Opening Statement of Aya Chebbi, AU Youth Envoy, at the World Merit
August 5th, 2019
World Merit thank you for inviting me. OCP Group thank you for this heaven on earth, the dream green city of Benguerir, the future of our cities on the continent.
I want to also recognize member of the AU Youth Advisory Council who came with me Nair Abakar, from Chad, and for African participants from Central Africa, make sure you get his contact as he is your voice at the African Union.
Young people from all corners of the world,
This is the best place to be on a Monday morning, a room full of young people who have the guts to do something while we live in a world of tokenism, with very little action, and we are a generation tired of talking. But this is a room of doers. I am full of joy and honored to be among you today, for the annual World Merit Summit, surrounded by brilliant minds who are on their different missions, to implement change, to speak up for change, to initiate discussions about what social change is and how it can impact our lives.
We live in a world that is a bit screwed up, we wake up in the morning on some nonsense tweets from decision makers, you know what I’m talking about! These tweets sometime make decisions of our future and become policies.
We live in a time where we have;
70.8 million people have been forcibly displaced;
262 million children and youth are out of school;
192 million Unemployed;
200 million Girls went through female genital mutilation;
650 million Were forced to marriage before 18;
And a long list of suffering;
But if I would choose which generation I would like to be born in, I would be proudly a millennial.
Because we’re the youngest generational in human history, the most educated, the most connected and a generation in transition, transitioning the world into a whole next level of innovation, technology, leadership and activism. So really no excuses for why we can’t make a difference.
Being part of my generation of millennials made me believe more that change can happen and we can do, that we should stop watching and blaming the system and what’s going wrong and instead changing it. That change has to be bottom up and youth-led.
My contribution this morning under the The theme of the summit “Mobilizing youth for social change” is around 3 refections to think about when embarking on your mission:
1- Youth Power, disruption & Activism
Where you come from, your background, and what you endured in your life cannot stop you from finding your power to disrupt and thrive. Everyone of us has a story of struggle but there is always someone who has endured worse, I just came back from Juba, south sudan fascinated by the resilience of young people there despite their hardships in post conflict setting, they didn’t give up and they are frontline peacebuilders.
When I reflect on my own journey, I can only believe that everyone can and should be an activist because activism is about turning your struggle into positive contribution so others will not endure the same injustice and inequality.
I am a product of the public education in Tunisia; I did my primary, secondary, and college in Tunisia. I am an only child to a religiously conservative muslim family both my father and my mother’s sides are very conservative. But I rebelled since an early age and made radical choices (in the perception of others) about how I want to live, what I want to be, study, work and believe; with the help of a supportive father, I call him a feminist but he would never recognize that.
In my extended family, I’ve been the only woman who chose to live by herself when I went to university in the capital Tunis, the first female in my family to travel outside of Tunisia and the only one to live outside by herself for school and work. I was forced to study engineering because that’s the path in the family and it is where the jobs are, but I failed terribly, lost a gap year at University, then switched to humanities and international relations. I was then pressured to do a masters after my undergrads I said, no, why do a masters when I don’t even know what I want to study? So I left school for four years and got back when I was ready. I was born in a village on the Tunisian- Algerian borders where certain traditions were practiced on girls and I was subjected to one called “tasfi7”. Very young, I experienced patriarchal abuse, psychological violence and discrimination, and has since carried out my childhood traumas but turned them into resistance, fights positive energy and search for liberation.
Activism started for me by standing up for my rights for my voice, then healing and liberating myself by unlearning the pain and learning how to make a positive impact, that has become a political voice.
I was motivated to fight for what was directly affecting me: for freedom, for gender equality and for inclusivity that is when the personal had become political for me.
My existence as female became political, as a tunisian as an African became political and everything since became political.
I had no manual, and couldn’t land my hand on a “how-to-become-an-activist-in-10-days” kind of book.
Not everyone agreed with me, or with my views which are challenging the status quo. Many thought that it was a “pointless fight” how do you change structures that have been in place for hundreds of years?
I am sure you can understand what I am referring to. It was often hard for my society to think of an alternative. Even my mum who thinks my ultimate achievement should be to get married and have kids, she thinks the train passed following my 30th birthday and there is no hope anymore. She stopped nagging on me at least!!
Activism is learning by doing. When I started blogging, I learnt to own my narrative, I learnt that we make the news until we became the news and that my power was and is my voice.
The future lies in the youth power so we must be prepared for this task to lead from a place of love to bring about healing and mend the broken spaces of our world.
2- Movement building & Solidarity
Following Tunisia’s revolution of dignity, I travelled across 30 African countries supporting other changemakers, and activists and trained them in blogging, mobilization and non-violence.
