“Why Go To Kigali SSYLF Summit But You’re Not A Youth Leader?” He Asked.


By Jon Pen de Ngong

The question my fellow Kigali SSYLF Summit (Nov. 11- 15, 2017) attendees in general and myself in particular were welcomed home with is captured in the heading. This was even taken personal by one of my local association leaders. So let us pick up the Facebook debate from there (no name mentioning here).

HIS COMMENT: “I am among those who are criticizing the conference coz what next after the conference? Can any of those youth go back to their respective communities and explain what it means to live as members of the same community while respecting the rights of others? Obviously no, because you select youth who are not directly involved in their community affairs,  for example, Jon Pen. What message will he deliver after the conference and to whom while he is opposed to the existing system?”

And my community youth leader further justified why he singled me out…that I have no respect for elders (he means the leaders in power now) as seen in my activism criticism (that, he calls ‘insulting’). This heated debate ensued from another youth’s post, the one who objectively defended the SSYLF Summit (as screenshot here) though he was not invited.

MY RESPONSE: “So what has that personal concern to do with the South Sudan youth meeting in Kigali, Bro? That is why I am of the opinion that you need to humble a bit and grow up in that community youth association leadership of yours, so that you are able to understand the difference between public and personal matters, between insulting and criticizing leaders, the ones you seem to confuse for elders when attacking me (I blame JCE for that confusion); so that you comprehend and apply correctly the meanings of: elders and leaders, youth leaders and young leaders, tribe and nation, truth and falsehood, day and night, name them… To me, young leaders are not people who hold positions in governments or local associations as you put it before. They can be from government, civil society, community associations like yours, institutions of learning, private sector, etc. And that is what the SSYLF have been in their Kigali, Nairobi, Kampala, Addis Ababa, and Juba meetings.”

The definition or scope of the words ‘Young’ and ‘Youth’ has not only confused the South Sudanese out there, it was a point of contention during the convention in The Manor Hotel’s hall in Kigali as well as in other places where consultative conferences have been held by the South Sudan Young Leaders’ Forum (SSYLF).

The confusion arises when the meaning of ‘young leaders’ is morphed onto that of ‘youth leaders’. For example, my community youth leader above is cross with me out of the 73 delegates because he might be thinking I have taken his position of a Bor youth association leader. Many people think young leaders are those in active leadership at the moment of the holding of the SSYLF summit.

No. My reading is different. Young leaders are those who have led, are leading and will lead. The selection criteria involved sending one’s CV, bio blurb (self-intro) of 200 words and the latest passport-size photo. Nobody emphasized on what, who and where one was leading at the moment. The bottom line is not about what one is leading but what one is ‘reading’: the capacity to drive an opinion and present it maturely. Most of the Kigali Summit young leaders are not necessarily youth leaders.

hqdefault265943979.jpgThe second confusion is the age set of the ‘youth’ in our legal and social contexts. Many, especially those delegates from the diaspora, take the AU’s Africa Youth Charter determination of the youth’s age bracket from 15 to 35, South Sudanese extend it to 45, but the UN cuts it down to 24. So where do we fall as SSYLF? None! Why? Personally, and as mentioned above, young leaders are assumed to be between the age cohort of 18 and 50, or thereabouts.

I have ever heard President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto (at their mid 50s) being referred to as ‘young leaders’ of Kenya. That is true in comparison with our avuncular lot and octogenarian leaders of Africa. A South Sudanese who has not arrived at an age of prime (40) cannot become a prime minister, a governor or a president. I am approaching 40, so am I still poaching in the youth’s camp? Yes. But am I also poaching in the young leaders’ camp? No.


Borrowing from my past experiences in such young leaders’ camps, this question disturbed us in our similar excursion to Addis Ababa at the onset of our peace negotiation mobilization early 2014. We, in the name of the ‘Coalition of Young Leaders of South Sudan’ or CYLSS (not related to SSYLF in any way except the participation of some of its members), arrived there in February 2014 to fight for the inclusion of the civil society (including youth), cease fire and release of the political detainees (G11): all for the good of the comprehensive peace agreement to end the ‘December War’ (2013). We succeeded in two, except the cessation of hostilities, which is elusive to date. Despite our widely consultative achievements, we were harshly criticized, and even almost physically attacked, for ‘representing’ the young leaders (they called it ‘youth’) of South Sudan. So this South Sudanese sort of selfish or inward-looking analytically critical behaviour is not new. This is the link to our temporary blog: https://cylss.wordpress.com

Therefore, this stand point does not make me ignore the glaring fact that the most active and creative agents of corruption in South Sudan are the young people, themselves. The youth have been and are the ones running the cartels of ‘the Dura Saga’, ‘LC Scandals’, ‘Currency Black Markeering’, ‘Fuel Black Marketeering’, name them.

This again brings me to a critical angle of the definition and application of the SSYLF phrase, ‘Generational Exit’! Did I just write ‘critical’? Given the veracity of the wording of this budding idea, I am afraid we are being somewhat hypocritical if the ‘exit’ is to punitively apply to that ‘generation’ that is deemed to have brought down our nascent nation. My newsroom sensibility would classify that combination as sensational. Why not ‘Generational Phasing Out’ instead of ‘exit’! Whose milk teeth are pushed out at a go and does not starve to death?

In conclusion, having now briefly expounded on the fact that youth leaders are those who are formally mandated whereas young leaders (even up to their 50s) can be anybody from all walks of life, who is competent to deliver in any situation, it is, however, not my mandate to elaborate on the content of the resolutions and the communique’ of the Kigali Summit. Somebody mandated has done for us just that. Please, refer to the JPEG copy of the Kigali SSYLF Communique attached herewith. And remember to never make a mistake of being excluded in the next round if you believe you are fit for the selection criteria, be you a youth leader or a young leader.

Watch this space for my general experience in Rwanda (from the Genocide Museum tour, city assessment, etc. to the convention itself).