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Africa Day: Locating the role of the Youth in Africa's transformation

23 May 2019 at 16:02hrs | Views
As we celebrate Africa Day this year, what are the major challenges facing Africa's youth? What is the position and role of the African youth in the transformation of Africa? While it is intrinsic to acknowledge that Africa's peace and prosperity lies in the hands of its youth, how can that specific demographic full of creativity, dynamism and resilience, be harnessed to engender practical and positive transformation? How can Africa's young generation delink itself from the normative role of sloganeering useful idiots who are only allowed to be visible and vocal when legitimising existing systems of governance? Across Africa, youth political participation has mainly been tokenistic with little or no meaningful impact on major policy decisions. How can Africa's youth guarantee that their participation extends across the electoral cycle? How can Africa's demographic dividend be harnessed towards the effective realisation of Sustainable Development Goals and the AU Agenda 2063?

There is urgent need to look at what the African youth themselves should do in pushing for a transformation agenda across the continent. This paper seeks to identify the malaise that is affecting Africa's political and socio-economic outlook, as well as recognize the function of the youth in providing practical, action informed solutions towards the continent's transformation by bringing "fresh thinking to longstanding development concerns."


Africa's youth demographic is bulging, providing immense opportunities for the continent's rapid transformation. Statistics reveal that in 2015, 226 million youth aged 15-24 lived in Africa, accounting for 19 per cent of the global youth population. Indications are by 2030 the number of youth in Africa will have increased by 42 per cent. Considering all people aged below 35, this number surges to a staggering three quarters of Africa's population. Africa's youth population is expected to continue to grow throughout the remainder of the 21st century, more than doubling from current levels by 2055. It is evident that Africa suffers from underrepresentation when it comes to the full participation of the youth in governance structure.

Real youth participation in elections, public office and decision making spaces has remained acts of tokenism available to the well- connected and the privileged few. Africa's young people, if afforded the opportunity, can contribute immensely to their respective communities and the continent can jumpstart from this generation's energy, innovation and creativity. Not only does youth participation enhance democracy but it also unlocks economic opportunities.

Before locating the role of the Africa youth in the continent's transformation it is imperative that we acknowledge the political and socio-economic environment that they find themselves operating.

Across Africa, the youth face slightly varying challenges revolving around poverty, gender inequality, peace and security, human rights, corruption, environmental degradation and climate, politics of entitlement- secondment of cadres, controlled participation, intergenerational fights, access to education, lack of funding and unemployment. Africa's political culture, while not homogenous, bares similarities across the different member AU member states. While we might argue that Africa's youth hold the continent's hope for a democratic transition, the political environment on the ground often militates against such progress. There is a discordant political culture that continues to hold hostage advancement at achieving democratic transformation, consequently breeding partisan politics based on resource control, politics of patronage and a culture of violence.

What can the Youths do?

To resolve these challenges the youths need to be visible and active in the various spaces and levels such as political formations, policy space and decision making bodies.

Initiate intergenerational dialogue.

There exists a worrying generational conflict between powerful ruling African elites in government and a restless, mainly millennial youth who are more worried about employment and economic prospects than anti-colonial rhetoric. In SADC the generational conflict has been exacerbated by the ruling revolutionary parties' inability to groom and conscript future leaders. The case of Julius Malema in South Africa and his expulsion from the African National Congress is a classic case of the symptoms of a generational conflict that erupts if youth's participation is reduced to compliance. As Mamadou notes, although political decision making is now located in modern political institutions (elective or nominated positions) rather than informal traditional structures, the traditional mindset on "decision makers" does not seem to have evolved at the same pace. Unfortunately, Africa's demographic renewal is progressing faster than the regeneration of the political age band. Consequently, conflicts between old-aged political actors and the young generation have emerged. Intergenerational dialogue with Heads of State and Government and key continental and global institutional Leaders is one of the ways envisaged of improving the contact between youth and key policy makers, in order to achieve understanding and solidarity between them.

Create safe spaces for cross party dialogue among the youths.

