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Keynote Address: Youths and Youth Groups in Accelerating Progress Towards the Achievement of Sustainable Development Goals


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Keynote Address: Youths and Youth Groups in Accelerating Progress Towards the Achievement of Sustainable Development Goals
Dr. Lesan Esther, RCE Greater Nairobi
9th African Regional RCE Meeting
5-7 August, 2019, Luyengo, Eswatini

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Keynote Address: Youths and Youth Groups in Accelerating Progress Towards the Achievement of Sustainable Development Goals

  2. 2.  The Honorable President of African RCE Network;  The United Nations University Representatives  The Representatives of the Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini  The Representatives of other Governments including the Government of the Republic of Kenya.  The Coordinator of RCE Eswatini  My Counterpart Coordinators of all other Visiting RCEs present here today  All delegates and delegations attending the African Regional Meeting  All protocols observed Ladies and gentlemen 1. Good morning. Habari…..Hamjamboni. That is how we say it in Nairobi and Dar es Salam 2. As you have been told, my name is Dr Esther Kitur, the Coordinator of RCE Greater Nairobi in Kenya. Before, I proceed to make my remarks, allow me to convey warm greetings and salutation from the people of Kenya and specifically the citizens of Nairobi. I also take this opportunity to thank the great people of Eswatini for the warm welcome we have received right from the airport and for hosting this assembly of African RCEs. I already feel the sense of African kinship in this hall. Indeed, we are one people only separated by artificial borders created arbitrarily by our colonial masters. I recall and remind you that my RCE hosted the 8th Global RCE Conference in 2013 in Nairobi, and the 6th Africa Regional Meeting at our Secretariat which is hosted by Kenyatta University in Nairobi in 2016. 3. As you may already be aware RCE Greater Nairobi is one of the pioneering RCEs in the African continent having been formed and accredited by the United Nations University (UNU) in 2007. Its original goal which remains true today was to mobilize and galvanize stakeholders whose missions and operations included or revolved around aspects of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). This way, RCE Greater Nairobi (RCEGN) aims to provide locally driven and home grown solutions to our socio-economic and environmental challenges using the popular “bottom up approach”principle. In order to foster coherent action towards the reversal of these common challenges, RCEGN modus operandi is to continually build synergies and true partnerships between stakeholder
  3. 3. organizations. I also recognize that after RCE Greater Nairobi, UNU has fully accredited 8 more RCEs in Kenya namely: RCE Central (Coordinated by Kimathi University); RCE Mau Complex Ecosystem (Coordinated by Egerton University); RCE Greater Pwani (Coordinated by Pwani University); RCE Nyanza (Coordinated by Maseno University); RCE South Rift (Coordinated by Maasai Mara University); RCE North Rift (Coordinated by University of Eldoret); RCE Upper Eastern (Coordinated by Methodist University); and RCE Kakamega Western (Coordinated by Masinde Muliro University). I hope they are represented in this Regional Meeting (Is there anybody from a sister RCE in Kenya-Raise up your hand-thank you). I must thank UNU for these accreditations. Kenya is therefore almost fully covered by a canopy of RCEs as it should. To reciprocate this gesture by UNU, we need all of these RCEs within the Kenyan space to partner with our local communities in order to fully extend the mission of RCE network. 4. The jurisdictional area of RCE Greater Nairobi coincides with the Nairobi Metropolitan Region, which comprises the Counties of Kiambu, Kajiado, Nairobi City and Machakos, with a total spatial extent of 31,348.7 km2 . This space is bigger than the Republic of Burundi at 27,834km2 or Republic of Rwanda at 26,338km2. It is certainly almost twice the size of Eswatini at 17,364km2. The region is rapidly urbanizing and faces environmental challenges associated with this phenomenon as I will elaborate later in my speech. Mr President, Session Chair and fellow delegates 5. It is now an agreed norm in policy circles that global challenges are better tackled using focused networks and partnerships of likeminded stakeholders. I note and reiterate that an RCE is a network of existing formal, non-formal and informal actors who may or may not be education organizations, mobilized to deliver education for sustainable development (ESD) to local and regional communities. I am sure all the delegates assembled here are familiar with the requirement by the UNU-IAS (Institute of Advanced Study of Sustainability) that we all need to transform our RCEs into local, national and regional Learning Spaces for Sustainable Development by sharing ideas among ourselves. When these ideas are reported to UNU Portal, we connect to the rest of the world and create a Global Learning Space for ESD and realization of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 6. Arising from this background, the theme of this regional meeting: ‘Accelerating Progress towards the Achievement of Sustainable Development Goals in Africa' is indeed timely and captures the spirit of the founders of the RCE Network. Indeed
