The youth at the core of Africa’s plight
Bereket Gebru 02-09-17
Now that we are four or five decades into the era of decolonization of African states, it is important to assess whether the hard fought ideals of sovereignty, development and freedom have been achieved. The sense of positivity that engulfed the African continent during decolonization did not sustain itself for long as it almost immediately was replaced by a period of coup d’états.
The military regimes that reigned in most African countries then prioritized their own stays in power over the good of their own people. The bipolar international system until the start of the 1990s came in handy to the military leaders who transformed themselves to heads of states and governments as they altered allegiances or solicited the support of both sides through non-alliance.
Under this process of clinging to power, the resources of some African nations were given on a platter away to their former colonizers and the powerful states of the west in general. To ensure the long term validity of these arrangements, the western powers armed opposition groups and perpetuated the conflict between Africans. Africa’s wealth of resources has, in due process, become its nemesis.
Foreign multi-nationals (mining firms and oil giants like elf) steadily rose in influence while the former colonial forces dictated the development of events over some African countries. Coupled with the war of ideologies during the period and the schools of thought that recommended the way out of misery for developing countries in general and Africa in particular, the situation became complicated. Amid this complication were lost the ideals of sovereignty, development and freedom.
Africa came to be known as the hub of protracted wars, fatal diseases, poor social services and violent change of regimes. These conditions led to it being referred to as ‘the dark continent.’ The name signified the absence of hope coming out of the continent in various spheres of social life.
The identifying character of this darkness was the large amount of African lives it claimed. War, disease and lack of facilities to treat people, claimed the lives of millions of Africans since the period of decolonization. Nearly two decades into the 21st century, the worth of African lives has not shrugged off its cheap pricing yet. Wars are still rampant; quite a number of diseases are at their deadliest or even confined to the continent; brutal killings by governments are still going on.
The result of all these and other socio-economic and political shortcomings is the suffering and death of Africans. In a complete reversal of the historical facts, Africans are now desperately trying to flee from the problems associated with the continent to western destinations that history remembers as the uninvited guests who savagely and violently taken away African territories. History should note that the westerners who flocked to parts of the world that did not belong to them killed locals in their millions and ruled the land as their own with the locals as their slaves while they consider today’s African and Asian migrants as terrorists that threaten their states and societies. For all we know, the migrants that face death on their journeys could be an army of extra terrestrial ‘aliens’ with concealed sophisticated weapons of mass destruction. To the poor Africans in their packed boats through, the hatred in the western countries and the threat to life along their journeys seem to have no place in their urge to leave the continent.
Although Africans in general have suffered from the vices in the continent, the youth are known to be the primary victims. Wars are primarily fought with young soldiers; pandemics such as HIV/AIDS mainly attack the youth; the lack of employment and other schemes of social security are also major problems of the demographic.
It is, therefore, highly relevant that the 28th ordinary session of the AU summit was held under the theme: “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investments in the Youth.” Ensuring peace and security as well as achieving development in the continent relies heavily upon the involvement of the demographic.
A United Nations (UN) document states that Africa is the youngest continent, as the proportion of youth among the region’s total population is higher than any other continent. The document states that 70% of the region’s population was under the age of 30, and slightly more than 20% were young people between the ages of 15 to 24. A report by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation also states that 41% of the World’s youth will be African in three generations.
Despite the huge portion of society that the youth constitute in Africa, they have basically been left out of decision making roles. They are also faced with chronic problems of unemployment. Armed groups primarily recruit teenagers and young people to push forward their political goals through military means. The terrorist groups that have sprung up in some parts of the continent and receive huge media coverage also lure young people into their ranks using various appeals. Not only the peace and security but also the development of the continent is, therefore, dependent on this demographic.
Policies that aimed to fulfill their needs have just recently been introduced across the continent. Therefore, the AU’s decision to grant the issue the due attention it deserves is encouraging. Investing in the youth could change the current view of this demographic as a threat to stability and strongly mould it as a valuable resource.
The AU’s recent efforts in addressing problems of the youth through various forums have been encouraging. For instance, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) launched a youth desk that gives youth a platform for dialogue and enabled them to contribute to policy debates. The African Youth Charter defining the rights, duties and freedoms of young people is another effort by the continental organization. AU’s Second Plan of Action which aims at promoting the right to education and the development of relevant skills as important instruments for facilitating access to decent work is another one of the efforts.
Yet more other efforts have been exerted at national stage. The Ethiopian government, accordingly, designed a youth policy and established the governmental office in charge of such affairs at a ministerial level. That clearly depicts the due attention the government has granted the cause of the youth. More recently, federal and regional revolving funds worth billions of birr have been earmarked to deal with the problems of the youth.
With increasingly greater attention being provided for the youth at national and regional level, the likelihood of the youth becoming a huge force driving development is more assured than it used to be in previous years. With cooperation of African youth in ensuring peace, security and development in the continent, the gloomy image it has been given could finally be making way for a brighter time ahead that ensures the primary use of African resources by Africans.