"There is no sustainable future without the participation of our generation." Nigerian activist Esther Agbarakwe calls on governments to involve young people in debating the new global development goals agenda.
When the Millennium Development Goals were formulated and agreed upon by the heads of government in 2000, I was still in high school in Nigeria, struggling with the poor services we received and working hard to further my education. I had no idea that my government was deciding such issues on my behalf, nor was I given the opportunity to express my hopes and desires.
As a young person, an uncertain future still awaits my generation. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will expire in 2015, and there is now a debate about what should follow. I am making efforts to engage in this debate because I know that this is about my future and the future of billions of young people around the world. We want to shape this future – to do this, our active participation in the post-2015 debates is essential.
African youth: trying to make our voices heard
There are some 3 billion people under the age of 25 – nearly half of the world's population. As the largest generation ever of young people, we are the ‘inheritors’ of any global development agenda planned or executed. We are also possibly the most educated generation of young people ever; we possess the capacity to contribute meaningfully to the post-2015 development agenda.
The UN has made youth participation a core focus in the process – but have our governments taken up this approach? Some, like South Africa and Ghana, supported youth e-consultations, and Liberia supported youth participation during the meeting of the High Level Panel on post-2015 (the body tasked with developing recommendations on a global development agenda) in Monrovia earlier this year. Kenya has shown strong interest in supporting young people. In my country, Nigeria, and in other parts of Africa, our participation has been driven by youth networks and supported by the UN and development partners. Overall, however, very few governments in Africa have taken the issue of youth participation in the post-2015 agenda seriously.
In November last year, young people from across Africa met at the African Youth Conference on Post 2015 in Nairobi, with the theme “Putting Young People at the Heart of Regional Development”. Convened by the Organisation of African Youth and partners, the conference aimed to engage African youth in accelerating the achievement of the MDGs, planning for post-2015 and building ‘the Future We Want’ for Africa. This effort demonstrated the willingness of young people in Africa to support the process and help shape our future.
Last month I was privileged to attend the National Youth Consultation on Post-2015 Development in Abuja, Nigeria, convened by an alliance of youth organisations and supported by the UN Millennium campaign/MyWorld2015. Here, young people like me had the opportunity to make our voices heard on the issues closest to our heart: youth unemployment; access to safe, clean water and sanitation; combating climate change; and population dynamics.
Empowered by new technology, we were also keeping our friends at home informed and involved in the process through our social media networks. Education and employment opportunities were the top priority for young people in Nigeria on social media, while good governance became a cross-cutting issue in the dialogue – corruption will be a big obstacle to implementing the new development agenda.
Nothing about us, without us
As the UN High-level Panel on post-2015 meets in Bali this week, our message is more important than ever. Governments and civil society organisations should take specific interest in ensuring that youth issues are not ‘missing’ or deliberately left out of the discussion. Our active participation brings in creativity and innovation: our collective participation and engagement is perhaps the most viable means to achieve the future we want.
We need a post-2015 framework that integrates our own aspirations and values – good governance, employment, economic opportunity and access to comprehensive sexual health services. We believe that investing in our health and well-being is crucial so we can make a positive transition into adulthood and fully contribute to the economic and social development of our families, communities and nations.
After all, at Rio+20 we agreed that there is no sustainable future without the participation of our generation and the generation of children yet unborn. Nothing about us, without us.
Esther Agbarakwe participated in the 'Elders+Youngers' initiative around the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development in June 2012 – read more.