Better education for African youth can help silence the guns

African Union Youth Envoy, Aya Chebbi, discusses why investing in quality education, girls’ education and inter-generational leadership should be a priority for African governments looking to establish lasting peace and prosperity.

April 07, 2020 by Aya Chebbi
4 minutes read
Aya Chebbi, AU Youth Envoy. Credit: AU Commission
Aya Chebbi, AU Youth Envoy.
Credit: AU Commission

I come from a country that has a highly educated population, with literacy rates over 80% for youth. During the Tunisian Revolution in 2011, it was mostly educated but unemployed people who protested in the streets.

After the revolution, education impacted the democratic transition. Young people who took part in the movement organized themselves into media collectives, advocacy groups, some went into the parliament. Education played a key role in citizen engagement and participation in governance.

The demographic dividend is an opportunity for Africa

The demography of Africa, with a youth population expected to increase by 42% by 2030, is an asset, not a threat.

At the local level and with community leaders, we need to reframe the discourse on girls’ education. Leaders are afraid that educating a girl will threaten cultural and social values. Our role as youth is to help leaders understand it differently, so they can invest in education and develop the political will needed to sustain investments.

In our current system, learners don’t have a voice. This makes it difficult for them to hold their leaders accountable. In most of the countries I visit, there are youth parliaments and student unions, but they don’t have the power to hold the government accountable.

There needs to be more power for youth-led accountability in the process.

We need an efficient accountability mechanism at the continental and national levels for spending on social sectors like education. We need to use continental and global frameworks to push our member states to deliver.

Mismatch between policy and implementation

We have a gap between policy and implementation in the majority of our sectors across Africa. Africa has a lot of progressive policies at continental, regional, and national levels but implementation has always been a weakness. The role of government is to convert those great policies into impactful and concrete action.

When it comes to budgeting, we hear from youth that they want more funding for education and less for militarization. They want sustained government attention and leadership for education.

Young people want to know why we put our money into other things instead of investing into what will really build a future for our generation and the future of Africa’s economies – which is education.

I am a product of public education. I attended public school in Tunisia from primary through my undergraduate degree. If I wasn’t a product of that system then I wouldn’t be the Youth Envoy today.

We shouldn’t underestimate our public education systems in Africa, but rather strengthen them and build their capacities to become the engines of growth and development, as they are in other regions of the world.

How violence and conflict affect young people

Violent conflict has a huge impact on young people: It disrupts their education. When they are displaced, often their qualifications are unrecognized in a host country.

Because of conflict and displacement, young people have the security of their education taken away.

Children are also negatively affected because they can’t even complete their basic education before they’re thrown into a context of violence, which quickly becomes all they know.

But I have seen many of these former child soldiers or the children profoundly affected by violence become peace builders and it’s very inspiring. It shows the resilience of young people.

Education, particularly girls, can foster peace and stability

Education is one of the most powerful instruments for peace. That’s why I always talk about Youth, Peace and Development instead of Youth, Peace and Security.

If development is front and center of the security agenda at the AU and UN security councils, then maybe more countries will increase financing for education.

I’m hoping we can refocus the conversation on empowerment, which comes through education and employment, particularly for girls.

When we focus on development instead of security and put the needed funding and infrastructures in place, then we can invest in employment, education, engagement and entrepreneurship - the key pillars of empowerment that young people are asking for.

“Silencing the guns”, which was the theme of the recent 33rd AU Summit, doesn’t just mean a conflict-free Africa; It’s silencing illiteracy, silencing youth unemployment, silencing gender-based violence, silencing all the challenges young people face.

Credit: GPE/Victoria Egbetayo
PME/Victoria Egbetayo

The root cause of many conflicts is illiteracy, marginalization and lack of equal opportunities. To address security, leaders need to deal with the soul issues. Militarization is only a response. It doesn’t deal with prevention or transformation.

My message to African young people and leaders

Don’t wait for an invitation. Be at the table and raise the issues you care about; we don’t need permission to serve our continent. 

To African leaders: You have the responsibility to deliver for this generation, for the continent, it’s your mandate. Open up the space for young people to co-lead with you.

When you’re surrounded by young people who bring innovation and solutions, it will make you look cooler and smarter!

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I totally agree that education is one of the most powerful instruments for peace. Thanks for sharing your experience about this important topic

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