  4. 4. it is necessary to take stock of regional initiatives, looking at the role of ESD in implementing sustainable development in our respective countries. 7. As I have already indicated to you, RCEGN’s jurisdiction covers a rapidly urbanizing space in Kenya. I must admit that the kind of urbanization taking place in Nairobi Metropolitan Area is a replica of what you fellow delegates are witnessing in most cities of your countries, where formal urban planning is largely lagging behind the urbanization process. The result of this scenario is the spread of informality rather than formality. Allow me to call this phenomenon “informal urbanization”. How we can deliver sustainable development goals in the midst of this chaotic urbanization using education for sustainable development is a big challenge we must all tackle in this meeting. Mr President, Session Chair and fellow delegates 8. We are all aware of the 17 SDGs. These are universal goals where all humanity is committed to. I note that the global community has put a deadline of 2030 for all citizens of the world to reach the goals. Looking at the clock of time, we just have slightly over a decade to deliver on all the 17 goals to our people. So it is a race against time. We cannot prevaricate any longer. We must act and act decisively. We are not only racing with time, but also with other regions of the world. 9. For us as a continent, education in general and environmental education in particular still remains the key that can open for us the SDG promise. In other regions of the world currently enjoying developed economies and societies, perhaps education may not be a priority issue in rolling out SDGs to their people. It is clear to us that education for all is captured in Goal 4 but as far as I am concerned and as I have noted, it is a fundamental precursor to all the other 16 Goals. For instance, you need entrepreneurship education to open our citizen’s eyes to economic possibilities which can lift them from poverty (Goal 1). We need farmer education as well as value chain partners to expand food production and eliminate hunger (Goal 2). We need both promotive and preventive health education to achieve good health and wellbeing (Goal 3) and we also need education geared towards sustainable cities and communities (Goal 11) to mention just but a few. Mr President, Session Chair and fellow delegates
  5. 5. 10. Allow me now to focus on the topic given to me to address in this assembly: that of the place of youths in the overall framework of accelerating the attainment of sustainable development goals in Africa. I agree entirely that this is a significant agenda which must be considered and fully debated because it is about the future not just of Africa’s development but the entire globe as well. Indeed, the youth are an essential component of our development and a key driver in the realization of our respective country’s visions which is now underpinned by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The key question which I pose to you is: who are the youth? Who are they? The answer to this question is important if we have to engage the youth fully in the SDG Agenda. 11. There are many definitions of who the youth are with respect to their age. As examples, the United Nations (UN) defines the youth as any person between age 15 and 24 while the African Union in its youth charter defines the youth as any individual between 15 to 35 years. In Kenya and possibly in your countries as well, youths are a category of the population defined by either the constitution or a statute. In Kenya for instance, the Constitution of Kenya 2010 in Article 260 defines youth as the collectivity of all individuals in the Republic of Kenya who: a. Have attained the age of 18 years but b. Have not attained the age of 35 years The term “youth” should not be used interchangeably with other terms such as “young people”, “young persons”, “young women”, or “young men”; terms which are relative, ambiguous and normally misdirect focus from the real youth. It is therefore clear that youth refer to both male and female gender. 12. The youth profile that we must be alive to include the following: (i)Male and female; (ii) Educated and uneducated; (iii) Rural and urban residents; (iv) In-school and out-of-school; (v) Adolescence and adults; (vi) Physically challenged and able-bodied; (vii) Engaged in various economic activities; and (viii) Skilled and unskilled. 13. While youth is an age bracket of 18-34, it is also critical to shed light on youth- hood as a concept. Youth–hood is a specific stage between childhood and
