Our Perspectives

A sidelined youth: The soft underbelly of ‘Africa rising’


youth innovationYouth learn IT skills at a training centre in Makeni, northern Sierra Leone. Photo: Natsuko Kaneyama/UNDP

Africa is experiencing a period of exceptional economic performance, but impressive growth rates are not yet translating into higher human development for all. Put simply, the growth is not inclusive.

A key obstacle to Africa's long-term prosperity, productivity and stability is the crisis facing the continent’s youth. Young people in Africa are economically, socially and politically marginalized. This failure to deliver for a growing and restless youth is the soft underbelly of the “Africa rising” narrative. 

The lack of opportunity for many of Africa’s youth is manifested in three ways: 

Unemployment: Africa’s transformative agenda is threatened by high level of unemployment, particularly among the youth. The situation is compounded by an increasing mismatch between the skills workers offer and those demanded by the labour market. This points to the fast pace of technological progress causing disruptions in the labour market, but also to education systems that produce unemployable graduates.

Migration: The recent horrifying incidents of mass drowning of young Africans in the Mediterranean Sea is a vivid testimony of their loss of confidence in the ability of the continent to deliver for them. In 2000, about 13% of international migrants, 22.8 million people, originated from Africa. In 2013, the numbers had increased by more than 60% to 16.2% and 37.5 million people. The main reason for migrating out of Africa is the search for opportunities and a brighter future.

Radicalization: Religious-inspired extremism has claimed the lives of more than 18,000 Africans in the last 4 years alone, according to the Global Terrorism Database.  A recent report by a UN Panel of Experts stated that worldwide recruitment to extremism increased by 71% between January 2014 and March 2015 alone. The lack of opportunity among the youth is a key driver of radicalization that leads to violent extremism.

Migration and radicalization in Africa have a common socio-economic and political root with marginalization of youth being the common denominator. UNDP, through our regional hub in Addis Ababa, is launching an initiative with a three-pronged approach that addresses the manifestations of youth marginalization while also dealing with its root causes.

To counter irregular migration, we are taking a regional approach that combines support to regional bodies for migration policy with capacity building for relevant institutions while laying the groundwork for structural economic transformation that unleashes opportunity for all. UNDP’s mandate, capacity and presence in the continent will be key instruments in reversing this dangerous trend.

In partnership with global experts, UNDP is finalizing a development response to counter radicalization that is anchored in preventive action. This includes understanding the drivers of radicalization, its manifestations at the national and regional level, and how governments, communities and citizens can be supported to respond.

In all our activities, the goal is to widen political and economic space for the youth.

Young people have largely been left out of the recent economic growth in Africa, and they are not faring better in the political sphere. The average age of an African citizen is 30 years. The average age of an African head of state is 70 years. This constitutes the largest age gap between those who rule and those they rule over worldwide.

The planned UNDP regional initiative will support political participation of young people, including by encouraging quota systems within political parties. On the economic front UNDP will build national initiatives to enhance the employability of the youth, closing the skills gap and connecting talent to the market.

To paraphrase the African Youth Charter: Africa’s comparative advantage lies in its youthful population, and only through its youth can the continent surmount the difficulties that lie ahead.

Still turning the youth bulge into a demographic dividend requires a holistic structural, economic, social and political transformation approach.  If we want to avoid those harrowing sights of Africans drowning in the Mediterranean, we must make the African continent a place of opportunity for young people.

Talk to us! Is the migration of young African talent reversible? If so, how?

Africa Youth Blog post Sustainable development Mohamed Yahya

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