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Africa’s youth: Getting beyond the stories of boom or gloom

May 18, 2021, 1:43 PM

Africa’s current youth employment challenge is dominated by axioms and narratives that frame it as either a problem or an opportunity.

Hopefully, by shedding light on the evidence underpinning common youth narratives in the employment debate, donors and practitioners will avoid narratives that prop-up generalisations and false assumptions about young people.

Africa has the youngest population in the world; those under the age of 35 make up two-thirds of the continent’s population.

Alongside this, Africa also has some of the highest youth unemployment and underemployment rates in the world.

Frequently, this is referred to as the “African youth employment challenge” (hereafter referred to simply as the “Challenge”).

The Challenge has become a key development agenda for donors and governments.

 However, an important but less considered issue is how young people are framed (or narrated) within policy.

In public policy, the way a problem is talked about publicly or framed politically, influences the responses designed to address it.

Presented with addressing Africa’s youth unemployment, it is essential to seek a better understanding of youth narratives and then to question if they are either appropriate or if, in fact, are true of young people.

In public policy, young people are defined frequently only by age, with definitions varying from 15-24, up to 35 years old.

This is a simple and useful categorisation, its generalisation means young people often remain undefined, and their group specifications are then defined by certain axioms of the times and geographies into which they fall.

The Challenge is predicated on the concerns of what governments and donors will do about Africa’s growing youth population and inherits the assumptions and claims of this discourse.

The most frequent policy portrayals of the youth can be considered as the crisis-opportunity conundrum.

Here, the growing youth population (the youth bulge) is positioned on a time-sensitive pendulum that swings between either the prevention of a crisis  and the utilisation of an opportunity.

 There is reasoning behind each of these arguments, let’s make it clear, not all young people are a “crisis”, nor are all young people an “opportunity”.

Many of the claims and narratives around the youth are frequently challenged, but a number of nuanced views are perpetuated that need dispelling.

Recently, large youth populations have been linked to the rise in civil unrest, such as in the Arab Spring or Uganda.

 Importantly, this narrative has sometimes linked youth unemployment with armed conflict and violence in Africa.

This may sound logical, but let’s be clear on the distinction between unrest and violent conflict.

There is no direct empirical link between unemployment and violence.

Nonetheless, the securitisation of the youth remains a key trend in global policy, but policymakers and practitioners would do well to ensure youth employment interventions are planned within the proper contextualisation.

Also, youth employment interventions designed for conflict and post-conflict zones may work differently for youth there than in other contexts.

Source-African Youth news

 

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