A global meeting bringing together some 300 young people from across the globe opened in Nairobi on Thursday with the United Nations Seceretary General Mr. Ban Ki Moon re-affirming his plans to appoint a special advisor on youth affairs.
Officially opening the four day meeting via a video message, Mr. Ban said many initiatives concerning the youth had been mooted but they were merely on paper. His firm commitment to supporting youth empowerment is why he was keen on appointing the advisor, he said.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN-Habitat, with financial support from the Government of Norway, are hosting the meeting which seeks to better understand and advocate for the engagement of youth in governance.
Addressing the meeting, the Director General of the United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON) Dr. Sahle-Work Zewde said that as the custodians of the future, young people must be given a voice in all spheres of life.
On his part, the Norwegian Junior Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr. Arvinn Eikeland Gadgil warned that the world was facing a fundamental threat to democracy if the youth were not involved in governance issues. "If the young people are not included in the governance structures then democracy will fail," he said while calling for clear representation structures for the youth in governance.
The UN resident Coordinator in Kenya Mr. Aeneas Chuma sadi the world was witnessing an ever increasing youth bulge, an occurrence that should be seen as an opportunity. "There have been calls to include the youth in leadership. This should not be mere rhetoric but must be effected," he said.
Severine Macedo from the Brazilian National Secretary for Youth Affairs gives her remarks during the Youth 21 event © UN-HABITAT/Julius Mwelu
The National Secretary for Youth Affairs of Brazil Ms. Severine Macedo said that to achieve success in youth empowerment the young people at the grassroots needed to be incorporated in such plans. She said her government had made good gains in having the citizens be part of social participation.
UN-Habitat Executive Director Dr. Joan Clos said that those in leadership must discard a 'business as usual' approach if they are to solve the problems of slums, political participation of the youth as well as youth unemployment which in some countries stood at 50 per cent.
UN-Habitat Executive Director Dr. Joan Clos gives his remarks during the youth 21 © UN-HABITAT/Julius Mwelu
"As young people you will be called upon to address the problems in your countries and cities. As young people in urban areas you have greater opportunities for mobilization and to address the challenges facing your communities, " he said.
Calling on the young people present to embrace the new UN-Habitat intiative 'I am a City Changer', Dr. Clos said by being more active in their respective local governments, the young people could have positive influence on their respective communities.
The opening ceremony saw performances by Emmanuel Jal, a former child soldier with the former rebel Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and now a successful international musician and a Kenyan poet Sitawa Namwalie.