Blog Post: Reflections on the AU Reforms and Youth Engagement Webinar

Unpacking the African Union Reforms: A New Dawn for Africa?

The AU Reforms process, which began in 2017, have yet to fully integrate the voices of African Citizens, including the youth. To bridge this gap, On the 5th of April, 2024,  ISLA and the Co-conveners, the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA), Synergia Initiatives for Human Rights, the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria,  and the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights (RFK) hosted a  virtual webinar on Zoom in collaboration with the Amazon Leadership Initiative and CHEVS. The Webinar focused on the critical need for inclusive youth participation in the ongoing African Union (AU) reforms process.

The Need for Engaging Youth

Africa is home to the world’s youngest population, with about 40% under the age of 15. Yet, the ongoing AU Reforms process has largely overlooked this vibrant demographic. The AU’s approach has traditionally been state-centric, often sidelining the direct input of its citizenry, particularly the youth. This oversight is especially concerning given the reforms’ potential repercussions on human rights protections and governance within the continent.

A Response to Exclusion

The webinar on AU Reforms and Youth Engagement kicked off with an energetic start by Rachel Okoronko from the Amazon Leadership Initiative, who served as the moderator. Participants from across Africa shared their excitement and readiness to engage in a discussion that promises significant implications for the continent’s future.

African youth from across Africa convened on Zoom to delve into the ongoing reforms of the AU, a pivotal series of modifications aimed at enhancing the functionality and impact of the AU. Initiated in 2017, these reforms build on a legacy of structural changes that trace back to the establishment of AU’s predecessor, the Organization of African Unity in 1963. Originally designed to promote unity and foster international cooperation, the organization has continually evolved to meet the emerging challenges of an independent Africa.

Understanding the AU Reforms:

Mai Aman, a legal officer at the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA) laid the historical context of the African Union reforms, which have been ongoing since the transformation from the Organization of African Unity in 2000. The focus then shifted to the current reform initiative that started in 2017, Mai highlighted several critical areas under review: 

  1. Streamlining AU Priorities: The focus has been narrowed to essential sectors such as peace and security, political affairs, economic integration, and global representation.
  2. Institutional Realignment: There’s an ongoing adjustment of AU institutions to better address these priorities efficiently.
  3. Connecting with Citizens: Efforts are being intensified to bolster the AU’s engagement with African citizens, thereby enhancing its relevancy and responsiveness.
  4. Operational and Financial Management: The reforms aim to improve the managerial effectiveness and financial autonomy of the AU, reducing reliance on external funding sources.

The process has concentrated on restructuring the African Union Commission and refining operational methods of AU policy organs. However, significant work remains, particularly around the normative frameworks and powers of the AU’s human rights mechanisms which are facing the risk of being weakened by the proposed reforms.

This phase of reforms is crucial as it revisits the mandates and structures of key AU organs, including judicial bodies and human rights institutions. It represents a vital opportunity for civil society organizations (CSOs) to engage proactively to ensure that reforms strengthen rather than weaken the AU’s ability to uphold justice, peace, and accountability.

Proposals under consideration include enhancing existing frameworks to preserve the system’s unique capabilities, merging human rights bodies to streamline operations, and clarifying mandates to eliminate overlaps and improve coordination. These proposed changes underscore the need for inclusive consultations with all stakeholders, particularly youth, feminist groups, and grassroots organizations, whose lack of engagement could significantly impact the effectiveness of the reforms.

The Imperative for Youth Engagement

Divine Yamulamba, from The Amazon Leadership Initiative (TheALI) emphasized the critical gaps in the AU’s approach to youth engagement. She pointed out that the essence of Agenda 2063 relies on the active participation of African citizens, especially the youth, who have been largely excluded from significant discussions shaping their future. Divine highlighted the potential removal of the protective mandate from the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) as a particularly concerning example of how reforms could limit youth access to justice mechanisms.

Call to Action for African Youth

Justin  Chidozie, from CHEVS, echoed Divine’s sentiments, stressing the necessity for African youth to not only participate in but drive the reform processes. He outlined several strategies to enhance youth engagement:

  1. Youth Advisory Board: Establishing this board within the African Union would ensure that young people’s perspectives are integral to shaping relevant policies.
  2. Capacity Building: He advocated for educational initiatives to empower youth with the knowledge necessary for effective participation in policy discussions.
  3. Movement Building: Justin called for the creation of movements that transcend national boundaries, leveraging collective power to address continental issues more effectively.
  4. Leveraging Digital Tools: Utilizing digital platforms can facilitate widespread awareness and advocacy at a fraction of traditional costs.
  5. Policy Advocacy: Engaging in policy advocacy to influence the AU’s policy processes directly.


The webinar highlighted that while the AU reforms are foundational for the continent’s future, the inclusion of all sectors of African society, particularly its youth, is crucial. As the continent moves forward, it is clear that the success of these reforms will hinge on their ability to integrate the diverse voices and needs of its people, especially the youth, who are not just beneficiaries of these reforms but also their most crucial advocates and implementers.

The momentum generated by this Webinar is only the beginning. Let’s continue to engage, empower, and enact the changes that will define the future of Africa.

For those who missed the webinar, you can watch the recording here  . If you wish to stay updated on future events and developments in the AU reforms process and would like to join the AU reforms working group, send an email to

#Engage, Empower, Reform!