Last week, the first-ever virtual African Youth Summit took place, with over 500 youth from across Africa in attendance. The two-day virtual summit brought together African youth from all walks of life with prominent experts in the field of marine conservation, representatives of youth-led organisations, educational institutions, artists, musicians, and students.
The virtual crowd convened to interlink and unify African youth and also to develop and furnish an open letter from the youth that will outline a call for urgent action to address the need for increased protection of our oceans while also providing more equitable and more inclusive marine protection solutions for the people by the youth. This letter will be brought forward to global leaders to form part of important conversations.
The Summit featured 40 speakers from leading marine scientists, prominent ocean advocates, conservationists and representatives of youth-led organisations who unpacked the science behind the 30X30 initiative, how this initiative would add value to Africa’s vast coastline, what the 30X30 initiative means for African marine systems, other potential conservation directions, holding authorities accountable to their commitments and how Africa can achieve the ambitious MPA targets.
Speakers present included Karen Sack, CEO and President of Ocean Unite and also Co-Chair of the Ocean Risk & Resilience Action Alliance, Dr. David Obura Founding Director of CORDIO East Africa and IUCN Chair for the Coral Specialist Group, also part of the Global Partnership for Ocean’s Blue Ribbon Panel and steering committee of BioDISCOVERY, Prof. Dan Laffoley World Leader on Marine Protected Areas, IUCN Marine Vice Chair for IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, Senior Advisor on Marine Science & Conservation in the Global Marine & Polar Programme and Prof. Rashid Sumaila, Canada Research Chair University Killam Professor at the Institute for the Oceans & Fisheries.
The Summit was filled with emotion, inspiration, humour and passion where the youth got to navigate through non-conventional spaces to speak about biodiversity crises and the importance of protecting our oceans.
“Our goal was to bring together African youth and create a safe space where we could discuss issues that brought us to the edge of our comfort zones and pushed us to think about things in a different way,” said Kajal Lechman, African Youth Summit Co-ordinator.
Bram Buscher, visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg & Stellenbosch University highlighted the critical importance of including youth in the processes of managing and governing protected areas, “Youth are very important! We need to bring together young people to change the discourses in South Africa and raise their voices on conservation efforts. I also urge the youth to tell us how they want to get involved because they are the drivers of change”.
The art workshop, music and film festivals featured local (African) artists including Umtha Namanyange, Dr Gcina Mhlophe and Nomakhwezi Becker, Jamila Janna, Tembisa Jordaan who are seeking transformational change while creating awareness and conveying the message of conservation through their art.
“Why we care for the ocean is absolutely clear, the ocean gives us life”, said Karen Sack. She further highlighted some harrowing statistics during her presentation that explicitly details the importance of ocean protection where she adds “…a lot needs to be done and it needs to be done right now.” “Critical bold decisions must be made to develop clear and regenerative outcomes”.
Other youth speakers that joined the Summit include Simangele Msweli, Senior Manager of the Youth Leadership Program at the African Wildlife Foundation, Nancy Iraba who is a Founder of the Ocean Literacy Initiative and a NEWF Fellow, Co-founder and Science Communicator at Aqua-Farms, NEWF and 2021 Mandela Washington Fellow, Randall Mabwa, Regional Communications Officer for East at Blue Ventures Conservation with a focus on helping youth understand the usefulness of community-led conservation, the Blue Economy, associated challenges & successes .
The concurrent call to action discussions were testament that African youth have a voice which they are determined to make heard one way or the other. African youth stood unified in the plea for increased protection of our oceans but protection tailored for Africa and her people. These discussions will lead the way for African youth involvement in key decisions for Africa’s future of marine protection. The discussion themes are linked to jamboard documents which will be kept open for two weeks to allow for continuous additions from youth. These will then be collated into a call to action letter that will later be presented to global leaders in the spaces of ocean protection.
You can explore or re-live the African Youth Summit online sessions on: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0_iNorUVvA5um64FVYPRNg
Photographer – Mnqobi Zuma
Pictured here aboveFrom bottom left to top right, anti-clockwise: Sophumelela Qoma, Khalid Mather, Asisipo Mhlonyane, Sphamandla Gwala, and Adelaide Musemesi
Pictured here below: The African Youth Summit team
Standing: (L to R) Khalid Mather, Nadine Kodi, Kajal Lechman (African Youth Summit Co-ordinator), Sphamandla Gwala (WILDOCEANS intern)
Sitting: (L to R) Zodumo, Merrissa Naidoo (WILDTRUST Intern and Youth4MPAs spokesperson), Andile Nkosi, Thembelihle Mbokazi (African Youth Summit Communications Co-ordinator)
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