Africa continues to be bedevilled by a myriad of governance issues emanating from poor leadership across most parts of the continent. From the people at the helm of affairs trickling down to the leaders at the grass-root level; the hope Africa’s long term growth and competitiveness continues to hang in the balance.
At the heart of these development challenges are the youth in Africa aged between 15 and 35 years who continue to bear the full brunt of these governance issues. They are faced with the dilemma of not having a voice and a platform where they can participate meaningfully in governance issues even as they make up to half of Africa’s population Around the world, Africa remains the only continent with the most concentration of young people whose skills, energy and passion remains crucial in driving Africa’s long-term growth and competitiveness. However, despite being blessed with enormous human capital, the space for young people to participate in Africa’s governance continues to dwindle, underpinned by an apparent disconnect between the youth and the elderly on governance related issues.
Since the dawn of democratic governance in Africa, many people in prominent leadership positions find it hard to share or relinquish power to the younger generation. Rather, what we continue to experience in quite a number of countries is the rotation of power among the few privileged elites who continue to pillage the resources of the countries or positions they govern. There is also the issue of cultural and social influences such as age limitations which hinder young people from participating in governance in Africa even at traditional levels. The issue of gender also plays a leading role. For example, cultural and religious belief systems often restrict women to assume certain leadership roles across many parts of the continent. Corruption and attachment of financial worth to political positions also disqualifies a lot of young people who cannot afford the needed financial resources to participate meaningfully in elections. Rather, what we see in some countries is abuse of the rights of young people especially when they are contracted and used by ‘god-fathers’ to facilitate political and civil unrest. Some of them are often used by these god-fathers during elections to engineer election violence with the promise of money and jobs when they get into power. At the end, the so called god-fathers turn their backs on them allowing them to wallow in unemployment, poverty and crime.
While these challenges persist; the 21st century has brought about some dramatic positive changes on the continent. Today, the advent of social media and improved human rights requirements continue to provide the needed leverage for young people to demand for better transparency and accountability in the way they are governed. Today, young people in Africa are no longer sitting on the sidelines as they have started exploiting alternatives in different areas such as music and arts among other structures to garner popularity that will eventually lead to positive change. In March 2015, a well-known Nigerian Nollywood actor Desmond Eliot emerged as a winner of the Lagos State parliamentary elections to represent his Constituency in Lagos State. According to the Chairman of Nigerian Young Professional Forum (NYPF), the “movers and shakers” of world economy were below 35 years and the Nigerian youth cannot afford to lag behind. In April 2015, the University of Cape Town students union in South Africa successfully led a coalition of students to impress upon the leadership of the school and indeed the South African State to seek for redress regarding the supposedly racial inequalities at institutions of higher learning in South Africa, particularly at the University of Cape Town. They called for the removal of an iconic statue which they felt glorified racial biases in the institution. After series of dialogue with relevant stakeholders, the statue was eventually removed.
While there are a lot instances where the youth have actually been proactive in shaping governance in Africa, many African leaders have also put in measures to help address some of these issues. Perhaps what they then need is a more proactive approach by relevant stakeholders in order to ensure that key youth empowerment initiatives are achieving the desired goals. There is need for a paradigm shift that focuses on effectively utilizing our human capital towards ensuring a long-term sustainable future for our youth.
Ikechukwu Oseloka Nwokedi has an academic background in Environmental Science, Ikechuwku O. Nwokedi continues to develop his niche area in Environmental and Social Governance and has been involved in a number of research publications such as the “Shaping Corporate Social Responsibility in Sub-Saharan Africa, published by GIZ in 2012.