The African youth need to identify themselves outside party ideological fences. Partisan politics has blinkered and robbed the youth of their generational mandate. Cross party engagements will bring together a convergence of interests that is liberated from partisan identities. The voices of the youth and particularly young women need to be heard and their views incorporated in policy priorities. One of the many ways youths in Zimbabwe have managed to express their views is through digital hubs such as Muzinda Hub. Besides raising awareness on civic matters such digital safe spaces also at promote digital skills and digital connectivity for youths, as well as unleash the potential of digital technology in the community through education, training and support youth programmes.

Beyond agitating for the youth quota.

Agitating for the youth quota seems to be a tired and recycled proposal. However, history has taught us that participation is never given voluntarily. Power has to be demanded and the youth should be ready to demand for more participation in party and national politics. According to Mamadou Faye, the failure of the youth to integrate into party politics is aggravated by a "gerontic political class, that lacks the motivation to address the challenges of the future and legal dispositions that pose obstacles to the political participation of young people in many African countries." Youths need meaningful political inclusion and participation not tokenism, characterised by controlled youth participation. Participation can be increased by reducing the age limits placed on election candidates. In Zimbabwe, the current age limit for presidential candidates stands at 40 years. However after a narrow and controversial 2018 election win over a 40 year old Nelson Chamisa (MDC Alliance), President Emerson Mnangagwa's party ZANU PF has proposed to increase the age limit. Such moves militate against the continent's democratic transformation by reducing youth inclusion.

Critical Thinking/ Innovation/Creativity.

The chains that hold the youth are not physical but mental. Accelerating Africa's development and growth will require the youth's massive input into the establishment of a continental innovation-led, knowledge-based economy. Youth entrepreneurship and creativity will spur economic growth of the continent.

Building a Broad Based Grassroots Movement that has sharp ideological clarity.

The missing link might be the absence of a binding narrative and ideology that can glue together the youth across national boundaries, from Cape to Cairo. During the 1950s to late 1990s the decolonisation agenda captured the imagination of the young women and men across the continent and the ideological grounding of that generation sustained and informed the clarity of their vision. There is a growing need for establishment of a vibrant network of functional youth-led movements that cut across national boundaries, since the continent's young generation share almost the same challenges and circumstances.

Youth Leadership Training

For long, Africa's young people have only existed as unwitting supporters of a malignant cause through their naïve attempts to be a force of good. Promotion and cadre deployment of youth leaders into influential positions has mainly been informed by a systemic tendency to reward youths who can chant slogans loudly but lack leadership acumen, integrity and the emotional intelligence to lead. Deepening political participation and involving young people in decision making will not make sense if the youth are not adequately trained and capacitated for those roles.

Financial Inclusion.

Africa's youth's generational mandate is premised on economic freedom in their lifetime. The youth have the numbers but don't have the financial muscle to enter political spaces or initiate business projects. The youths often came up with political ideas and election strategies and are very vocal and visible in election cycles, generating catchy slogans and viral hashtags. However, they remain passive actors in a process that need their numbers and nothing else political side they pick. The 28th African Union Summit held in Addis Ababa in January 2017 adopted a number of decisions on the political, security, economic and social issues that are of concern to African citizens.

Youth Volunteerism and Internship

African youth must volunteer! Faced with acute resource constrains the continent will need to tap into the pool of youths willing to devote their skills and manpower for it to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. Going forward, Africa will have to engage and activate its enormous working age population for volunteer action. Apart from promoting networking and cultural exchanges amongst young people, youth volunteer action presents an enormous resource for Africa to tap into: a force packed with youthful energy, creativity and innovation that must be incorporated into the heart of Africa's development engine – Agenda 2063, the Africa we want! African youth must also take up Internship programmes which are an effective means to advance young people's skills through exposure to practical field experiences.


Richard Mugobo
Convener – Inter-Generational Dialogue ZW (IGDzw)
Twitter| @RichardMugobo
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Source - Richard Mugobo
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