Opinion | By John Youhanes Magok
July 1, 2020 (Thessherald)–Before being an African Union Youth Volunteer attached to the Department of Trade and Industry as Mining Policy Officer. My journey goes back to 2012 – the first leg to Addis Ababa, the new flower and the headquarters of the African Union which is primarily established to spearhead Africa’s rapid integration and sustainable development by promoting unity, solidarity, cohesion, and cooperation among the people of Africa and developing a new partnership globally, all aimed at achieving Africa We Want – enshrined in the Agenda 2063, Africa’s owned Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the next forty-three years from today. By then, I had no relatives or friends working for the African Union Commission (AUC) to approach to take me into this good looking building – just a walk inside the compound will satisfy my needs, but deep beneath, I wanted to explore what the African Union is doing for the future’s prosperous peaceful continent. It was on March, a month after the Heads of State and Government annual Summit (HoSG), where African Presidents converged in the city to discuss polices, burning agendas, treaties, and partnerships.
I once decided to go to the building to experience and learn about how to access the AU building – I went with less hope, thinking I will be prevented by the security guards, who always stand at the gates like UN protection personnel. Surprisingly, I found out, it was easy; I just used my blue ordinary passport, to enter the complex as a quest, by then the Access Code was not yet introduced and the China Building (new AU building) was just inaugurated. I visited the Mwalimu Nyerere Peace and Security Building, Nelson Mandela Conference Hall, and took a look at some historical iconic pictures – it was not a pleasing experience, I rushed out and collected my passport, and went home.
At night, I asked myself, did I learn something new from my visit today, the answer was a big ‘NO’, but shortly I found myself typing the official website of the African Union (www.au.int) to research more about the union’s activities and functions. I have learned about the AU organizational structures, goals, mission, and vision – I came across the green button written job seekers, for the qualified people who are willing to join the AU workforce. I checked to get the opportunities for vacancies (http://aucareers.org/), internships (http://au.int/en/internships), and volunteering(https://au.int/volunteer/african-union-youth-volunteer-corps).
I was a second-year university dropout (Al-Neelain University in Sudan) by then, just because of the hard-divorce that led Southern Sudan to exit and stand as a new nation of its own in 2011. Joining the AU wasn’t in my vocabulary by that time but I was eager to learn more of what the activities of the union are, I had read about the holistic progressive agenda 2063 in making (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.africanunion.agenda2063), yet, I did not know how to be part of it, by then. I have learned that there is a Youth Division under the Human Resources Sciences and Technology (HRST) department led by a commissioner, currently spearheaded by H.E. Prof. Sarah Anyang Agbor, the iron women who champions the youth inclusion and always provokes the African youth to be proactive generation. Her famous quote goes like, “If you think, you can’t make a change, you didn’t spend the night with a mosquito” – this is how she value our collective unwavering call for transformation and development of Africa We Want, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children to nurture prosperous Africa.
I took the initiative upon myself, to read more about African Youth Charter, AU development frameworks, and Pan Africanism – values that I am solemnly ready to share with a thousand of people across the continent – my top priority as an AUYVC. Talking about the African Union Youth Volunteer (AUYVC) program, allows young African professionals within and in the Diaspora to contribute their quota to the development of the continent. Ubuntu champions (Youth Volunteers) are trained and recruited to work in African Union Member States other than their own for 12 months – it is a competitive program for all the youth who are aspiring to join the African Union, with prior experience of volunteerism in any recognized organization for a minimum of one year, alongside a minimum of two years professional experience with an age bracket of 18 – 35, being a citizen of Africa residing anywhere in the world and willing to serve the African continent.
Folks, believe me, you don’t need an uncle to climb the ladders to reach the African union … your profession and passion will position you to where you want. I first applied to AUYVC program in 2014, but I did not succeed, again in 2016, and 2018 similar results. I broke the cycle of waiting for two years to apply, I filled the online application in June 2019, giving my experience in volunteering with UNHCR – Ethiopia, Jesuit Refugee Service, and Mining related experience. Yes, I was a refugee serving other refugees, and the little contributions I made in teaching languages and interpreting documents are valuable to me personally because I was serving humanity.
