The Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF 2022), the first of the four forums of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, kicked off on Sunday with a call to states to give young people the opportunity to take the lead on issues the world faces today.
The three-day forum, which is held in parallel with the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) opened at Intare Arena, under the theme of ‘Taking Charge of our Future’.
The Minister of Youth and Culture, Rosemary Mbabazi, who was the guest of honour, said that the youth forum will serve as an opportunity for young people to not just set the momentum for the future but also set their demands to the leaders gathering in Kigali.
Minister Mbabazi said that whatever the youth agree on will be forwarded to the leaders when they convene in the coming days because the idea of youth taking charge is being taken seriously.
“Dear young people present, this forum will not only set a comfortable slot for you to share ideas, exchange and network with others but also you also will leave concrete actions regarding your active involvement in decision making, trade, entrepreneurship, environment, ICT, to mention but a few,”
“I encourage you to build networks that will turn into long-term markets needed for your innovations. Create innovations that respond to the problems within our communities. I am sure you will leave here with more knowledge and transformed mindsets,” Mbabazi said.
She said for a couple of years, Commonwealth member states have been waiting for the time when the youth can come up and take charge of the future.
“We have waited for this moment for so long but here we are. The pandemic, as they mentioned earlier, disrupted all the sectors, all our plans and goals but we have come back stronger and more devoted to achieve more together,” Minister Mbabazi said.
She pointed out that the Commonwealth family accounts for 2.5 billion people and of which 60% constitute young people below 30 years of age and the theme of this year’s forum couldn’t have been timelier.
“What does it mean to take charge of our future, especially the young people? It shouldn’t just be a slogan. What does it mean?” Minister Mbabazi said, challenging the youth to ask themselves if they have their own future in their hands.
She challenged the youth to get up and take matters in their own hands, rather than procrastinating, postponing things and waiting for others to be the one to take action.
Among other things, she challenged the young people to be present and proactive and show that they can take charge of their future.
By being present, physically, spiritually, psychologically and economically, Mbabazi said the youth need to have the traits of people who are proactive and want to accomplish something and some of those characteristics include being efficient, time conscious, responsible and responsive.
Minister Mbabazi said that as the COVID-19 pandemic showed, people who showed responsiveness, responsibility and adapted quickly to the requirements were able to minimize the damage.
Dr. Arjoon Suddhoo, Deputy Secretary General, Commonwealth Secretariat, on behalf of the Secretary General, said the youth forum serves as an appropriate platform to discuss policies with the full involvement of the youth because they form a bigger part of the population in the Commonwealth countries
“The young people of the Commonwealth, did you know of the 2.6 billion people that we have in the 54 countries of the Commonwealth, 1.2 billion are under the age of 30 years old?”
“It therefore means that much of what is discussed in these coming days will affect young people’s lives and prospects for the future,” Dr. Suddhoo said.
He said that the theme ‘taking charge of our future’ is not just a theme but a call to action for member states to take action and hand over the mantle to young people to take the lead in key sectors of the economies.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is time for the world to recognise that the youth population is the greatest untapped resource the countries have, no matter where they want to look and they must be the pillar for rebuilding.
He however said that at the same time there are many youths who were deprived of the usual opportunities by the pandemic are likely to be left behind as a result of the impact of Covid-19.
Dr. Suddhoo said that unless urgent action is taken, many youth people in The Commonwealth are likely to suffer from the severe impact of the pandemic.
“The pandemic created the largest disruption of education systems in history, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries and across all continents,” the Deputy SG said, adding that though the different sectors are recovering or have been resilient, more needs to be done to address the existing challenges.
The Commonwealth Deputy SG challenged youth to indeed take charge of the future and have the fighting spirit to change things, continue being innovative and take advantage of the talents they have, citing some of the innovative projects youth in different Commonwealth countries have come up with.
‘We do a grave disservice to all in our communities when we fail to harness this exceptional talent and vitality,” he said, mentioning some of the young people that have come up with innovative solutions in their countries, addressing serious challenges.
“Given the huge potential and ingenious proclivity of our young people, we simply cannot afford to exclude young people from the development agenda or equate youthfulness with inexperience and ignorance. This dangerous and damaging discrimination will hold all of us back from achieving our full potential.”