What does global citizenship mean to young people?
Stories from youth consultations on the post-2015 agenda in Dakar, Senegal
June 10, 2015 by Tamika Abaka-Wood, Ben&Andrew
6 minutes read
(c) Tamika Abaka-Wood

The spotlight is currently on Global Citizenship Education (GCEd) as the post-2015 education agenda is being developed. It is becoming increasingly apparent that education must evolve to suit pupils of the 21st century. This generation of young people has inherited huge global challenges, which require solutions derived from real life skills, innovative thinking and mutual understanding and respect across cultures.

It is my job to consult with young people around the world to bring their voices to international dialogue on GCEd, as part of a project led by the U.N. Secretary General’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) Youth Advocacy Group (YAG). The first set of consultations took place in March 2015 in Dakar, Senegal.

GEFI Youth Advocacy Group participants in Dakar, Senegal (c) Tamika Abaka-Wood

To prepare for the trip, I had conversations in London with a group of teenagers that policymakers would refer to as ‘hard to reach’, as they are on the margins of society. Whereas the phrase “global citizenship education” sparks lengthy, convivial debate among education professionals, these young Londoners’ faces went blank as I asked their opinion on global education.

From what I found, this was, first, because young people are not accustomed to being asked their opinion of the future of their education. Second, let’s be honest: if “global citizenship education” sounds like pretty dull language to me at 25 years of age, how might this sound to a young teenager? For this reason, very early on in our research, we made the conscious decision to not explicitly mention “global citizenship education” at any point during the Dakar consultations. 

These insights led me to approach the consultations with young people in Dakar in an ethnographic way – there were no artificial conversations and environments involved. I spoke to young people in Dakar on their turf, on their terms and let them show me their world. I found myself having engaging and insightful conversations about music, community engagement and values with two 17-year-olds who had spent time in prison and with teenage girls in the Youth Urban Music Academy, where they take part in reintegration courses or just come to gossip and hang out with other teenagers.

To truly engage young people in change you have to go deep within their world – you cannot stand on the sidelines and observe.

Understanding how young people live, their mindsets, motivations, passions, needs and behaviors is what I call ‘youth culture’.  A group of rappers and journalists based in Dakar called ‘Y’en a marre’ [we are fed up] are using youth culture to empower young people to make change within their communities – the movement is called ‘Yenamarrisme’.

The ‘Y’en a marre’ central philosophy is that ‘change will come from each Senegalese understanding that the problems they see in Senegal is his or her problem’ – they actively promote citizenship and encourage young people to take action.

One 15-year-old young woman explained to me that just a few weeks before, she and her friends took part in a competition called “it’s clean, it’s mine” where different neighborhoods in Dakar compete with each other in civil action. She had this to say:

“It is our own place, where we live, so why should we wait for someone else to do it? We just made sure everyone came together and helped to clean. We put music on and made it fun.”

These youth leaders have captured the attention of Washington: President Barack Obama met the founders of ‘Y’en a marre’ when he visited Senegal in 2013 and mentioned them in his speech at the University of Cape Town (see at 29 minutes and 40 seconds). The U.S. embassy in Senegal has also worked with them under civic engagement and election monitoring programs. ‘Y’en a marre’ successfully engaged with and rallied young Senegalese citizens together to participate in the 2012 presidential election, by using their musical talents. Following that election, Abdoulaye Wade handed over power to Macky Sall.

It is clear that when young people are engaged in programs that resonate with them, they can be a powerful collective force for change. 

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I thin the phrase "think globally, act locally" is probably most appropriate here. In order to be able to think on a global scale, everyone, not just young people, need to be able to understand the community around them, engage with it, try to make changes in a meaningful way, and see the fruits of their labours first, before acting globally.

By working on a local level first, young people will not only come to understand what it is like to work with different people and their different ideas, but they will also learn a great deal about themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, their ability to engage with other people and, perhaps most importantly, will help them formulate their own opinions about different issues.

This sounds like an extremely worthwhile project.

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