It ended quietly, with just a relieved scattering of applause. By the time the first meeting of the Africa-Europe Youth Platform finished, the other rooms in the AU Commission building had long been deserted, its 20 floors of offices long since emptied. We came and we went; and not many people knew what it was really about, if they knew we’d been in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at all.
And what had we agreed on? A minimal set of guidelines, an idea of what needed to be done in the next months – and not much more, in the end.
For two days, some 30 of us, representing youth organisations from Europe and Africa, got together with the idea of creating a new structure that would help youth organisations from the two continents work together and represent the combined voice of European and African youth in global policy-making.
We talked about where and when we’d meet, who would be represented, what our mandate should be. We disagreed. My heart sank each time another European spoke up to support what one of their neighbours had already said: were we so hemmed in by those divisive continental lines? Were we just like our elders have always been?
And yet, when it got to the interesting part – what do we do with this Platform? – it all seemed to merge. Ideas began overlapping: advocacy, training, supporting employment opportunities, a festival, a global campaign. We might not agree on what we are, or how we function, but we do agree there’s something there. Like the mutual attraction between unacquainted lovers who don’t speak the same language, but can’t quite say goodbye because of a gut feeling that there’s something worth pursuing.
I’d had my doubts. Why bother creating yet another institution that will spend yet more time and money talking and fabricating unnecessary procedures, you start to wonder. Why bother formalising something that is already happening anyway, from one organisation to another across the continents?
First of all, as a body recognised by the AU and EU, we’ll carry more weight. We get to represent the combined voice of European and African youth when our respective heads of state meet to decide how they’ll work together. The formalisation of the whole thing also makes cross-continental cooperation more accessible for youth organisations who haven’t got there yet; and of course means – hopefully – more funding possibilities. It’s also, I reckon, about the process itself. The experience of institution-building is already nurturing a few rising leaders. And all of us are being exposed to how the “others” work, and learning bit by bit how to make it work together.
Our big advantage over our more senior politicians of course, is that the majority of our group are working directly with the young people they actually represent – within students’ groups, national youth councils, religious or political associations, diaspora organisations. Hopefully, then, we don’t just replicate the meetings our governments have. We don’t just use up money talking. Hopefully, we can do something really innovative, not get stuck in procedures, and remember the bigger picture.
Maybe, then, it’ll be something to shout about.