Alert/SWORD ImagesNext month International Alert will co-host the second in a series of conferences on the topic of 'Pan-Africanism and the African Renaissance'.

This is the theme of the African Union’s (AU) 50th anniversary celebrations this year. The celebrations culminated on 25 May with the Heads of State and Government Summit in Addis Ababa, but member states will continue to celebrate the theme of unity throughout 2013.

It was in this spirit that International Alert, in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia and the International Leadership Institute, organised a one-day conference in Addis Ababa on 1 March 2013 (the eve of the 117th anniversary celebration of the defeat of Italian colonial forces in the Battle of Adwa in Ethiopia), to discuss, reflect and debate what the concept of pan-Africanism and the African Renaissance means for young people today.

Pan-Africanism was one of the key concepts that led to the founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor of the AU. As a concept, pan-Africanism helped to bring together independent countries and those still under colonial rule to fight against colonialism and apartheid. The AU now has 54 member states, most of which have now celebrated 50 years of independence.

Yet, what does pan-Africanism and the African Renaissance mean for young people growing up in Africa today? They didn’t experience the kind of colonialism described in the OAU Constitutive Act, but is there a modern form of colonialism that young people need to ‘fight’ against in the 21st century? If so, will pan-Africanism and the African Renaissance help them to unite in the same way as their ancestors did?

The conference in Addis Ababa took the form of an inter-generational dialogue on this topic. It brought together over 150 participants, including high school and university students, war veterans, civil servants, civil society organisations and religious leaders. The presentation of scholarly papers provided a historical analysis of pan-Africanism and how it enhanced anti-colonial movements in Africa, while war veterans shared stories of their anti-colonial and apartheid struggles.

In small groups, participants then discussed the issues that young people face today, including bad governance, exclusion and poverty. Stressing the challenges that remain for African youth, one participant said: "democracy is not like tap water which we can easily draw and bring into our homes, but rather like river water which we have to go and fetch".

The conference helped the young people to broaden their understanding of pan-Africanism and the African Renaissance. They agreed to take the lead in organising a discussion forum in their schools and youth associations, to share their experiences from the debate, reach out to their communities and continue the inter-generational dialogue further.

Participants also agreed on the importance of ensuring that pan-Africanism is fostered on a continental rather than individual, ethnic level. In doing so, it was hoped that the dialogues could increase inclusion and enhance good governance.

The second inter-generational dialogue will take place on 19 September 2013 (to be confirmed), in Adama, a city about 100km from Addis Ababa which has more than 30,000 university students, where we look forward to continuing this important discussion.

Photo: © International Alert/SWORD Images