Michelle Grace Phiri is a 19-year-old university student from Malawi. She is also an active member of the Youth Action Movement (YAM) in her country, and advocate against Child Early and Forced Marriage (CEFM).
IPPF Africa Region, which prioritizes youth engagement and empowerment, facilitated the participation of Michelle and other YAM members to attend activities around the 28th African Union Summit, which included the 9th AU Gender Pre-Summit and a Forum of African Parliamentarians on Population and Development (FPA) meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The AU theme for this year is: Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investment in Youth”. IPPF Africa Region works closely with various development partners, among them the African Union in the realization of the continent’s development goals, and achievement of ‘The Africa we Want’.
We caught up with Michelle on her views on youth and Africa's development.
“In my experience as a young person, many times we are told that we are the leaders of tomorrow. But I always ask myself this question: When does tomorrow start?
Africa’s youth face a myriad of challenges in their daily living, and I believe that the best people to highlight these problems, explore feasible solutions and implement worthwhile recommendations are the youth themselves, in collaboration with other development partners. But they must be centrally involved in this process, and not just wait for decisions to be made for them.
The time is now, I believe. Let us not wait for tomorrow to become leaders so that we can start solving Africa’s problems then. As a young person, whatever capacity you find yourself in today, begin seeking solutions to the challenges that you and other African youth face. You have the power in you to bring about that change.
But how can young people do so, you ask?
Young people can form groups to seek solutions to their problems. Many of those in urban and peri-urban areas have access to mobile technology, so they can use them to communicate with each other in a group –such as on Facebook or WhatsApp, where they can highlight their issues, engage in debates and constructive arguments, suggest solutions to these problems, and even strategize on how their plight can reach policy makers and other Legislators.
In rural areas, groups are also just as effective, where they can form clubs, self-help groups, and other productive forums where they can similarly discuss their problems and propose solutions.
In whichever groups they are, they can invite those in authority or those responsible for addressing the issue to answer their questions or explain why things are not going as they should. They should feel confident enough to raise questions about their access to basic rights such as health services, education, clean water, hygiene and sanitation.
To advance their cause, young people should also take advantage of the traditional media; radio, newspapers and television to call for action and hold their government and leaders to account on their commitments. We recognize the value of journalists in highlighting social issues, spotlighting corruption and calling for accountability by leaders. The media is also instrumental in showcasing success stories and educating the community on innovative strategies that could realize development in the society.
Young people can participate in talk shows on radio or TV, and send in their opinion letters to editors, as a means of participating in development conversations and seeking solutions to their problems. They should not just sit back and wait for change to come to them. They should be part of the solutions.
Those are my thoughts. What are your thoughts on youth and Africa's development?"
If you are a young person who is passionate about Africa's development, join the Youth Action Movement in your country today.
Story by Maryanne Waweru-Wanyama, IPPF Africa Region.