  6. 6. adulthood when people have to negotiate a complex interplay of both personal and socio-economic changes to maneuver the transition from dependence to independence, take effective control of their lives and assume social commitments. It is in this respect that Governments registers youth-led organizations and recognizes their legitimate activities 14. This constitutional definition is a significant recognition of the youth and removes any ambiguity of who they are supposed to be. It is also significant because the policy makers are able to craft policies specifically concerning them. The first step in involving them in SDG programmes is their proper identification. The Constitution of Kenya further lays out the promises of practical attention to the youth of Kenya in Article 55 - access to relevant education and training, opportunities to associate, be represented and participate in political, social, economic and other spheres of life. Mr President, Session Chair and fellow delegates 15. It is a fact that we cannot ignore or neglect the youth in the SDG Agenda because of their massive demographics in our countries. Indeed they occupy a big chunk of our population pyramids. The fact that close to 60% of all Africans is below 25 makes Africa a young continent. Indeed the median age across Africa is 18. This kind of pyramid has an effect of creating a robust momentum responsible for driving the population growth in Africa. 16. Today’s booming youth populations can be good news or bad news for our countries. It can be an accelerator or a decelerator of progress. Indeed it depends on which side of the coin you are looking at. If young people are healthy, educated, and productive, they can innovate the way to greater progress on the realization of sustainable development goals. The opposite is also true. If they are stifled and marginalized, the same youth can become a big burden and a monumental security threat to our continent. Indeed disillusioned youth whose hope for a brighter future is shattered are readily available for radicalization and conscription by extremist groups such as Alshabaab of East Africa and Boko Haram in West Africa. We must therefore as a matter of urgency review our youth challenges, strengths and opportunities soberly and objectively.
  7. 7. 17. In Kenya, the following challenges facing the youth have been identified. I am sure that all countries in Africa have more or less similar challenges:  Labour underutilization in form of unemployment and underemployment partly because economic activities are not growing in tandem with the population growth.  Vulnerable employment among the employed youth: Most employed youth are in vulnerable employment which is characterized by informal working arrangements associated with low productivity, inadequate earnings and difficult working conditions  Health related problems or challenges: These encompass malnutrition, HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), drug use and substance abuse; and associated effects of mental health as well as poor access and uptake of health services  Increasing school and college drop-out rates: Many youth drop out of school and college due to retrogressive cultural factors or practices such as female genital mutilation, early marriages, high cost of education and increase in overall poverty levels,  Teenage pregnancy: The median age at first sexual intercourse in Kenya was 18.2 years for women and 16.6 years for men in 2015/16. This exposes youth to HIV & AIDS, and STIs; and young girls to early pregnancies while disrupting their participation in education and other empowerment programmes  Crime and deviant behavior: Due to idleness, especially after completing basic education, the idle youth are vulnerable to engage in organized militia, human trafficking and sexual disorientation. Some end up in crime, radicalization or with deviant behavior.  Drugs and substance abuse remains one of the major problems confronting young people in Kenya today. Despite the need for services to address substance abuse, very few drug rehabilitation programs and counseling centres are available and financially accessible 18. In order to leverage on the constitutional provisions on youth, Kenya has also developed the Draft Kenya Youth Development Policy (KYDP) of 2018 which is titled “Empowering the Youth to Productively Contribute to Sustainable Development”. The policy is being live to by the Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs. From this governance perspective, it is clear that youth agenda is a top priority issue in Kenya. African RCEs must provide the impetus in pushing your respective Governments to emulate Kenya in this respect.
