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Opening Ceremony of the Youth Employment Summit, Nairobi, 13 Wednesday September 2006, By Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director
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Your Excellency, the President of the Republic of Kenya, Hon. Mwai Kibaki,
The Chairman of the Summit,
Honourable ministers,
Distinguished youth delegates and leaders of tomorrow,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to address this Youth Employment Summit. Our gathering here in the Kenyan capital marks the first time the YES group has met in Africa.

I would like to congratulate His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Kenya, Honourable Mwai Kibaki, and honourable members of his Government for their role in bringing the summit to Africa and joining us here today.

I wish particularly to commend with great enthusiasm the creation in December 2005, of the Ministry of Youth Affairs to ensure that the concerns of young people remain at the top of the national agenda. I also wish to congratulate those ministers from other countries who are with us today. I hope they too will follow Kenya’s lead here.

And I warmly acknowledge among you those young people in our audience, the leaders of tomorrow, who will drive the agenda at this conference. It is indeed, truly a great honour for UN-HABITAT, the UN Agency for the sustainable development of Cities and other Human Settlements, to work with this distinguished gathering.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

The theme of this conference, Creating markets… unleashing Entrepreneurship for new job opportunities is pivotal to sustainable development. And sustainable development in this rapidly urbanizing world cannot be achieved without sustainable urban development.

Let me give you some facts and figures. Did you know, for instance, that over half of humankind lives in cities? Or that Africa is the fastest urbanising continent in the world today? That Africa’s annual average urban growth rate is 4.5 percent, twice as high as Latin America and Asia. Already, 37 percent of Africans live in cities, and by the year 2030 this is expected to rise to 53 percent. By then, Africa will no longer be a predominantly rural continent.

Our newly published flagship report for 2006 and 2007, The State of the World’s Cities, also shows that sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s largest proportion of urban residents living in slums. These slums are home to more than 72 percent of urban Africa’s citizens. That percentage represents a total of 199 million people. Indeed, slums in Africa are growing at more than twice the world average. These figures show that the locus of absolute poverty in Africa is shifting to urban areas.

After the year 2015, the world’s rural population will really be shrinking, as urban growth intensifies in Asia and Africa.

As we look to you, young leaders of tomorrow, for new thinking and new answers, we know that this crisis cannot be solved by one individual alone. Only a collective approach, internationally, regionally and locally, through partnerships can bring results.

We already have a road map. In the United Nations Millennium Declaration in 2000, world leaders signed up to the Millennium Development Goals, or the MDGs, as they are popularly called. These are a set of eight goals aimed at combating poverty to ensure a sustainable future. UN-HABITAT is charged with responsibility for monitoring progress on Goal 7, Targets 10 on water and sanitation, and 11 aimed at improving the lives of slum dwellers. Another pointer on that roadmap is Goal 8, Target 16. It urges governments to “develop decent and productive work for youth” – a cornerstone of the Youth Employment Network.

Thus the goals set by this Summit are part of UN-HABITAT’s strategy to combat the multitude of urban challenges that face the world today. We cannot do it without the involvement of young people in the 15-25 age group. You constitute the fastest growing segment of the world’s population!

The Youth Employment Network is an initiative of the UN Secretary-General Mr. Kofi Annan in partnership with the World Bank and the International Labour Organization, created under the impetus of the Millennium Declaration. Its work is based on four global priorities known as the four "E's" – Employability, Equal opportunities, Entrepreneurship, and Employment creation.

Thus the partnership between UN-HABITAT, the ILO, other UN agencies, the Government of Kenya and the YES Summit represent a pillar of youth empowerment.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Between now and 2010, 700 million young people will enter the labour force in developing countries. The ILO says that more than 1 billion new jobs must be created to reduce unemployment. Without a concerted effort here, a new generation will grow up feeling it has no stake in society. Conversely, we in the UN system fervently believe that by harnessing the potential of young people, the world can benefit enormously from a new wave of participation and intellectual creativity and help achieve the MDGs by the 2015 target date.

Promoting the practice of involving youth in our development planning at every level is therefore essential. Labour-intensive government infrastructure programmes like water and sanitation, road building and maintenance, solid waste management, slum upgrading and urban agriculture are examples of employment-related schemes that governments can integrate in their national poverty reduction strategies specifically targeted at youth. We must give young people a sense of ownership in their future.

Allow me to conclude by saying that I believe urbanisation and youth empowerment will be one of the great global challenges of the 21st century.

The success of this summit will be measured by the post-summit initiatives and actions. UN-HABITAT will be happy to be associated with this process. Harnessing your power to build our sustainable cities of the future, is the way forward. In this regard, UN-HABITAT is already working with youth in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific under our Safer Cities Programme.

Here we engage youth to learn new skills and avoid getting sucked up into anti-social behaviour. We invite YES to partner with us on this initiative.

We also invite all of you here to visit our One Stop youth centre, where UN-HABITAT has partnered with the City of Nairobi to provide young people with the life skills necessary to tackle the challenges of a modern world. This includes training in computer technology, cv writing, job search services, and counselling. These centres will be replicated in other cities in East Africa.

I am confident that your deliberations will make an enormous contribution to realizing those goals. Let's make it an occasion that makes the world sit up and take notice. Let it be an event that inspires the world to stand up and take action.

I thank you all.

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