Address by Mrs. Zainab Hawa Bangura at the Opening Ceremony of the 18th Africa Scout Conference

I am delighted to participate as Chief Guest at this opening ceremony of the 18th Africa Scout Conference. I would like to start by thanking you for the opportunity to speak at such an important event. The work that you do, to shape young minds and develop our young people into civic minded individuals, committed to the ideals of serving others, is more vital in today’s world than ever. My own early experiences as a civil society activist in Sierra Leone, to defend human rights during its civil war, have given me this steadfast conviction, which I continue to hold central in my life and UN career.

As we look across the globe, societies are divided. People are increasingly out for themselves, at the cost of pain and suffering to others, undermining the cohesive societies we desperately need especially here in Africa, to drive sustainable development, prevent conflict and establish lasting peace and prosperity.

The founding principles of the United Nations, as set out in its Charter, are to bring humanity together, for the peace and prosperity of all. Even though this is the shared responsibility of all Member States, it must start with the individual. We each have a responsibility to first and foremost instil these shared human ideals in our children and youth, ingraining moral compasses which will always point true north in this direction. The work of the Worldwide Scout Movement is an essential contribution to this. Your mentorship and investment in generations of young people, is moulding them into the future leaders that the world so desperately needs.

In this, you are also closely aligned with the UN Secretary-General’s vision. Almost a year ago, in September 2021, the Secretary-General presented the report on “Our Common Agenda”. The report sets the shared strategic direction for a UN better able to tackle the global challenges of today and tomorrow, and identifies priorities for taking action to address the most pressing global challenges we face.

In it, the Secretary-General recognises that this is only possible by investing in the youth of our societies, equipping and empowering them to engage with these challenges, and take a leading role in helping to address them. Over the last year, Member States, the Secretary- General’s team, and other United Nations bodies have been working together to move forward on different recommendations within the report. One of them is the establishment of a dedicated United Nations Youth Office in the UN Secretariat for this very purpose, which is progressing well.

The Common Agenda also recognises that the best means to change deeply engrained political cultures and systems of corruption and nepotism – which undermine good governance across the globe – is to invest in our young people, encouraging their engagement with politics, and building up a generation of public servants driven by a desire to change things for the better, and with humility.

We need young people who will be champions for human rights, ready to fight injustices wherever they may be found, holding to the belief that rights not enjoyed universally by all are simply privilege extended, and that we all have both an individual and collective responsibility to defend the marginalised and exploited and seek justice for all.

On the UN’s part, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Youth has prepared recommendations for more meaningful, diverse and effective youth engagement in the United Nations’ deliberative and decision-making processes, arrived at after extensive consultation with the world’s youth. And, next Tuesday 30th August, the General Assembly is scheduled to have a focused discussion on the best ways and means to promote more meaningful youth engagement in its work. From the UN’s perspective therefore, there is no better time to be working with our young people.

I was also delighted when I reviewed the messaging guidance for this conference. Each and every item, from shaping connected futures, to young people and development, to strengthening connections between peoples, and translating this into impact through advocacy and influence, finds its parallel in the Common Agenda.

As the Head of the United Nations in Kenya, I am greatly encouraged to find such a forward thinking and influential partner as the world-wide Scout Movement here, aligned hand-in- glove in our common purpose. For example, your thinking on Africa’s youth and their potential, and how the Scout Movement develops this, in order to contribute to achieving the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals, coupled with creating stronger communal connections, a sense of belonging, and shared unity or ‘ubuntu’, to help ensure we realise our No-One-Left-Behind objectives, is very exciting here.

Indeed, it is fitting, as you will no doubt know, founder of the worldwide Scout Movement, the late Robert Baden-Powell, lived his last years in Kenya. He is buried here in Nyeri, where his grave is designated as a national monument – the Government of Kenya’s recognition of his legacy. His founding of the Scout Movement, as well as the worldwide Girl Guide Movement with his sister Agnes, are indeed lasting legacies to be extremely proud of. I encourage you to continue your excellent engagement with governments across Africa, which recognise the high value of your organisation and its contribution.

In our own approach as a UN family in Kenya, we have worked to develop close partnerships between the UN in Kenya and the Government of Kenya. Together we have been able to deliver world leading innovation in international development and humanitarian action. From combatting the COVID-19 pandemic by establishing state of the art medical facilities in record time, which served UN staff from across the globe, to reaching agreement on establishing permanent humanitarian logistics hubs here in Kenya, the first of their kind, which will deliver life-saving assistance to countries in crisis across the continent.

The fresh ideas, perspectives, innovations and energy which the young bring to old problems is an enormous resource. And you are the channel through which this transformative electrical current flows. I therefore want to encourage you that you will find ready partners in the UN Secretariat, agencies, funds and programmes, and Member States across the continent and beyond. Your work is vital, and your contribution immeasurable.

In closing, I therefore want you to keep this at the forefront of your minds during the deliberations of this conference, as you chart the way forward for the Scout Movement’s work on these crucial agendas. Once again, I thank you for the time, dedication and passion you bring to the vital work that your organisation does, and I wish you all the very best for the rest of this conference and beyond.

Thank you.

Under-Secretary General and Director-General, United Nations Office at Nairobi, Mrs. Zainab Hawa Bangura