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Engaging African Youth in Sustainable Development Goals
February 1, 2016

As 2016 slowly takes shape, the world and many countries in Africa (including Tanzania) will start the journey to meet the new United Nations Sustainable Development Goals known as the “Global Goals”. The 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) are a new, universal set of goals, targets and indicators that UN member states will be expected to use to frame their agendas and policies for the next 15 years.

The SDGs that came into effect on January 1st, 2016, follow and expand on the millennium development goals (MDGs), which were agreed by governments in 2001 and expired at the end of last year. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a global call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all human beings enjoy peace and prosperity.

For many African countries, poverty, political instability and environmental degradation are significant challenges to meeting the 17 ambitious global goals in just 15 years. However there’s a genuine opportunity for African countries to reach these goals if African youth are informed and fully engaged in development programs that contribute to their achievement their own countries. Africa remains the youngest continent in the world, with 80 percent of its population under the age 24. Young Africans are an incredible resource toward achieving the UN-SDGs.

Why engage youth in SDGs: A View from Tanzania

Tanzania is the 13th largest country in Africa. Tanzania’s population is quite young: As of 2014, 45 percent of the population was under the age of 15. It’s the sixth most populated country in Africa, with 52.3 million people. By 2030 – only 14 years from now – the population is projected to rise to 79.4 million, and by 2050, unless the birth rate slows substantially, there will be 2.5 times as many people in Tanzania as there are today — 129.4 million — which would make it the 15th largest country in the world.

UN Tanzania Resident Coordinator Alvaro Rodriguez said, “For the first time, governments of all countries have agreed on a set of goals for everyone. These goals will help all nations and all people share prosperity, reduce poverty, and protect the planet from climate change. They will address the interconnected elements of sustainable development: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection.”

group of people listening to a speaker
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Chief Economist for Tanzania speaking with invited delegates during the launching of Sustainable Development Goals in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Recognizing these challenges and the need to engage youth in sustainable development programs, TAYEN-Tanzania Youth Environmental Network, a nonprofit youth led organization mobilizes and engages youth across Tanzania to solve environmental and youth development challenges through community environmental action projects.

TAYEN programs involve tree planting to address deforestation and educating youth about the changing climate conditions that affect community livelihoods, particularly agriculture which is the country’s economic backbone. Today, TAYEN has planted over 25,000 indigenous trees to combat deforestation, a number one environmental challenge. We’ve reached out to more than 5,000 young people, engaging them in community environmental-action projects to conserve and protect the country’s rich natural resources and reduce poverty among rural communities across the Tanzania.

Youth in Tanzania have a big stake on the SDGs and if left out, the journey for achieving the Global Goals will be longer than expected. Towards the realization of SDGs, a priority and focus should be in strengthening in school and out of school youth participation so that young people better understand the SDGs, but more importantly, develop strong Youth-adult partnerships in all sustainable development programs that eventually lead to attainment of SDGs at all levels from village (community), national and global. Youth platforms like TAYEN and the YALI Network of Tanzania have huge role to design and implement youth-led community action projects that provide local solutions to sustainable challenges facing Tanzania and the globe.

TAYEN members in University of Dar es Salaam
TAYEN members in University of Dar es Salaam
TAYEN Youth members participating in one of Community Tree planting campaigns organized by TAYEN.
TAYEN Youth members participating in one of Community Tree planting campaigns organized by TAYEN.