The Youth in many African countries have over the years made bold statements to communicate their increasing desire to engage in the development of their communities and countries. In 2003, at the 13th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa, the youth delegation at the conference, having been denied the right to present the African Youth Statement, shouted “Nothing for us without us” at the opening ceremony with their hands up in the air. They did not fear the risks of being severely punished for disrupting an otherwise well organised and progressing opening ceremony. They were then granted hearing by the Kenyan President at the time, His Excellency Mwai Kibaki, and eventually, their rights were respected and honoured. At that time, the young people of the continent suffered the most from the HIV pandemic.
Rhetoric vs Reality
The Africa Governance Institute (AGI-AIG) stated in its Policy Brief #7 that “Youth participation is one of the main governance challenges which are facing African countries. The magnitude of the problem is so important that some observers do not hesitate to call it the ‘demographic bomb’”. This statement is an important observation of what was then a problem and has remained a problem with multi-dimensional perspectives – a policy rhetoric. In many regional, sub-regional and national policies, constitutions and development programmes, including the African Youth Charter, the concept of youth participation is not only mentioned, but it has been defined as a need to drive sustainable development of the continent.
In its policy papers no. 34 published in 2016, Afro Barometer reported that results from its surveys in 36 African countries “revealed a wide gap between the aspirations set forth in the AU policy framework and the reality of youth political engagement in Africa today”. They reported that their data showed “African governments and development partners have considerable work to do to achieve the goal of increased civic and political participation among youth, particularly young women”.
Why would participation of youth remain a daunting challenge?
In the context of my thesis study on youth participation in development policy processes in selected metropolitan assemblies in Ghana, I sadly found out that not only were young people not involved, but they actually were not aware of their rights to actively participate in these assemblies. Even worse, duty bearers with responsibility to ensure youth participation are not actively seeking to ensure it happens.
Moreover, in Ghanaian and many other African cultures, the Youth are to be seen in decision-making spaces but not heard. This cultural system unfortunately permeates several spheres of the society including political and governance spaces, policy processes and practices.
“Young people today are truly citizens of the world. Whatever they are working on, whatever their ambitions for the years ahead, they have to think globally – even when they act locally. Sadly, young people are often overlooked during discussions and decision-making at the national and international level” Kofi Annan
In 2013, Kofi Annan, one of Ghana and Africa’s renowned leaders said, “Young people today are truly citizens of the world. Whatever they are working on, whatever their ambitions for the years ahead, they have to think globally – even when they act locally. Sadly, young people are often overlooked during discussions and decision-making at the national and international level”. Perhaps, Africa’s persistent underdevelopment is partly due to governance mechanisms that have continually ignored the voice, aspirations and inputs of an important segment of its population, the youth. But just how long will the youth continue to make demands to be part of processes that will affect their future?
If you are a government actor in Africa, the next time you have to formulate any development policy or process, you might want to check how your previous policy or development programme performed. Perhaps, you are failing because you might be one of the actors who is deliberately or inadvertently leaving out an important stakeholder, the youth. Remember, “Nothing for us without us”. Make a difference for Africa by making youth participation in development policies and practices in your country, the new culture!
Ishmael Kwasi Selassie, DPP’20
Youth Programmes Manager – Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana