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Youth Policy

Africa's Youth Policies Are a Threat to Africa's Future

by Tim Mugerwa - President of the African Youth Union


In recent years Africa has seen rise in extremist groups, child soldiers and all sorts of armed violence. The number of young people involved in illegal business and illicit behaviour has increased. Presently the continent has the youngest population in the world but with bizarre youth policies. The policies, instead of equipping young people with practical knowledge and skills, they make them somewhat vulnerable to extremist and rebel groups.

Young people, being the continent's majority demographic group, deserve the most attention and involvement in the political, social and economic affairs of their continent but alas, there is hardly any attention given to them. From regional bodies to national governments, the youth are not prioritised which poses a big threat to Africa's future. The African Union Commission (AUC) has no actual or effective youth programmes and policies. Many sectors at the AUC are allocated departments but the critical sector of the youth is dwarfed as a division within the Human Resources and Science Department, and moreover, run by three officers. Imagine three officers in charge of millions of young people on a continent with over 54 nations! It is a great cause of concern, is it not?

The role and mandate of the youth division is ambiguous, not to mention that the youth it is serving are hardly aware of its existence! The Youth Division mandated a continental youth body (PYU) to manage and oversee the affairs of young people on the continent, but again, the youth are hardly aware of it except for a handful that form the National Youth Councils (NYCs). The NYC as the name suggests, is supposed to nationally bring together young people and foster national development but that's far from what it does. Most NYCs, if not all, are composed of junior ruling party cadres from the Youth League.

Most of the youth policies from the African Youth Charter that were adopted by heads of state in Gambia in 2006, were not consultative or participatory. Many African youth policies are based on assumptions and 20th century youth experiences. They are politicized instead of being socially driven and approached. Young people only hear about their concerns during election time when politicians are promising them heaven and earth which highly raises youth expectations. The most common promise or what politicians call, a youth policy, is job creation.

Young people are promised an ocean of jobs every five years but the ocean turns out to be a teacup! Politicians and youth policy makers never think of the negative impact their empty promises and non-implemented youth policies have on the youth. After suffering consistent disappointment from leaders and watching their policies catch dust year after year on shelves, young people resort to desperate means and decisions.

It is a known fact that young people are the majority on the continent, but issues affecting them are discussed, addressed and handled by a minority of people who are not facing youth-related challenges. During regional meetings/events at AU headquarters at UN missions among others, youth are either involved in inconsequential side events or selectively picked to play a silent listening and observing role as the elders are discussing issues. In a situation where the event is purely youth-related, there is no post-event action plan. This type of arrangement leaves organisers/hosts satisfied and reports submitted. What do the youth do upon completion of such events? They also realise that they are used to create a false impression that youth interests are evenly represented and to justify budgets. During and upon completion of such events the youth go shopping, return to their countries, share memories with their families and go on with their lives. The youth they supposedly represent never get to hear anything about the events their representative attended.

There's a big gap between the youth and their governments and also between the youth and regional bodies. Governments and regional bodies are aware of this, but they feel the youth's interests aren't a priority to them. Yes, on paper and during public addresses young people are among their priorities, but in action and implementation of policies that is far from the truth. Africa's young people are like sheep without a shepherd. They're neglected, manipulated and used as raw materials for political campaign agendas.

Young people are joining armed groups in desperation for different reasons, not because they want to, but mainly due to the confusion created by people and institutions claiming to care for them. Governments and regional bodies hardly offer anything for them but extremist and rebel groups do offer something for the youth. The youth leave where they are not wanted and go where they are welcome. Governments and regional bodies make them idle, extremist groups make them active. The African youth policies, political system, up-bottom approach are driving our youth to desperate behaviour. They increase and fuel their vulnerability.

All isn't lost

For Africa’s future to be well forecasted, governments and regional bodies must stop turning a deaf ear and blind eye to the pleas of the continent's majority group of people. It is almost futile for us to continue discussing and speaking regional integration of Africa and Africa's future, whilst purposely continuing to neglect and overlook the role and involvement of young people who still have more years to live than the continent's minority group which is at the centre of all policies.

It's not too late to change the approach and methodology of driving the African agenda. If all Africans regardless of age, sex, religion, tribe and nationality equally work together, there is a good future for Africa. I recommend the following to be urgently taken into consideration for Africa to be more pro-people and put an end to age prejudice:

  • Youth policies should be driven and championed by the youth and must be consultative.
  • Grassroot Youth should be extended opportunities to engage at national and regional levels.
  • Side events and selective representation must be replaced with active participation and grassroot engagements.
  • Civic education must be reintroduced at all levels of society.
  • All young Africans in key areas such as leadership, education, business, entrepreneurship and civic engagement should receive mentorship.
  • Grassroots, urban and regional youth formations need to be supported.
  • A clear and achievable post-event action plan must always be available prior to inviting young people.
  • Affordable quality education for all.
  • Bureaucracy should be reduced or cut (the youth need clear and proper communication channels to their leaders).
  • The AUC must hold governments accountable.


Tim Mugerwa

President and Researcher: African Youth Union

Read more about Tim and his view on being a futurist



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