The International Youth Day is celebrated on 12 August each year to recognise efforts of the world’s youth in enhancing global society. It also aims to promote ways to engage them in becoming more actively involved in making positive contributions to their communities.
Globally, the situation of young people today is characterised by extreme disparities in terms of economic, technological, social and cultural resources, which vary enormously across regions, countries, localities and population groups.
Looking at Africa, according to the Economist Magazine, six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies between 2001 and 2010 are in Africa. The International Monetary Fund says that between 2011 and 2015, African countries will account for seven of the top 10 spots.[i] One wonders if African youth have a place in this realisation.
African Monitor notes that amid this clear progress, there is reason for real concern about whether the opportunities that Africa has at its disposal will lead to significant development and progress in African nations and real changes in the lives of the poor, including the youth. There is strong evidence suggesting that Africa is at risk of missing the current opportunity because of a number of factors; one of these factors is the failure to convert Africa’s demographic advantage, namely young people, into a dynamic economic force.[ii]
In addition to the development cited above, the majority of African youth continue to face different challenges such as exclusion in development and peace initiatives and processes at national, regional and continental levels; lack of skills or quality education; limited access to economic opportunities; unemployment; lack of access to health-related information and services, etc.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), despite youth constituting more than half of the population in many countries, governments rarely consult young people on matters affecting their lives, such as strategy for poverty reduction efforts. Even those governments that have developed legislation on youth issues often lack comprehensive and holistic approaches to the challenges faced by the younger generation. A progressive national youth policy obliges traditional decision-makers to not only work for young people, but with them, in order to let their experiences inform the development of appropriate interventions and services.[iii]
Addressing the Stellenbosch University students about “the potential of African students and youth in light of the Arab Spring” in August 2011, Thabo Mbeki, the former President of South Africa, pointed out that ousted Presidents Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak had clung to power far too long, and had enriched themselves at the expense of their people, who suffered under the burden of poverty and unemployment. Furthermore, Mbeki said that at the same time as the ruling groups in Egypt and Tunisia were enriching themselves, millions among their people faced challenging socio-economic conditions, characterised by high rates of poverty, unemployment, and an unaffordable cost of living.
“This meant that not only were millions languishing in poverty, but also that the situation was made worse by glaring disparities in standards of living between the rich at the top and the poor at the bottom of the proverbial pyramid”, Mbeki added. Youth should know how to recompense those leaders who are busy accumulating wealth, enriching their families like in the recent election in Senegal whereby the former president of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, who opted to build luxurious monuments and link his palace to the airport, all the while thinking that youth will vote for him. He lost to President Mack Sall.
Reflecting on what many governments have done, we would agree that youth issues are yet to be a national priority in many African counties. As the former Anglican Archbishop Njongo Ndungane, the President of African Monitor said, “In his numerous interactions with the poor across the continent, the loudest voices heard are grassroots communities who say they do not want hand-outs. Rather, they want the opportunities and capabilities to eke out their own livelihoods.”
Faced with the challenges of the 21st century, young people are confessing that local, national and international systems of decision-making lack concrete avenues for sufficient participation. While traditional social and political systems continuously fail to offer representation or successful solutions and meaningful opportunities for youth to contribute to their world and future, young people will remain trapped in a cycle of poverty, violence and missed opportunity.
It is of paramount importance that young people become the custodians of their own development, partake fully in citizenship duties, and contribute towards the economic development of states and Africa as a whole. Youth needs to voice their concerns / inputs through available platforms such as national youth councils, ministries responsible for youth and others in order for them to make a valid contribution to decision-making regarding their well-being.
Africa’s Youth should take Uganda’s Member of Parliament (MP), Proscovia Alengot Oromait, as a leading example. At 19 years old, she is the youngest MP in African history. Despite her young age, she did not shy away for vying for a seat in the Ugandan parliament. She believed in herself, she won and she now sits in Ugandan parliament where she contributes to shape the laws of her country.
Youth shall do whatever it takes to take part in finding solutions to the problems facing them. They should take an example from the Pakistan girl, Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year old who was recently nearly killed for speaking out for girls barred from school by the Taliban.
“African Youth can make a difference, what they need is recognition and active back-up,” said Jean Philbert Nsengimana, the Minister of Youth and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Rwanda, who is also of a younger generation. By harnessing young people’s energy into a positive movement, the whole of Africa stands to gain. As we celebrate the International Youth Day on 12 August, let all of us support African young people so that they grow into empowered adults who raise more generations of productive and powerful leaders.
- Joseph Eliabson Maniragena is programmes assistant at the African Monitor.
 Joseph Eliabson Maniragena, Founder of Crystal Horizons Youth Centre (CHYC) is a Masters student in Public Management at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and is currently doing his internship at African Monitor in Cape Town. He writes here in his personal capacity. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org ; Blog: http://crystalyouthhorizons.blogspot.com/
[ii] African Monitor, DSM 2011
[iii] UNESCO’s Contribution: Empowering Youth through national policies, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0013/001345/134502e.pdf