The celebrations of this year’s International Youth Day came at a critical juncture in the world’s governance. The theme too was apt, providing an opportunity for reflection. Under the tagline Youth Engagement for Global Action, it enabled assessment of the status of international governance and the role of the youth.
Since the formation of the United Nations, there has been a lot of progress in international governance. The governance architecture comprises several international institutions and rules and seeks to ensure the myriad of challenges facing the international community are addressed in a structured manner. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) captured some of these key challenges and how they should be tackled.
By focusing International Youth Day on the state of international governance, it is necessary to candidly assess the health of international relations. It is even more opportune since it comes in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. The way countries have responded to the virus has brought into sharp focus the crisis that is dogging international governance.
During the early years of the United Nations, state sovereignty was an obstacle that had to be overcome, leading to arguments as to whether this had to be ceded or not. Later, some scholars coined the term pooling sovereignty to denote the fact that it was not about giving up your sovereign authority as a state but sharing how it is exercised for the collective good. This debate is back in full force.
Countries are increasingly retreating to their spaces and seeing the international governance arrangement as an inconvenience. This trend has now engulfed even the most developed countries, some of whom were the greatest advocates and guarantors of international governance.
Instead, regional ties seemed stronger than international ties as evidenced especially within the European Union. Closure home though the East African Community has buckled under pressure.
The inability of the summit to meet for long periods over the past year or so and the difference in opinion between Kenya and Tanzania as regards the treatment of the coronavirus pandemic and its implications on the relationship between the two countries show that even regional integration is not spared the rising nationalistic tendencies.
This is the context in which the theme of this year’s International Youth Day must be viewed. Globalisation is at a crossroads. The direction it takes over the next years depends on the strategies that are adopted now. For that reason, it is timely that the place of the youth in that process gets examined. The youth are the majority throughout the world. They are the ones who will bear the greatest responsibility for shaping the kind of relations that exist in the next few years. In Kenya, the central place of the youth has been recognised in policy and politics over the past decade.
From the situation in the early 2000s when a case was being made to mainstream youth, it is now accepted that young people occupy a prominent role in policy initiatives. President Uhuru Kenyatta underscored this point in his address during the International Youth Day celebrations, reiterating what his administration was doing to enhance support to and mainstream youth issues in government agenda.
Having the youth engage in and influence the direction of international relations requires acknowledging the current low levels in that relationship, the obstacles that prevent the realisation of the SDGs and other international commitments and the futility of the business as usual approach.
It is necessary that a new approach be applied in reflecting on global governance and charting a new path, one that recognises that the traditional attractions for states relating with each other have changed. The solution cannot be increased nationalism since that will lead to greater problems. The world is even more interconnected now than ever before.