Far more than half the continent of Africa consists of young people under the age of thirty. They are seen everywhere: in the fields working, sitting on school benches, and on the urban streets and football pitches, but very few are actively involved in mainstream politics in Africa.
Oh yes, Africa’s youths have been used in politics. The youth wingers recruited by political candidates and administrations are often the muscle behind intimidation during political campaigns. They incite skirmishes with the opposition or handout t-shirts, cash, and other incentives to prospective voters. But, when the election dust settles they are left out of the political process.
One could never talk about politics in Africa without talking about the manner in which African youths are kidnapped (don’t confuse this with recruitment) by revolutionaries and rebels. They are carried away to become child soldiers that have carried out the most horrendous acts that adult rebels shy away from. Africa’s youth are tired of being abused and ignored.
Recent events in Egypt and Tunisia demonstrate just how upset they are. Young people formulated the strategies, spread the word, kept people motivated and communicated to the outside world about these revolutions. They were savvy, using modern technology to promote their causes.
A few decades ago, many of the brightest African young people prepared themselves and were recruited by the military. These young military officers in Ghana, Burkina Faso and Liberia later successfully overthrew governments. Rawlings, Sankara, and Doe were fed up with the older, military leadership that was standing by and allowing corrupt regimes to continue to ignore cries of the majority of citizens in their countries. They acted.
Today Africa’s youth are seeking jobs in technology, education, and business, yet there are only a few being placed in positions where they can advance. The unemployment rate for young people in many African countries is two to three times higher than it is for adults, especially in urban settings. They have been educated far more than their adult counterparts. These years of educational training and preparation have spawned high hopes for securing employment. Those hopes and dreams are often dashed.
One has only to peruse African forums on the Internet so witness how fed up they are with corruption and political infighting. Africa’s youth are becoming quickly disillusioned with promises for reform by their political fathers. In the recent elections in Nigeria young people inserted themselves in African Politics. Others will follow.
It is often said that the future is in the hands of the youth. Maybe that will be the case for African young people as they grow older, but right now, in times of the greatest threat to their future, they have little or no real input. They will sit still only so long. African politicians who do not deal with the needs of youth and do not recognize the strengths youth bring to the table are ignoring them at the pearl. They will be heard.