Recognising youth privation as a major problem facing the continent, the African Union labelled 2017 the Year of the Youth.

A soul-destroying journey of scorching heat, thirst, hunger, across the blistering desert or dangerous sea journeys crammed into unseaworthy vessels at the mercy of ruthless human traffickers often resulting in death, is part of the price many African youths pay as they desperately try to reach Europe in search of a better future.

In June this year, 75 African refugees were abandoned without food and water in the deserts of central Niger by traffickers fearing being apprehended by local authorities. Only 23 survived after the others died of heat exhaustion and thirst. And this was one of many tragic stories.

Simultaneously, many marginalised youths suffering economic privation join terrorist organisations such as Al Shabaab, going on to wreak devastation on the home communities they choose to attack.

“People join extremists organisations for quite a number of reasons,” said Mahdi Abdile, Finn Church Aid’s Regional Representative for East and Southern Africa and co-author of a paper on Radicalisation and Al Shabaab recruitment in Somalia.

“Some - especially those locally recruited - mostly join for economic benefits. In fact, the research we conducted in Somalia showed that 27 percent of respondents joined Al Shabaab for economic reasons, 15 percent mentioned religious reasons and 13 percent were forced to join,” said Abdile. 

Recognising youth privation as a major problem facing the continent, the African Union (AU) labelled 2017 the Year of the Youth.

But now as the year closes, the African states have been challenged to match policy commitments with investments in implementation.

Muneinazvo Kujeke, junior research consultant of the Peace Operations and Peacebuilding programme at Pretoria’s Institute for Security Studies (ISS), and Ibraheem Sanusi, governance expert and citizens engagement lead at the AU Commission’s Department of Political Affairs, argue that it’s crucial for the AUC to mainstream young people in its policies and structures for good governance, peace and security.

The pair explained, in a piece they wrote for the ISS, that 65 percent of Africa’s total population is between the ages of 18 and 35.

“This makes for a very youthful population – one that’s been largely marginalised from efforts to drive democracy, peace and prosperity. Their exclusion, though, is not a result of their lack of voice or inability to speak out,” they said “but structures that allow meaningful youth participation are lacking at all levels of government”.

While the 2006 African Youth Charter provides the political and legal framework for youth development in Africa, its impact – compared to its promise – has been minimal.
“States were expected to infuse fresh energy to realise their commitments in four areas: employment and entrepreneurship; education and skills development; health and wellbeing; and rights, governance and youth empowerment,” said the researchers.

The assumption is that with adequate investment in these four areas, Africa can benefit from a well-educated, healthy cohort of young people who can contribute to democracy, peace and prosperity on the continent.

AU initiatives like the African Governance Architecture (AGA) Regional Youth Consultations led to discussions with young people across the continent on the meaningful role they can play in electoral processes.

The AU-European Union (EU) Youth Plug-In Initiative aims to harness the voices, insights and innovative ideas of young people ahead of the 2017 AU-EU summit later this month.

Already the AGA Youth Engagement Strategy (AGA-YES) has signalled the AU’s intention to involve young people in the AU’s democratic governance initiatives.

Kajeke and Sanusi said these efforts were pointing in the right direction but without addressing the desires and expectations of Africa’s youth in a sustainable way, attaining continental goals like the AU’s silencing the guns might remain far-fetched.

“Beyond programmes championed by the AU and RECs, several youth-led initiatives are being implemented across Africa. Links must be made between these and government policy processes.”

- African News Agency (ANA)