Last week, I've been invited to Addis Ababa to participate in the African Union (AU) youth forum with heads of states, as part of the AU 50th anniversary and I had certain expectations. However, what happened was far below my expectations and not even eager to the level of 50 years of establishment of such promising pan-african organization "the African Union" . Noting that this 21st AU Summit was co-organized by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, which in my opinion, was a failure at many levels and will explain in details.
Technically speaking, there was a very unprofessional organization of the event, no respect of time, poor logistics -a messed up logistics is a more fair expression-, no smooth or effective communication from booking the flights and the hotel till sitting in the conference room and leaving Ethiopia. This wasn't even exclusive to youth participation but was even the problem for some governors from different countries.Simple examples I can think about is the fact that there was no single organizer for airport pick-ups and drop-offs of delegates and participants, no booking of hotel rooms (reimbursement later), no clear communication for the venue of the event or even the badges pick up venue (which is different from the conference venue and that doesn't make sense for me). For someone who comes for the first time to Ethiopia and has no information of the hotel or the venue, will definitely spend the night at the airport waiting for a reply to an email for hours, (just like what happened to me). Even the phone numbers provided for assistance were off or not answering during the whole week of the summit.
During the first day of the forum, the conference room was not well arranged. The leaders have been installed in a way that they actually had their backs to the participants (maybe they were afraid of our eye contact?). Some microphones were working well, others were not as I couldn't understand the talk of some leaders since I was sitting upstairs. Besides, the forum started an hour late of the expected time (a stereotype already confirmed about us) then, the recorded national anthem of the AU stopped and there was an awkward moment of silence (it could have been resolved by just chanting it verbally but maybe the leaders of the AU don't know their anthem, or shy to recite it? )
The moderator, the British Sudanese Zeinab Badawi , was unbelievably unprofessional! the so-called youth forum was a monologue of African leaders! without criticizing them one by one, some of them were reading their speeches from the paper which means they didn't even listen to the questions. Zeinab didn't interrupt any leader while most of them spoke for 20 minutes ( regular speeches that we hear on TV, everyday) and she was regularly interrupting young participants and stressing us out with time without making any point! the week of celebration is supposedly including this day, actually one morning, more precisely less than 2 hours for youth to express their views, reflect on the past 50 years and the upcoming 50 years but 10% of the present youth have spoken, with 3 minutes as the longest intervention. In terms of the outcome, at first, I was thrilled by the moment of the gathering that should have taken place annually for the past 5o years, as many as the number of meetings of the AU decision makers but later I realized this was just another formal meeting to be perfectly broadcasted to the world as the African Youth enjoying an "intergenerational dialogue" with the leaders!
When I took the microphone to speak I've been interrupted by Zeinab many times, I would say I was publicly and kindly censored, why? maybe because I said dictatorship? neo-colonization? daily abuses and insecurity? maybe because I valued African women? or more likely because I asked how many North Africans are represented in the forum?! Well, the most important thing is that I made my point at end and got a positive feedback from the attendees following the forum! I just wanted to remind them that, the day we will get rid of these divisions between North and sub-saharan Africa from our jargon and mentality, Africa then will be united. We, as youth have the same problems of unemployment, poverty, education, free movement and security, so if this division serve the leaders to push their agendas, we should embrace our diversity and prove to them that our diversity is our strength regardless of skin color, language or ethnicity.
Moreover, there was no Arabic translator though Arabic is the official language of the UN and the AU. This logistic "mistake" in particular is a disrespect to me as participant -and the very few Arabs in the room- to my country and the 8 Arab countries members of the AU! I wonder if that would have happened if Qaddafi was present?!
May 25th, the day of the celebration, there was a long line to enter the venue. Of course, the leaders have been sitting in their booth far from any disorder, but the normal citizens downstairs were sitting on the floor, YES on the floor because there were no chairs but a large empty hall, something the media didn't show.
Well, I would give the overall logistics, 3 out of 10! with big disappointment of the UNCA and AU to fail organizing something decent for such an occasion and leave everything till the last week!
Let me briefly talk about the Tunisian "Provisional" president. Before getting to Ethiopia, I read Marzouki's name on the program. I arrived and I've seen the Tunisian flag till the few first minutes of the start of the forum. Then he didn't show up. The following day, which is the meeting among all African leaders and delegates, he sent one of his consultants. Some might say that this is not the good time for such meeting while we have a lot to deal with already in Tunisia, but does Morsi have nothing to do in Egypt but attending this meeting then? Even Boutaflika, Algeria's president who have been sick recently, sent his Prime Minister (though he spoke French, the language of the colonizer). Our President, known as "Tartoor' made Tunisia's absence very shameful which emphasizes the fact that the vision of youth is different from the policies. While we need to empower our relations within Africa, he is traveling tomorrow to Japan to attend the 5th Tokyo International Conference on African Development.
To conclude, Pan-Africansim ideology for me is like a train that has many co-chained vehicles and all going to the same direction for the same arrival place but if one of the vehicles stops, breaks down or gets off the railway the whole train cannot move but we're not there yet as an African Union. Pan-africanism is the responsibility to take immediate action and fix the broken vehicle which means to protect our citizens and stand up for the lives of our fellow africans across the continent, something that most of African leaders don't care about because they cannot protect or fairly treat their own citizens.
For me, these 50 years have been a failure to unite Africa but now WE, Africa's youth, will unite Africa! one love... one continent... no borders... no division!