Leading the First Youth Advocacy Clinic on African Energy Transitions

Over the past five years one of my key focus areas has been on youth engagement. I’ve produced some of the only research available on jobs opportunities and skills needs for African youth in energy and followed that up with graduate curriculum design and graduate teaching with the top Universities in East Africa. Most recently, in my new role as Director of Research for Africa at the World Resources Institute I have extended this drive to focus on engagement with youth activists.

Across Africa young activists and students have become a powerful global voice calling for governments and business to advance just and equitable energy transitions. Young people are increasingly creating space and speaking platforms for themselves at the largest global forums and conferences in the sustainable energy and climate space.

Navigating these spaces can be difficult for young people, especially given the complexity of issues at stake. For instance, advocacy around Africa’s energy transition involves understandings of themes such as role of transition fuels like natural gas, implications for hydrocarbon economies, transition challenges including jobs displacement, financial packages required for renewable energy investment, finance allocation for competing needs including adaption, Africa’s industrialization agenda, the urgency of delivering universal energy access, and much more.

This year, to support our young African activists – who will be center stage at COP 27  I organized and coordinated a Youth Advocacy Clinic on Africa Energy Transitions preceding the Sustainable Energy for All Forum in Kigali, Rwanda this May, 2022. We arranged for donors such as the Children’s International Investment Fund to sponsor over 50 of Africa’s most engaged youth activists to travel and participate in the workshop.

I arranged for the workshop to be hosted by CMU Africa at its Kigali campus, a beautiful safe space of science, learning, and research for African students and young people. It was a day full of activities, fun, music, food, connecting, and learning together. This was followed by three days of engagement at the SEforALL forum, with a dedicated youth lounge and curated youth content. It concluded with a “Just Energy Transition Youth Roundtable” hosted by WRI Africa and SEforALL, where Damilola and Wanjira themselves sat with our group of students and youth activists, unpacking their key take-away messages and learnings from the combination of experiencing the Advocacy Clinic and the SEforALL forum.

Rebekah formally opening and chairing the Africa Youth Advocacy Clinic on Just Energy Transitions

This workshop and forum were together designed as an immersive experience, an opportunity for youth activists to learn deeply together about the critical energy challenges facing the continent, to network, and to be armed with best-available data, science, and industry expertise to amplify and strengthen youth advocacy efforts for Africa.

Young activists enjoying themselves at the Youth Advocacy Clinic
Rebekah hosting and moderating an expert panel including the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the Clean Cooking Association of Kenya at the Youth Advocacy Clinic
Young activists and students from Nigeria, Sierra Leon, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and more, still buzzing at the end of workshop day

I could not have anticipated the response to this initiative. They say hindsight is 20/20, and sometimes you cannot anticipate the full impact of an idea you had until after you’ve put it into motion. The feedback was that this is the first time such a capacity workshop was held for our activists, who are keen for more such engagement with the data and research, but also, keen for more engagement with each other. The bonds of community and connection built over the week will prove invaluable to advocacy the continent. These family bonds then combined with the new confidence in energy subject matter and their knowledge of the support system they can lean on.

In fact, our work completely changed the tone of the Sustainable Energy for All forum. It brought energy and urgency to the forum in a way that had not happened before. Between the over 50 young people we were able to get sponsored to attend, I ran a drive to get local CMU Africa students to attend as well, and they turned up in their numbers. So together we were responsible for about 75 young people – students and activists – attending the Sustainable Energy for All forum. We were told this is the largest youth contingent ever at an international energy forum. The impact of our work was so immense that SEforALL has formally created a Youth Engagement role, which will create an important and long-term link into youth communities.

Wanjira Maathai and Damilola Ogunbiyi speaking with young people at the #YouthLeadSDG7 Round Table

This is perhaps one of the things I’m most proud of accomplishing this year. It is often the quiet work that feels right, that feels important, and that shows its own meaning. This work helped to support and buttress Africa’s youth contingent to engage confidently, meaningfully, and coordinately in events leading up to COP27 and at the COP itself. Many follow-on capacity development workshops and clinics are now being planned in the coming months, so look out for more!

The Africa Youth Advocacy Clinic for Just Energy Transitions, May 2022

Read the official CMU Press Release here.