Africa needs activists, not leaders: Meet SA's AU youth council member

She describes herself as a research advocate- and active diplomat-extraordinaire.

'Extraordinaire' she certainly is - Dr Shakira Choonara's long list of accolades includes being named Woman of the Year in Health in South Africa, and Most Powerful Woman Under 40 in the country.

In 2018 she was also appointed to the inaugural African Union (AU) Youth Advisory Council.

Dr Shakira Choonara. Image credit: Shakira Choonara on Facebook

The 30-year-old PhD graduate joins Refiloe Mpakanyane in studio on Weekend Breakfast and traces the roots of her passion for healthcare.

My primary interest and my mission and vision in life is healthcare.

Dr Shakira Choonara, Health researcher and activist

I grew up experiencing the public healthcare system in South Africa and for me, solving the healthcare crisis and the overall health system is the be-all and end-all for me.

Dr Shakira Choonara, Health researcher and activist

After obtaining her PhD, Choonara's youth activism and advocacy work in the civil society space led to her running programmes across the continent.

It was exciting to be given the platform... That's where I really discovered my passion for young people.,, It made me really contribute to youth issues.

Dr Shakira Choonara, Health researcher and activist

I tried to do it from a millenial perspective, a 'cool' perspective and so I built networks across the continent working with many young people.

Dr Shakira Choonara, Health researcher and activist

My story dates back to 2018 in Accra... Many of my colleagues said 'the position's open for the youth envoy, first-ever in Africa, why don't you apply?'

Dr Shakira Choonara, Health researcher and activist

She wasn't sure she stood a chance she says, but her application was successful.

To top it all, instead of appointing a single youth envoy, the AU selected the ten top candidates to form a youth council. But Choonara's journey has been a sobering one:

Why do I like this? I think because if you have one person it's not representation and so the ten of us come from the different regions of Africa. At the moment I'm in the middle of speaking out and pushing accountability, but I believe that's exactly the benefit of appointing ten members behind one person.

Dr Shakira Choonara, Health researcher and activist

It started off with the hopes of Africa in my heart and in my mind, and a little bit of pride as well and lots of excitement and ideas...

Dr Shakira Choonara, Health researcher and activist

But since it's been an absolute disappointment and the African Union has turned out to be exactly what people describe it to be - a toothless body on the continent; one that has no impact and one that's not really responsive to young people on the continent.

Dr Shakira Choonara, Health researcher and activist

I don't think Africa needs leaders, I think Africa needs activists.

Dr Shakira Choonara, Health researcher and activist

For more of this forthright conversation, take a listen:


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