“The young people of the Commonwealth are leading us to a future of ever greater aspiration, and even greater achievement.”
These were the words of Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland at the start of one of the world’s leading intergovernmental youth conferences.
The 9th Commonwealth Youth Ministers Meeting brings together over 200 delegates - senior government representatives from more than 30 countries, as well as young leaders, youth workers and partner organisations.
The high-level conference was opened by the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, at a ceremony at the Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort in Kampala. Saying it was his “honour” to open the meeting he noted “the Commonwealth is a unique international organisation”.
The President challenged young people around the world to “identify the fundamental challenges of their time and devote their energies to resolving them”, as he exhorted policymakers to enhance trade and business, as a way of creating opportunities for young people.
The President also welcomed Secretary-General Scotland’s appointment, saying he was glad to vote for her when she was elected in 2015. “I congratulate you. Being someone of African descent, these Africans here are very happy to see you.”
The meeting comes ten years after Uganda last hosted a major Commonwealth summit, the 2007 Heads of Government Meeting, which was the first CHOGM to feature a Youth Forum as a permanent parallel side-event. The 9th Commonwealth Youth Ministers Meeting is no exception as it also hosts a Youth Leaders Forum, as well as a Stakeholders Forum.
Kishva Ambigapathy, the Chair of the Commonwealth Youth Council, which is co-hosting this year’s Youth Leaders Forum, implored governments to empower young people and support the resourcing and financing of youth development. “On behalf of young people, I – we – are ready to partner with you,” he said.
“As we talk about the mobilisation of resources, it should not be just the government lending the hand to young people – young people should also commit to work together with the leaders of national organisations.”
In her speech, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland outlined the many challenges faced by young men and women under the age of 30. Young people are at least twice as likely as others to be unemployed and account for more than 40% of all new HIV infections among adults, she said. Young people, especially young men, are also much more likely to be victims of homicide and radicalisation.
But the Secretary-General added, young people have time and again demonstrated their capacity to find solutions to seemingly intractable problems. “When educated and empowered, young people are increasingly leading initiatives and taking decisive practical action to address climate change and other such issues – promoting peace, advancing gender equality, building businesses, protecting the environment, and supporting healthier lives,” she said.
“Our Commonwealth focus is on translating these aspirations into impact, for the social, political and economic benefit of young people in all our communities. To achieve this, we have to invest in young people and in the environments that enable and support them.”
“We need to move from words to action, from speaking about the role of young people at the centre of development, to investing in its realisation,” she added. “Over the coming days of our gathering, the beating heart of the Commonwealth will be in Uganda.”
The opening ceremony on 1 August 2017 saw a cultural performance and speeches by Uganda’s Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development Janat Balunzi Mukwaya, Lillian Aber of the Uganda National Youth Council, and the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Director of Youth Katherine Ellis.
The meeting runs until 3 August 2017. It is 25 years since the Commonwealth first brought together youth ministers for an intergovernmental meeting to find solutions to the concerns of young people. Find out more about the 9th Commonwealth Youth Ministers Meeting: www.thecommonwealth.org/cymm