I was shortlisted in September to take pre-deployment training in December in Cairo-Egypt for two weeks where we deeply learned about Pan Africanism Ideology, Afro Centricity, black consciousness, African feminism, Liberating African culture, Land Sovereignty, Youth Development, Empowerment, Gender Mainstreaming a.k.a Gender-Box, Tubonge episodes, and our roles as AUYVCs. I initially missed my AU booked flight from Addis Ababa to Cairo – I had to get a new none refundable ticket from my pocket after alerting the training organizer about my delay. I took the following day’s night flight with Egypt-Air, the ticket was a bit expensive but I have to bear the cost. I made it to Cairo at 02:00 AM, no one at the airport to pick-me. Luckily, enough I know Arabic very well, and it was my fourth visit to Cairo, and my second to stay in the same hotel; I took an Uber taxi to drive me to Tolip Maadi INN Hotel.
We enjoyed our 12 days of engagement with professionals from the African Union and other trainers from Ecobrank and Center for Youth Development Services (C4YDS). After our graduation, I picked an invitation from the World Youth Forum 2019 in Sharm el Shiek, as a Speaker in the Role of Civil Society organizations in Post Conflict Reconstruction and Development (PCRD) in Africa – it was another fabulous experience interacting in an environment of 7000 participants across the world from all walks of life – a fascinating experience it was.
I was notified for a deployment offer in January 2020, and it took six months to be recruited at the Department of Trade and Industry of the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, not because of Coronavirus Disease (COVID – 19) but the normal AU bureaucracy in recruitments. Talking of Coronavirus that forced the authorities around the world to implement measures to lock down countries and their cities to a varying degree including closing borders, shutting schools and workplaces, and limiting large gatherings. The virus affected the operation of the African Union too, the union introduced working from home as a new reality to stop the spread of the virus at crowded busy working place, and on May 2020, the first virtual onboarding for youth volunteers was introduced as well – many of my colleagues in the 10th / Nile batch were deployed. I developed an interest to resume too, giving the reality of South Sudan, a country that has been known by violence and conflicts; everyone envy and pity us because of lack of permanent peace and stability. Deep in my heart, it is still a country of million hopes – The Land of Great Abundance and Eden of Diversity – sooner we will attain lasting peace.
One thing, I want to expose about my country, is the lack of internet connectivity that is unaffordable and the service is away more expensive in comparison with other African countries. Internet Service providers for basic broadband charged an individuals with $800’ installation and $300 monthly fee – the data services providers (MTN and Zain) offers service that you have to struggle to connect with a Zoom meeting – it only works best at Night. Despite these, I am hustling to get connected and get my work done timely, at any cost – I accepted the challenge of the decade and the digitally divided world. I started my virtual engagement smoothly, other challenges are related to when you login for a serious meeting, when you need to be in a quiet place with a stable connection and to avoid crowds even your cousin who might show-off with his muscles at the background – thinking you are talking to your girl-friend or chatting with friends. Tell them, I have a serious business meeting at the designated time, and I will prefer to be alone for more concentration and focus on the outcomes of the meetings. Done, this is how I managed my new life on Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Bluejeans, and Cisco Webex Teams while maintaining the practices of data security; the new reality imposed upon us by the COVID 19.
I presented this article to young Africans who want to learn about the AU-YVC program. Who aspires to make a change in this continent under any circumstance. Remember, the truth is that you can contribute to “Africa We Want” even if you are not officially part of the African Union; it is our task as the next generation to take volunteerisms to mean more values and improvement to our communities across the continent. Hence, if you got an opportunity to join the union, trust the process; you will ultimately be there to mark your contribution to the prosperous, peaceful, and integrated Africa we all want.
About the author,
The author is an African Union Youth Volunteer assigned to the Departmental of Trade and Industry as Mining Policy Officer. Is reachable via NhialJ@africa-union.org