Event Report: “Youth as a Driving Force for Change: Call to Act with Africa”

June 25, 2024
Photo: JICA

The AFRI CONVERSE 2024 #2, held on Friday, May 27, was organized to coincide with Africa Day, established by the African Union (AU), and Africa Weeks promoted by Sophia University. Under the theme “Youth as a Driving Force for Change: Call to Act with Africa,” the event featured the active involvement of young leaders as key participants.

Today, there are 1.9 billion young people aged 10-24 worldwide, nearly 90% of whom live in developing countries. Youth serve as critical thinkers, change-makers, innovators, communicators, and leaders, driving social change. They play particularly important roles in addressing issues like climate change and gender equality, contributing to the realization of "Agenda 2030." As the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) marks its 30th anniversary, the co-creation between young people from Africa and Japan is increasingly highlighted as crucial for designing a sustainable future.

In a video message at the start of the event, Ahunna Eziakonwa, UNDP's Assistant Administrator and Regional Director for Africa, celebrated the launch of the Model African Union as a flagship initiative to strengthen youth engagement. She emphasized the expectation that young leaders will play a significant role in enriching TICAD by fostering a sense of solidarity and mutual understanding between Japanese and African youth working towards common goals.

The video message from UNDP Africa Director, Ahunna Eziakonwa

Photo: JICA

Following this, Mr. Hideki Makihara, a member of the House of Representatives and Chairperson of the Research Commission on International Cooperation of the TICAD Project Team at the Liberal Democratic Party, made an online appearance. Reflecting on his nearly 20 years of involvement with Africa, he highlighted Africa's rapid growth and the evolution of Africa-Japan relations from aid-focused to equal partnerships. He expressed great expectations and encouragement for the co-creation of future initiatives between young people from both regions through platforms like the Model African Union.

Mr. Shusei Ohno from the Model AU organizing committee then explained the initiative, highlighting that the Model AU aims to discuss climate change and generate innovative ideas through negotiations among participating countries. He stated that the participating students are expected to demonstrate leadership in the international community and act as bridges between Africa and Japan.

Following that, two Sophia University students shared their learnings from their first short-term stays in Africa. Ms. Mai Saito spent two weeks in Zimbabwe, focusing her research on women's empowerment in the agricultural sector. Before embarking on her journey, she was worried whether the local people would accept her considering the cultural disparities and differences from Japan. However, upon her arrival, she actively engaged with local culture, including Mbira music and dance, and felt the warmth and kindness of the people.

Mr. Kazuki Oki traveled to Côte d'Ivoire through a Sophia University program and was impressed by the economic and infrastructural advancements as well as the resilience and positivity exhibited by the local population. He touched on the common tendency to lump all African countries together and emphasized the diverse cultures and ethnicities that exist in each country. Currently, he is interning with an international NGO involved in African education.

In the subsequent panel discussion, young leaders involved in activities related to Africa were featured. Mr. Hiroshi Yokoyama, CEO of Axcel Africa, served as the moderator, discussing his work in building communities and training programs for young people through activities like Africa Quest and Axcel Africa.

Participants attentively listening to the message from Member of the House of Representatives Mr. Hideki Makihara

UNDP Africa

Ms. Yuki Yasumiba, who works at JICA and co-founded Africa Asia Youth Nest last year, collaborates with the Africa Diaspora Network Japan (ADNJ) to develop and advocate youth action plans for TICAD9 next year. Through this activity, she has had the opportunity to collaborate equally with ADNJ and understand African perspectives, helping her widen her view of the world and the future. She mentioned that her experience at JICA enables her to better integrate youth practices into policy, expressing her commitment to continue this kind of activity from the public sector. She encouraged participants to engage with Africa and contribute to the advancement of initiatives.

Mr. Kithinji Kinyua, Researcher at Sophia University and Japan Society for Afrasian Studies, spoke about his classroom activities. He provides a space for students to counter biases against Africa and promote constructive dialogue grounded in factual information. With a passion for teaching, he shared how his life in Japan and classroom activities have given him new perspectives and opportunities for self-reflection. He emphasized the importance of understanding the realities of Africa and continuous learning to eliminate biases.

Ms. Hanajienifuaifuonaia Saito, a student at the University of Tokyo, focuses on racism studies and the experiences of people of African descent living in Japan. Through her participation in platforms like African Youth Meetup Japan, which connects young people of African descent living in Japan, she fosters connections among them. Despite enduring misconceptions surrounding Africa, this platform allows African-descended youth to gather and express themselves. 

She explained that her experience in Nigeria deepened her self-understanding, leading to her engagement in creating opportunities and building communities where individuals of mixed ethnic backgrounds can enhance their understanding of fashion, culture, and identity. She emphasized her commitment to inclusivity, aiming to encompass not only individuals of African descent but also a wide range of diverse backgrounds in these initiatives. She concluded by highlighting the significance of dispelling stereotypes and attentively considering firsthand narratives, underscoring their pivotal role in shaping the future partnership between Africa and Japan.

In closing remarks, Mr. Shuhei Ueno, Deputy Director-General of the African Department at JICA, shared his long-term experiences in Africa and expressed expectations for the expansion of co-creation between young people from Japan and Africa. Following this, a congratulatory message from the African Union Commission’s Director of the Women, Gender, and Youth Directorate, Ms. Prudence Ngwenya was read. The message highlighted the importance of youth as a driving force for socio-economic transformation in achieving “Agenda 2030” and expressed the expectation that the Model AU would serve as a platform for youth engagement and cooperation, connecting to the future envisioned by TICAD.

At AFRI CONVERSE 2024 #2, young leaders shared their experiences and learnings from their time in Africa, emphasizing the importance of dismantling biases and misconceptions, attentively listening to firsthand narratives, and directly engaging with the regions as crucial steps for strengthening Africa-Japan relations and building a better future together.