I continued to blog rebranding Africa’s story but also realized our common struggles, realized how divided we are along our borders and colonial legacy. The answer for me was Pan-africanism. Pan africanism means the unity of african youth to rise collectively and massively beyond our shades and tribes and languages.
I was very fascinated by the political solidarity in the liberation movements in the face of colonial powers in the 60s, which showed us how pan-Africanism can liberate us, they managed to organize across borders and they didn’t even have the tech we have today.
So I Started a platform called it Afrika Youth Movement as a facebook group in 2012, to bring all these youth organizers together to think about how we can accelerate change how we can turn our shared marginalization, into a collective identity and critical consciousness to think beyond our national struggles to find solutions to our problems as a continent.
In 2015, we officially launched and from 500 members on that facebook group, today the movement has over 10,000 members from 42 African countries, becoming one of Africa’s largest youth led movements with youth hubs across the continent, tens of campaigns and advocacy influencing policies and african youth agenda everywhere.
And in the world of NGOs this movement remains not registered with no central bank account, no office, and with a small team of volunteers that managed to mobilise and impact the lives of thousands of young people especially grassroots offline youth reached through AYM Hubs in different countries, organizing forums and gatherings across africa like this one with zero external funding fully organized and funded by the movement members and their community fundraising and mobilization.
How? Because when you have purpose-driven activists and committed to work for alternative innovative solutions, everything is possible and funding can never be an obstacle, the only obstacle to reach where we want to be, is us, our mindset.
And so for the last decade this has been my mission, creating alternative spaces of belonging for African youth that are non-violent, empowering and inclusive where African youth can shape their collective identity by sharing their political and economic struggles and turn their creativity, frustration and anger into positive action.
Mobilizing and organizing is hard work, is working your ass off, you have to be ready and consistent to see its results, building movements, communities, teams, does not happen overnight, it’s a long term investment.
You must also remember that whatever is you’re fighting for it is intersectional, meaning we can’t have gender equality without education or peace with climate justice, our goals are inlined, and social justice can only be reached through our solidarity. We, ourselves, can become part of the problem if we ignore or invalidate the issues that certain groups face every day.
We must not just look at a list of issues and decide which ones are worth our time. That’s why bringing people together is crucial.
I hope your time here in world merit can show to others what effective collaboration can look like, where connections beyond borders were created. You have a wide range of tools at hand for you to use.
21st century leadership and movements is not about one man show, it is about leaderless leadership, where everyone is a political actor, a political voice in the movement for social justice for equal peace world, everyone can be a changemaker.
3- Intergenerational co-leadership
The present-day is not limited to the solutions of our grandfathers, grandmothers and parents have put into place. Today is about innovation, creation, today is about co-leading, co-designing and reforming the systems together in order to build the Africa we want and the world we want.
This solidarity also needs to be intergenerational. Not only elder-youth, but in the language of World Merit, the ones who are going through the reactive phase and the ones who have reached the activist phase.
Since I have been appointed the African Union Youth Envoy I have decided to promote a new concept of intergenerational co leadership
I have been a panafrican activist for the last decade, asking for participation, for a seat at the table, and being noisy and loud about it. Since a few months now, my new role as the envoy means I now have a seat with decision makers , and it’s a heavy seat it’s not only for my voice but to amplify the voices of over 300 million youth on this continent. But I realized that as young people we have to be acting and leading the issues that affect us and not just participating or fighting for space, and We can only do that by collaborating with other generations because achieving The United Nations’s 2030 agenda and the 2063 agenda of the African Union wouldn’t be possible without this generational partnership. So it’s for our generation to bridge the generational gap and turn it into a powerful space for social change.
World Merit badass activists, at the end of the day what is most important is for you to;
Be whatever the hell you want to be,
Be you and live your dream,
Be your most innovative, youthful self, the best version of yourself every single day,
Be coherent with yourself; coherence between what you believe, say and do, is what makes you a true leader and changemaker
And Get involved! get involved in civil society, in your local council or municipality, in your school or university reform, hold your government accountable and organize your community.
Be reminded that you come from a generation that changed the course of history with courage and resilience.
In the words of the moroccan feminist writer, Fatima Mernissi “Dignity is to have a dream, a strong one, which gives you a vision, a world where you have a place, where whatever it is you have to contribute makes a difference”
And lastly, It’s important to empty your cup regularly and refill it with positive energy!
Nurture your vision in the stillness of your mind, defeat negative thoughts, and enhance your youth power. It all seems magical and easy but investing in your personal growth is your responsibility!
Ms. Aya Chebbi
Special Envoy on Youth
African Union Commission