Christine Davis –
Wandering around a digital world today, I am again reminded that there are times that being a young African is embarrassing. In preparation for International Youth Day, I thought it might be nice to give a status update on how the African Youth Charter and African Youth Decade Plan of Action are proceeding, in part to strategically plan for 2014. I can now confidently say that after hours of searching, I still have little idea. I know there were meetings, and alliances, and alliances within alliances led by team leaders of teams, supposedly, but beyond that, it is virtually impossible to understand the scope to which the African Youth Charter and the decade-long Plan of Action has been achieved and where to even find this information without picking up a phone. This is embarrassing for more reasons than you would think, and is hardly unusual considering the lack of real concern Africa places on a digital presence.
While Africa strives for development, and it forcefully positions itself into the global arena, we have consistently neglected to prioritise the way we communicate. Media on the continent is struggling, whether it be through oppression and self-censorship, lack of resources, unethical editorial practices or plain laziness, governments and governmentally-driven programmes are seldom well represented online and news about government initiatives seems to peak only after a press conference or some sort of dedicated day of celebration, such as Youth Day. I am sure that there will be a deluge of information on the African Union’s progress on youth development when youth-related dates surface, but real progress is making sure that kind of information is available all the time to the people who are able to contribute. Is that not the kind of African Renaissance we are attempting to create? Surely work to address youth development is a daily activity and as such there is a real need to ensure that partners and those in similar fields are provided with regular and current information?
Now, you could argue that Africa itself isn’t widely resourced by internet facilities, and that being able to access the internet, or at least a stable high-speed connection, is a luxury but therein inherently lies our problem. Organisations have typically not prioritised a digital presence because they don’t believe that anyone on the continent really needs it. This is one of the biggest mistakes any organisation can make, let alone one that prioritises youth issues and youth development. With something as vital as a Youth Charter and decade-long Plan of Action, you need a continentally available tool for communication, dissemination and coordination. Why the full strategic potential of the internet is not being intelligently utilised to do this seems odd. For example, the YMCA is the largest youth-based development organisation in the world. The Africa Alliance then, as a representation of the YMCAs within Africa is perhaps one of the most well connected and supported organisation across the African continent. We are directly connected to the youth in 20 African countries and our daily operation is to ensure the improvement of their lives. The African Union’s Decade Plan of Action should be inherently part of our programming and strategic positioning should be inherently part of the way their targets are established, but it is still extremely difficult for us to find a way to become part of this campaign.
But, the African Union can’t take the blame for this as the flaw lies in two ideologies. The first, that Youth Issues are not a priority when considering the massive infrastructural and development needs of the continent, and the second, that new technologies such as the internet (which by the way are only considered new in Africa, the rest of the world has long since moved on) are not a strategic priority when looking at coordination and programming. Sure governments sink money into IT development and infrastructural needs, but seldom do they spend time and money thinking about the strategic needs of their web portals and the databases people should be able to access. Working from South Africa, perhaps one of the most advanced internet environments in Africa, it is still difficult to find relevant databases that are open to the public, or to find accurate, reliable and importantly, current , information on programming and programme targets. Non-profit organisations, media and citizens should be able to access information about the status of current programmes without having to spend hours delving into obscure files to find it. Much of the western world has strategically used IT technologies to provide this information to the public, which has created the sense that programmes are thriving and that advancements are being made.
One of the most common complaints heard about African governments is that they are all talk and little action. Specifically, our leaders seem to enjoy meetings, really enjoy creating frameworks and policy documents, and spectacularly enjoy having summits about frameworks and policy documents, but seldom do we hear them account in tangible ways for the targets they had set. This fundamentally creates an impression that little progress has been made and seems to imply a complete lack of interest in achieving the targets. Surely people would be proud and showcase their achieved advancements if they had been made? A lack of information, within the digital age, implies secrecy and secrecy implies failure, if not corruption. How do we know that money allocated to programming is actually being spent on programming without seeing regularly updated information about programming activities?
Governments are very quick to complain that the media only reports on their weaknesses and failures, but they do not provide relevant information about their successes unless a public date has been set aside to mark that information. Africa’s lack of understanding of the full potential presented in relatively free and easy to access technologies such as a user-friendly website with relevant and current information is more damaging than people realise.
The result is, that you get a journalist working to educate the public on an extremely relevant topic such as the status of youth development on the continent, being prevented from doing so. The extended result is that you get a well connected international organisation such as the Africa Alliance of YMCAs, who are willing to embrace the work needed to improve the lives of Africa’s youth, being unable to see a starting point or even being able to strategically plan for 2014 to ensure that the Decade Plan of Action targets are closer to being met. The ultimate result is that youth development on the continent suffers.
Christine Davis works as the webeditor for the Africa Alliance of YMCAs. The Africa Alliance of YMCAs (AAYMCA) is a leading pan African youth development network on the continent, representing national movements in 20 countries, 16 of which are very active. The first YMCA in Africa was established in Liberia in 1881, and the AAYMCA was founded in 1977 as the umbrella body for all national movements on the continent. www.africaymca.org or https://www.facebook.com/AfricaYMCA