  8. 8. 19. According to the Minister in charge of its implementation, the youth policy is meant for the youth and youth serving organizations, families and the community. Its main objective is to mainstream youth issues in all sectors of national development, on both the micro and macro levels, at national and county levels (Kenya operates a devolved system of Government), within the public, private sectors, families and civil society. All stakeholders are encouraged by the Policy to take affirmative action for the youth as a strategy of participation and empowerment while harnessing their potential. 20.I find that Kenya’s youth policy is transformative in that it proposes to develop a Kenya Youth Development Index to track and measure the impact of youth initiatives, programmes, projects and activities at various levels. The Index shall have clear indicators, making it easy to be covered in the regular national and county level surveys and reporting mechanisms. This is an unprecedented move in Kenya and I believe in the entire continent of Africa. You may soon find it prudent to come to Kenya to benchmark with us. Mr President, Session Chair and fellow delegates 21. For us to position youth properly in the matrix of sustainable development goals, we need to ask ourselves the following questions, while taking a critical look at our RCEs: what is the interface between our youth and each Goal? From Goal Number 1 to Goal Number 17? What is the impact on the youth when each Goal is not met or lag behind in realization and then more importantly, what and how can the youth’s abilities and talents be harnessed to drive faster realization of the Goals within our communities and countries? 22. I have earlier alluded to the need for us to critically review the strengths and opportunities which our youth possess if they are well trained and are healthy. Allow me to point out a few instances where the youth’s participation can be a game changer in terms of accelerating successful implementation of a few sustainable development goals: a. Goal 1 (End poverty in all its forms everywhere). The youth when they are empowered with entrepreneurial education, given start up loans and properly guided are able to create vibrant small and medium enterprises which can then
  9. 9. mature into large size companies. This can drive economic growth, create own jobs and cut down poverty levels. However barriers such as insistence on collateral by lending institutions must be addressed. I note the recent launch of a continental free trade area by our leaders. This can open up trade between our countries which has the potential to reduce poverty by spurring economic growth. b. Goal 2 (End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture). Agriculture carries with it several value chains which the youth should be guided and supported to join. Currently, there is negative attitude by the youths towards agriculture due to preference to white collar jobs rooted in our education systems. There is also the problem of old fathers clinging to the farm land resulting in delayed take over by their sons. If incentives are provided our youth are able to take control of this critical food sector and steer it innovatively towards nutrition security c. Goal 3 (Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages). Healthy youths can participate in socio-economic endeavors which are necessary for realization of all the other goals d. Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all. Governments must ensure all youths are put through school especially basic education. Education opportunities must therefore be expanded and barriers to education removed. Kenya is currently implementing the Competency Based Curriculum as a way of infusing skills at an early age. We are also expanding technical training to absorb youths who do not reach university to cut down on wastage across the education system e. Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Parity between both genders must be prioritized. In Kenya parity has been attained at basic education levels. In leadership, a constitutional one third women representation in parliament has become a mirage. f. Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation. Youth’s biggest strength is innovation. Given a conducive environment, they are able to innovate solutions which can solve most of our challenges. g. Goal 15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems. Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. Youth can be allies in the restoration of degraded ecosystems through creating awareness and planting and growing trees. h. Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. Youth can become peace ambassadors within their
  10. 10. communities. SDGs can only be realized in a peaceful, stable and cohesive environment i. Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnerships for sustainable development. Youth movements within our RCEs should be nurtured and networked within the continent. We need them to carry the messages of peace, environmental conservation and inclusive and cohesive societies Mr President, Session Chair and fellow delegates 23.As I conclude, I want to reiterate that the demographic reality of our continent does not give us a choice of either integrating our youth into mainstream development or not. If we ignore them, attainment of SDGS will become a distant mirage. Any country among us which does not take deliberate policy and institutional steps to remove barriers that currently constrain their youth from fully exercising their potential is not only irresponsible but also visionless. 24. I therefore urge all of us to exert maximum pressure on our Governments using whatever means at our disposal to place youth in key decision making tables for them to bring back national hope and revitalization of our nascent economies. Our RCEs must show a good example by recognizing and nurturing youth networks and movements across our ranks. 25.I thank you for listening to me and God Bless all our RCEs and our countries