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Accelerating youth empowerment for sustainable development


‘We live in an age when to be young and to be indifferent can be no longer synonymous. We must prepare for the coming hour. The claims of the Future are represented by suffering millions; and the Youth of a Nation are the trustees of Posterity.’ (Benjamin Disraeli - British Statesman 1804-1881)



Africa Day is the annual commemoration on May 25 of the 1963 founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). On this day, leaders of 30 of the 32 independent African states signed a founding charter in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This year’s theme of Africa Day is "Accelerating youth empowerment for sustainable development."


Here in The Netherlands, Africa Day was celebrated on Wednesday 25th May 2011 at the Atrium of the Hague City Hall by the African Ambassadors and their invited guests.

This is what happened on that day.


Celebrating Africa Day in The Hague


Her Excellency Prof. Ruthie C. Rhono, Ambassador of Kenya, as Dean of the African Diplomatic Corps was responsible to organize the celebration of Africa Day 2011, a task well accomplished with help from her staff and other African Embassies. Her colleague ambassadors were present, as well as a number of V.I.P.’s, and other guests.


The programme was mixture of meaningful speeches, exciting African entertainment, topped off by a reception and a choice buffet of African dishes.


H.E. Prof. Rhono started her welcoming speech and keynote address by remarking:

“What a colourful view I have in front of me, colourful attires a true reflection of our vibrant and diverse cultures! It is with great honour that I stand before you on behalf of all the Distinguished African Ambassadors accredited to this wonderful country, on this special Africa Day.”


This aptly described the assembled audience, which listened with interest and admired the entertainment as interlude to the speeches.


Ambassador Rhono continued to describe the situation of Africa’s youth: “About 62% of Africa’s overall population fall below the age of 35 and more than 35% are between 15 and 35 years old. More than half of the youth survive on less than US$ 2 a day. Six thousand young people are infected with HIV/AIDS everyday all over the world; most of them are girls in Sub Saharan Africa. Unfortunately, these are the realities of our young people. The gap between the MDG’s targets and its interconnection to the current state of our young people leaves no time for questions. Lost opportunities for the youth are missed opportunities for future generations and also costly to reverse, both for the young and for society.”


Coming to the main theme the ambassador stressed: “Accelerating youth empowerment for sustainable development and leadership is increasing its importance through the development agenda of national governments, regional entities and international development organizations, that includes the African Union (AU) efforts to build youth capacities for quality and meaningful participation in development and decision making processes.”


Referring to the African Union’s current agenda for use, the Kenyan envoy concluded:

“The African Youth Forum that took place in April, 2011 is such an engagement that provided the necessary platform for the youth to seriously dialogue and share their view about youth empowerment agenda as critical actors and mobilize effective commitment and actions on the part of all stakeholders and partners at all levels to mainstream youth concerns into development policies, strategies, programmes and plans in Africa.”  


The Honourable Deputy Mayor of The Hague, Marjolein de Jong the co-host at the occasion welcomed her audience and said: “Ladies and gentlemen, in two weeks from now The Hague Institute of Global Justice will open its doors. I am sure they will contribute a lot to the academic discussion about the legal systems in Africa. The Hague, the international city of peace and justice, has special academic ties with the African continent: the African Foundation for International Law has its headquarters in The Hague and publishes the African Yearbook of International Law.”


Mentioning that almost a million people of African descent live in the Netherlands she said: “I am, therefore, very pleased that the African Union has decided to join hands to seek ways in which the African Diaspora can be encouraged to share their skills with their home countries. The city of The Hague is happy to assist them to make this contribution. What we wish for the African continent is brain-gain, not brain-drain.”


Professor Dr. Ton Dietz, Director of the African Studies Centre of the University of Leiden and a renowned African scholar inspired the audience by his upbeat speech entitled ‘Silver-lining Africa’. He saw the huge population increase and the youth bulge as a demographic dividend that should be harvested. He found people in Africa healthier than before, despite AIDS, better educated, with a record economic growth trend, as seven African countries are among the ten FGEs (Fastest Growing Economies). Ton Dietz also mentioned that African youth are creative, having high expectations and a global orientation,  looking more to Asia, Middle East, South America and less to Europe and North America. They are well informed and critical, but also getting angry and impatient and ready to take over.


H.E. Mr. Maarten Brouwer, Netherlands Ambassador-at-Large for Development Cooperation, spoke on behalf of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In his speech the he laid the emphasis on (economic) growth which has been spectacular in parts of Africa and holds great promises. He said: “All in all, Africa’s prospects are changing for the better. What many people once called a lost continent is rapidly becoming a continent of hope. That is why I think that today’s theme - accelerating youth empowerment for sustainable development - is an excellent choice. Better education, better health and more employment do empower people.”


The African Youth Charter and the 23rd June-1st July 2011 African Union Summit


The African Youth Charter by the African Union was adopted in Gambia in July 2006. The Youth Charter created a legally binding framework for governments to develop supportive policies and programmes for young people, and serves to fast-track the implementation of such policies and programmes. It also provides a platform for youth to assert their rights and fulfil their responsibility of contributing to the continent’s development. The Kenyan Ambassador already mentioned the African Youth Forum held in Addis Ababa last April. This builds up to the June - July 2011 African Summit to be held in Malabo Equatorial Guinea under the theme: “Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development”. It is part of the African Youth Decade 2009-2018 Plan of Action towards the Implementation of the African Youth Charter.


Culturally diverse interludes, Info-market and African Buffet


Entertainment interludes on Africa Day 2011 in The Hague included a graceful dance by three Rwandan ladies in flowing robes and a spectacular Kenyan contemporary ballet.

Many African Embassies exhibited information about their countries and the Africa Day celebration would not have been complete without the mouth watering and tasty African buffet with dishes from across Africa.




The political-will expressed by the African Union and its member countries to ‘accelerate youth empowerment for sustainable development and leadership’ must be highly commended. However for this to take place, a major cultural change has to take place. Africa has always been known for its respect for age and the priority position this gives elder persons in all walks of life. Younger people have to earn their respect and position, but few and far from all get that chance. Although this is true for many other societies around the world as well, African elders seldom give away to younger ones.


Listening to the youth, appreciating their ideas, realizing their potential and having the confidence to allow them to participate meaningfully will go a long way to use the human resource available and enhance harmony in human relations.


*Ato Bob is a former Dutch Diplomat who now consults with various NGO’s on African issues. He lives in Rotterdam and may be reached on

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