Interview with The African Union Youth Envoy

Aya Chebbi, the first-ever AU Youth Envoy and youngest diplomat at the African Union Commission Chairperson’s Cabinet, is working hard to gather and amplify youth voices from all over the African continent. In collaboration with the African CDC, she has so far convened over 200 youth leaders from 40 countries during 11 online consultations. To learn more about her work, we asked her some quick questions.

What are the challenges you see for African youth amidst the pandemic? 

The current situation of the Coronavirus spread has an enormous socio-economic impact on young people in Africa. Young people’s demand should be at the forefront when making decisions about COVID-19 due to the youthful population we have on the continent, over 65% under 30 years old. African youth are impacted by the pandemic through disruption of education, unemployment especially for those in the informal sector and insecure jobs, and mental health challenges. Other challenges are the denial of the virus, where many young people aren’t taking the pandemic seriously, or the extreme fear towards panicking. We still also observe a lack of youth engagement with the governments’ efforts as a result of lack of trust and circulating misinformation. 

 

What is the role young people can play in developing immediate and long-term solutions? 

Youth are central to fighting the Coronavirus. According to the findings of the general testing for COVID-19 undertaken in South Korea, young people are leading carriers of the virus; youth in the age group of 20-30 years of age carry 30%, nearly 1/3 of all cases. Hence youth bear the most responsibility to heed and thoroughly comply with the scientific advice of the WHO and Africa CDC, and experts. 

Young Africans should put their energy, dynamism and innovation in the fight to end the pandemic, and many are already doing it. We see many young Africans working on the frontline; some are producing hand sanitizers, distributing them door to door, and raising awareness; others started crowdfunding platforms, distributing food packages, masks, and other gear to the most vulnerable in their communities, especially in informal settlements. We also see youth artists taking action by creating informational songs and music videos through a diverse range of styles and languages, as well as tech gurus developing apps and websites. We need all youth to join forces and mobilize massively around these concrete actions to serve their communities and become an integral part of the governments’ national response plan. This includes young professionals and scientists who should be part of the scientific conversation in developing the vaccine. This is the time for Africa’s leadership to the world while leveraging a youthful creative population

Underlying the role of youth to tackle COVID-19, my office ( The African Union office of Youth Envoy), in collaboration with Africa CDC, convened over 200 youth leaders from over 40 countries during 11 Virtual AU Youth consultations Series on COVID-19 for a Youth Collective Response. For long-term solutions, we also launched the African Youth Charter Hustlers initiative, in order to engage African youth to lead a movement of youth-led accountability at continental, regional, and national advocacy for the ratification and implementation of the African Youth Charter, as well as post-COVID-19 reform of service delivery architecture, including health infrastructures. We have recently put together our COVID-19 Response Strategy with these and other initiatives that we are curating with African youth. 

 

Why is solidarity across the African continent so important during these difficult times? 

Africa has always shown solidarity in times of crises as the host to the largest refugee and migrant populations, and we need to show that solidarity now more than ever. We cannot be safe if all of us are not safe or cannot benefit from adequate equal health infrastructures. 

For instance, the Chairperson of the African Union has appointed four Special Envoys to mobilise international support for Africa’s efforts to address the economic challenges. Another prominent model of solidarity is the Africa COVID-19 Response Fund launched by Africa CDC as a public-private partnership to implement a Pan-African self-reliance strategy to halt the pandemic. 

I believe also that Africa should turn the current COVID-19 pandemic into an opportunity for productive transformation and accelerate the implementation of the Continental Free Trade Area to achieve industrialization.

About the AU Youth Envoy: Aya Chebbi, a multi award-winning Pan-African feminist. She is the first African Union Youth Envoy and the youngest diplomat at the African Union Commission Chairperson’s Cabinet. She rose to prominence as a voice for democracy and shot to global fame as a political blogger during 2010/2011 Tunisia’s Revolution. She recently received the 2019 Gates Foundation Campaign Award and was recognized in the 2020 Forbes List of 50 Most Powerful Women in Africa. 

She is graduate of University of Tunis El Manar with Bachelor in International Relations, Fulbright scholar at Georgia Southern University and Mo Ibrahim Foundation Scholar for her Masters in African Politics at SOAS, University of London. She is the founder of multiple pan-African platforms such as Afrika Youth Movement (AYM), one of Africa’s largest Pan-African youth-led movements and Afresist, a youth leadership program and multimedia platform documenting youth work in Africa and Youth Programme of Holistic Empowerment Mentoring (YPHEM) coaching the next generation to be positive change agents.

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