Young people in Africa are not involved in policy making and rarely consulted in decision making. Many are jobless, angry and vulnerable to agitators who want to set fires that would send the youth in a paroxysm of violence.
Proper engagement of youth at all levels of development is of paramount importance. Governments need to be aware that if they do not reform, they will face a revolting and restless youth.
The issue of youth participation and representation needs to be scaled up at the level of local, regional and national levels as well as with the international organizations. But the key responsibility rests with young people themselves to get organized, acquire skills, face up to the adversity and the frustrations that will eventually come when moving from protest to participation.
There is no agreed upon definition on the term youth across countries of the world. The United Nations defines youth as individuals aged between 15 to 24 years, 11 years younger than the ceiling put by the Africa Union (AU). The African population is estimated to be more than a billion of which more than 65pc is young and under the age of 35. The youth make up 40pc of Africa’s working age population.
The demographic significance of this large group is increasingly taking centre stage in discussions to achieve development agenda of the continent. For instance, five of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG) dwell on improving the situation of young people. Youth has been at the centre of the struggle for democracy and good governance in Africa. Most recently, as attested in the North Africa and the Middle East, the youth played an important role in the democratization of Africa.
Nonetheless, high unemployment rate remains a security issue in Africa, driving youth to violence and crime. Uprisings by mostly young people are clear manifestations of youth voices against unemployment, marginalization, misguided economic and social policies, corrupt governments and exclusion, political dictatorship and denial of basic rights.
The need to act now and develop a strategy emphasizing employment, entrepreneurship, education and the political inclusion of the youth is indispensable. In order to have the youth participate and claim their destiny is crucial. Young people are also keen on democracy’s promise. They want political equality, as well as social and economic inclusion and opportunity. They want accountable rulers.
The spread of democracy in Africa has increased chances for young people to participate in political life and civic duties. Most countries have government ministers or departments with the explicit mandate to address youth issues. Many have national youth policies and councils under their obligation to the African Youth Charter, adopted in 2006. About 42 of the 55 member states of the African Union (AU) have signed on it, while 38 have ratified it. The legalization of the Charter by all countries will provide a guarantee for the basic rights of young Africans.
The youth councils in many African countries have been actively seeking opportunities for young people to be involved in policy development. Yet, it is hard to find success stories as indicated in a report issued by the UNECA eight years ago.
Hence, youth in Africa remain very marginal in the political process as is evidenced by a similar report issued by the AU in 2011. The report noted that Africa’s youth has been only marginally involved in civic and electoral participation as in political voice. This can partly be because of lack of a quota system in the political process in Africa. Accordingly, youth associations and councils in most African countries remain a wing to the political objectives of the contesting parties.
Employment creation is another formidable challenge that confronts all African countries regardless of their variation.
High unemployment rate was the powerful catalyst that contributed to revolutions in North Africa, which led to the overthrow of governments in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. Youth unemployment stands at 31pc for Tunisia and 34pc for Egypt in 2010. It is also well known that the Arab Revolution was sparked by a single incident of a 26-year old Tunisian, Mohamed Bouazizi, setting himself up on fire in protest his treatment by the police during a work-related dispute.
His act in self-immolation triggered an enormous outrage. Complaining about massive unemployment and the high cost of living, tens of thousands of young men and women demanded jobs and a decent life. The demonstrations spread across the country as young unemployed people came out in force to confront the regime.
A few weeks later, young Egyptians occupied Tahrir Square in Cairo and staged protests that led to the removal of Hosni Mubarak. In Libya, the overall unemployment rate was 30pc and youth unemployment rate was estimated as high as 50pc. Dissatisfied youths had confronted the well-armed security forces of Mohamar Ghadafi who was killed in October 2011.
Youth also led protests in Sudan, Bahrain, Yemen, Senegal, Syria, Portugal, UK, Chile and the United States. Thus, addressing youth unemployment with appropriate policies should be a major initiative of governments and political parties across Africa.
Young people are an instrument for democratization in as much as they can be instruments of violence and vulnerable in becoming involved in armed conflicts as child soldiers such as the case in Central Africa, Liberia, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Sierra Leone, and the DRC. As the UNECA Youth Report attests, “Where young people are prominent in the adult population and the economy is weak and governance poor, the country is more likely to experience an outbreak of rioting and internal armed conflict.”
One in two young people who join a rebel movement cites unemployment as the main reason for doing so.
The plights of youth in Africa have received attention at the global level. The United Nations Programme of Action for Youth seeks to assist governments in 15 priority areas, which has clear relevance for youth agenda. At the continental level, the African Union has adopted and entered into force the African Youth Charter, which calls on governments to guarantee participation by young people in parliaments and other national decision-making bodies.
At national levels, there is a full recognition of the ominous challenges and great opportunities the youth presents. Most African countries are making efforts to involve youth in the political and decision-making process, and developing appropriate policies with the allocation of resources to respond to the concerns of their young people.
Nonetheless, the youth in Africa continues to face formidable challenges in the gaps between youth policies and their effective implementations. Young women in particular face heightened barriers and vulnerabilities across the continent, while youth movements face several challenges such as poor lobbying and advocacy skills; lack of political space for participation; limited financial and human resources; constrained platforms for exchange of best practices; and lack coordination.
Knowledge and experience sharing among countries and regions of the developing world on the role of youth and democratization is an important tool which could assist in managing the process of political transitions from authoritarian to democratic and just societies. To reflect and reform policies in incorporating youth in the governance processes of the state; and to benefit from each others’ comparative experiences in terms of best practices is needed among African countries.
African governments should increase youth participation in governance at all levels, including considering affirmative actions for young people in governance structures like the parliament and the executives. Inter-generational leadership change is highly desirable and necessary in Africa, which can foster inter-generational leadership dialogue with a view to ensuring that young people take over the leadership of each African countries.
Youth leadership is needed to create a new culture of national and regional solidarity in which the drive towards African citizenship devoid of the divisiveness of ethnicity, religion, race, color and sectarian identities are emphasized. African governments and the African Union should intensify efforts at creating a free movement of people on the continent. Many African countries give easy and free access to western nationals to enter their countries; but they close their borders or impose strong restrictions on fellow African citizens. The future of Africa can only be constructed on regional integration based firmly on the free movement of not only of goods, services, and capital but of people across the continent.
Africans, especially young people, must be allowed to move around the continent.
African governments must ensure the unleashing power of the youth through creating greater economic opportunities, incentives, and rewarding youth innovation and creativity in the economic sector. The involvement of the private sector in youth employment strategies is critical as it has the resources, expertise, and capacity to generate wealth. They should seek cooperation with the private sector to provide high-quality technical education at both secondary and tertiary levels.
Although the key motive is profit making, the private sector can facilitate school-to-work transitions, supporting programmes of technical and vocational as well as on-the-job training in promoting youth employment.
Governments in Africa also need to ensure the expansion of the social and economic infrastructure necessary for coping with the rise in youth population. Labour market information is a key factor for better youth employment programmes. The coverage of labour force surveys and evaluations of labour market programmes in Africa is very low compared to other regions. As a result, policymakers and programme designers have little evidence to go on. Many programmes show few results.
Economic growth in Africa is quite commendable. It, however, needs to be made inclusive and empowers the young through better planning, coordination, and progressive economic policies.
The youth on their part need not agonize but continuously organize for political change on the continent through the power of ideas, and activism. They have to develop strong ingenuity, especially in the sphere of economic entrepreneurship aimed at creating not only independent economic basis but creating wealth for their respective countries. Modern technology, in social networking, is good for mobilization but it cannot replace active and practical engagement in political processes in the real world.
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