Africa’s Youth Demand Better Governments
Young people in Africa currently make up 60% of the continent’s population. This young growing population is demanding accountability, better and responsible government across the continent. Recently,I met Mfundo, a 21-year-old young man who became a breadwinner of his family at age 15 after losing his mother to a preventable disease. Mfundo has no formal education, has never been formally employed and stays in an informal settlement. His future is uncertain, with little hope of ending the poverty cycle. Mfundo’s story is all too familiar. His story is an example of the systemic barriers that have led millions of young people across the continent to lose hope and trust in their governments.
As we saw during the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, when young people are frustrated with the status quo, they protest for change and better governance. Recently in Sudan, former President Omar al-Bashir was forced out of power as a result of protests by young people. The protest began over fuel shortages and a hike in food prices but turned into nationwide protests calling for al-Bashir to step down, after 30 years on the helm. In the South of the continent in Zimbabwe, demonstrations by young people began over fuel hikes and turned into full-fledged demonstrations against bad economic management, jobs and poor services. There are numerous examples of such protests across the continent in Algeria, South Africa, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ethiopia. The list is endless. In response to these protests, some governments have taken measures like violence and shutting off the internet to squelch the protests.
The growing voices of young people in Africa deserve governments that respond to their needs for better education, health services, jobs and living standards. By 2018, it was estimated that 70% of the continent’s population was essentially unemployed for nine months or more. The vast majority of those affected are under 25 years old.
These protests across the continent are an indication that Africa’s young people realize they are getting a raw deal. Africa is the richest continent with billions worth of natural resources, abundant land and our greatest asset human capital. The 2018 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, highlights that many African countries are failing to translate economic growth into sustainable opportunities for the growing youth population. The situation is more gloom for 25 countries that account for 43.2% of Africa’s population, who recorded a decline in economic opportunities for young people in the last 10 years.
While the global economic ecosystem has exacerbated the syphoning of Africa’s resources; coupled by colonialism, racism and slavery, Africa’s leadership has not done any better. As a result of bad leadership, the continent has been plagued by corruption, mismanagement, poor decision making, and violations of human rights that have further crippled the continent. It is estimated that Africa is losing about $100 billion a year to corruption and illegal tax practices. On the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), the 49 African countries that are part of the survey have an average score of 32% far below the global average of 50%.
This has resulted in Africa’s young people becoming disillusioned, restless, frustrated and hungry for change.
While there is no silver bullet for Africa’s problems, the continent’s leadership needs to embrace open and participatory governance, as a starting point. It gives an opportunity for young people to participate in how they are governed, thus inclusivity, empowerment and equality. This is the spirit of the open government approach creating spaces and platforms for young people to have a voice and a say on matters that affect their lives. The notion that government leaders know what citizens want is long outdated and has proven to be detrimental to economies, social life and service delivery.
Politics and governance in Africa needs to evolve from a top-down approach to a collaborative approach between government, civil society and citizens. Legislation and policies need to transform to allow and encourage collective thinking, processes and decision making.
To encourage openness and participation, some governments are using digital platforms to engage with young people. In Tunisia, faced by high youth unemployment and risks of radicalization, government created an e-platform targeted at listening to young people’s concerns and respond to them. The platform empowered young people to be able to provide public service feedback, and enable them to have strong representation and participation in local councils.
Through social media, young people continue to mobilize to speak truth to power. Making technology a facilitator of openness and participation that governments need to leverage. In the State of Kaduna in Nigeria, citizens are providing feedback on public services, serving as the eyes and ears of government using a mobile app. Citizens can upload photos and feedback directly to the Governor’s Office and the State Legislature, which has resulted in a record completion of 500 schools and 200 hospitals, improving maternal health and safety.
As the young population continues to grow in Africa, there is need to rewire and rethink policies to encourage greater participation and government accountability to ensure all citizens are represented. Africa has managed to evolve, from overthrowing colonial powers, ending military rule, and now the need for true participatory democracy that empowers young people.