Bird's-eye view of young Africans’ role in democratic governance and human rights
In today’s world, examining what priorities matter to young people in Africa is a multifaceted and confusing task, given the lack of secure structures, mechanisms, policies and programmes to guide as well as legitimise young Africans’ meaningful involvement in socio-economic and political development priorities.
Democratic governance and human rights in Africa
Issues that directly or indirectly impact the lives of young Africans across the continent stem from limited access to basic needs, educational opportunities, employment and participation in decision-making processes. These are compounded by a lack of transparency, corruption and unequal resource distribution.
African countries, especially Liberia, have made some progress on socio-political, economic and security issues in recent times, but the continent still has a long way to go to ensure the meaningful and active involvement of young people in socio-economic and political development priorities. Relative to their European counterparts, young Africans shoulder more development and growth challenges. They are highly exposed to child labour, early marriages, and scanty employment opportunities. Such problems make them prone to be heavily involved in the perpetuation of violence and conflict.
Young Africans are usually absent in governance and decision-making processes and some lack access to basic necessities such as education and political, economic and other social rights. The youth are far removed from social infrastructures, and the continent is still behind in addressing gender issues that affect young women, in particular, gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, early child marriage and rape. Young people themselves are too often unable to see their own potential as agents of change and find themselves recipients of assistance funds and programmes.
Cross-cultural differences and the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated the issues affecting young people in some African countries, worsening levels of unemployment, drug abuse, cultism and crime. In the past, there were capacity development programmes like the ‘Young Peacebuilders in West Africa Training Programme’ with support from the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and United Network of Young (UNOY) Peacebuilders in Abuja, Nigeria, which brought together young people from Europe and Africa on issues of identity, conflict management and psychosocial support. Such exchanges and training programmes are important for gauging young people’s perceptions of their socio-economic and political environment.
Most African youths see themselves as living in an environment where the government is against them and does not want them to prosper. On their minds is a constant maelstrom of problems. They believe that foreign policies and programmes are not to their benefit, that existing laws are archaic and that the rule of law is unfavourable.
Implementation of policies and programmes on democratic governance, human rights and development priorities in Africa is contingent on donor support and international protocols. Yet, financial aid to Africa is not neutral, and young people focus on others’ specific interests in securing a livelihood and pay less attention to decision-making processes, peace and socio-economic matters.
Since 2015, the United Nations Security Council Resolutions on Youth Peace Security 2250, 2419 and, recently, 2535, have officially recognised and reiterated the importance of young people’s engagement in peace processes and in the sustainable development of our societies. Hopefully, they could act as a powerful booster for young Africans and Europeans to join forces in common initiatives promoting sustainable development and human rights on the two continents.
As evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, Africa and Europe share a common future. We all have a common interest in accomplishing the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda. Voices of young people should be amplified and their contributions to community leadership and decision-making encouraged through increased community dialogue and involvement in socio-economic development efforts.
Role of young people
Young Africans have a foremost role in driving the rebuilding of the continent by re-examining values and behaviours that promote Africa’s socio-political and economic development. This role cannot be overemphasised, particularly given the new digital age and the interconnectedness of the African continent with Europe. Young people cannot afford to remain idle, subdued and take a back seat. It’s now time to take the front seat, not necessarily always at the steering wheel but sometimes also as an active co-pilot, to stem the tides.
As the world becomes more digitised, and given the growing need for renewable energy technology and artificial intelligence, the vigour, originality and resourcefulness of Africa’s young people will be required, especially where access to basic infrastructures is still limited. Young people can be mobilised for innovative and futuristic projects and programmes.
Young people have been at the forefront of effective COVID-19 prevention and control. They continue to play critical roles in information dissemination and logistics, in distributing relief materials and in community mobilisation for testing and contact tracing. A spirit of volunteerism is gaining momentum in Africa. Young people can also be active agents in streamlining youth leadership, entrepreneurship and mentorship programmes with socio-economic and political developments on the continent. It is not sufficient for young people to be mobilised; they must be absorbed by the system.
We know from experience that young people can sway electoral processes and contribute to development priorities. Young people are also the missing puzzle piece in conflict prevention and peace. Their contributions are necessary in all socio-economic and political development activities in Africa. Society needs to change the way it views the role of young people in peace, socio-economic and political developments and programmes. However, young people must also change the way they view their own roles. It is time they invite themselves in as participants in socio-economic and political processes, and not wait for an invitation. They need to be part of the bigger picture, and change agents for the continent they want to live in.
We live in extraordinary times. The question is, can the present generation of African youths avoid repeating the mistakes and failed strategies of those who came before them? Many youth-based and youth-led organisations are at the forefront of mobilising young people’s involvement in setting priorities for socio-economic and political development in Africa. But these organisations are ill-funded and are not being provided political space to participate.
A lot more is required to develop a framework that considers the role of young people in development assistance programmes. A trajectory of strengthening information technology infrastructures and systems, linking resources and building capacities would help alleviate some of the main issues affecting young people in Africa today.
For Africa to achieve an acceptable new normal, we must actively engage and encourage young people’s participation, to recover the economic losses of the past months. Engagement and active involvement of young people is central to achieving sustainable results.
About the author
Gwendolyn S. Myers is the founder and Executive Director of Messengers of Peace (MOP)-Liberia. She is a certified Young Mediator and Global Peace Activist and Practitioner. Myers holds an MA in international politics and human rights from City, University of London. firstname.lastname@example.org
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This video interview appears in the youth edition of ECDPM's Great Insights magazine – check out the full issue or the other articles and multimedia below.