Young activists making history in The Gambia

Friday, July 27, 2012 - 16:09

It’s my eighth week working for ActionAid and I’m in The Gambia, listening to Muhammed, our Activista Co-ordinator for the country. Whilst I sit listening to him speak, I’m reminded why I’m doing the work I do.

Muhammed starts by telling me about the history of his youth network in The Gambia: "we started out as the African Youth Coalition in The Gambia, and now we are supported by our partners at Activista."

We often forget that young people have their own histories – and this is an important point in acknowledging the identity and contributions that empowered young people can make.

In the case of Activista in The Gambia, theirs is quite impressive.

As Muhammed explains to me, he and his fellow youth activists have managed to persuade the government to increase the money that it is putting into agriculture – a huge success in a country that is reeling from the effects of the Sahel drought.

Despite facing many challenges – it is, after all, development work! Muhammed and his fellow activists have built a long list of impressive achievements, working together with local farmers.

“We brought farmers together and they explained to us the problems that they were facing,” he explains.

They wanted to see a change in government policy to support farmers, which required an increase in the national agriculture budget.

“We worked with them to pull together all the issues that they were facing and together we drew up a list of their demands which we presented at a Technical Advisory Committee, and we took the issue even further through radio programmes and presented a documentary featuring farmers’ demands at the National Assembly.”

Up until the Activistas took action, The Gambia had not been meeting its commitments under the 2003 Maputo agreement to increase its spending on agriculture.

But Muhammed and his fellow Activistas changed this – in 2011 6.5% of the budget went to agriculture, now the government has agreed to make it 11%.

This is a huge achievement by Muhammed and other young activists in The Gambia, but they know their work is not done.

Together, they have made history, but for them, the present is equally important. They’ll be keeping a close eye on the government to make sure they meet their promises and they’ll also be working on land rights this year.

I look forward to supporting their work, making sure that the spaces exist for Muhammed and other ActionAid youth partners to continue making history together.