SDGs: “Why we shouldn’t talk about ‘leaving no one behind’ rather those we shouldn’t leave behind”

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Diakhoumba Gassama, who was at therecently held African Youth SDGs Summit in Accra, Ghana, is the Africa regionalactivism and youths coordinator for Amnesty International. She speaks about howthe goals of the Summit align with that of Amnesty as well as the absence ofthe African Union at the Summit

Diakhoumba Gassama is the Africa regional activism and youths coordinator for Amnesty International.

What do you make of the 2nd AfricanYouth SDGs Summit holding here in Accra and how do the goals of the Summitalign with that of Amnesty?

The African Youth SDGs Summit is an opportunity to hear from young people who are working to realize the SDGs which are about protecting human rights of all; it is an opportunity to see what the youths of the continent are doing to accelerate action towards holding accountable those who make those commitments.

The SDGs are a forward looking agenda; it is evident that our work at Amnesty which is about researching; campaigning and advocacy to protect and promote human rights also has at its heart the realization of the SDGs for young people in Africa and other Africans in general.

Having participated in the 3-day Summit what is your assessment of the summit in terms of the discussions and outcome?

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In the beginning, I had a bit of mixed feelings because after the first 6 hours of the first day of the Summit, I realized that although this was supposed to be an event for young people but non-youths were the ones speaking at the Summit. As such for someone whose work is about active participation of youths and also amplifying their voices in public spaces I was really disappointed.

However, in the afternoon, as Amnesty, we organized a session on defending SDGs as human rights for all which I facilitated. I therefore used the opportunity to inspire those youths who made this trip to Accra to realize that summits like this are opportunities for African youths to celebrate our wins, talk about our wounds and heal.

So, I think this is a beautiful opportunity for us as a continent to realize our future; there are always complaints about the fact that young people are not participating in governance processes across the continent. However, we heard this week several messages of hope which will resonate with many young people from around the continent and also around the world, since the SDGs are a global agenda.

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How do you think improving the human right condition of youths in Africa will help inspire them to bring about development on the continent?

I think if our governments manage to stop the gross violations of human rights we are witnessing in Africa or rather stop protecting those who are violating these rights; be it arbitrary arrests, police brutality and unfair and unjust detentions, lack of access to public services, we will achieve great success by providing hope to our young people who are now mere spectators.

They will stop being mere spectators which is only because they are scared of the treatment being meted to human right defenders and social justice actors. We will get this young people to play their full role as citizens. If you look at simple indicators across African countries, the participation of young people in national affairs of their countries is very low which is why you have presidents elected by only less than 20% of the population.

I therefore think there is a real danger in social apathy which means the few controlling and exploiting the majority and which is also why we see dark forces trying to divide us along religious and political lines. After the past 3 days of the Summit, I have become very hopeful as someone who is passionate about the SDGs and who has been championing the realization of the goals.

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My greatest disappointment is realizing that the African Union was nowhere to be found at the Summit, how can we say this is an African summit? Have you ever seen a Summit of African heads of state without the African Union? Have you ever seen a meeting of African ministers of trade without the African Union? I am not saying we should turn the Summit into a statutory AU body; instead, what I am saying is that if the AU will throughout this year organize series of regional consultations with youths across the continent why can’t the AU participate in this huge summit of African youths?

Finally, I will like to say we need to stop looking at the SDGs as a document rather we should start looking at it as the reality surrounding us and it is only then that we will realize those who are the people most marginalized. I wish we stop talking about leaving no one behind, and rather begin to talk about those we should not leave behind and it is then that we will know who we are really leaving behind.

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