Opinion

Our future needs a future

Vusi Gumede

History continues to judge Africans harshly. A fundamental reality is that Africa is behind other continents in many respects.

History continues to judge Africans harshly. A fundamental reality is that Africa is behind other continents in many respects and the youth of Africa appear to be falling behind the young people of comparable regions.

Compounding the dire situation is low or negative per capita incomes in Africa, a situation getting worse since the recent global economic crisis. This is not to say that nothing is working in Africa. It often confounds Afro-pessimists: the 2010 Fifa World Cup is a case in point.

Thandika Mkandawire, among other scholars, has argued that it will take Africa south of the Sahara a long time to recover from policies imposed by the North and its international financial institutions. The consequences of these policies are glaring when it comes to youth (and women and children) in Africa.

Studies suggest that there are at least a billion youngsters in the world, of which about 90% (between the ages 15 and 24) live in developing countries. About 60% of Africa’s total population is below the age of 25. The recent report of the International Labour Organisation indicates that youth make up more than 40% of the total number of unemployed people in the world. Of the world’s 55-million working poor who live under $1,16 a day, 150-million are youth. The World Bank estimates that three out of five unemployed Africans are youth and that 72% of them live on less than $2 a day. The Centre for Development and Enterprise estimates that 65% of the four million economically active young people in South Africa are unemployed.

At the recent Critical Thinking Forum hosted by the Mail & Guardian and the Southern Africa Trust’s the issue of youth and violence was highlighted. The numbers of young people involved in and affected by violence are unacceptably high. Members of the panel suggested that we address government policy failures in Africa.

The troubles confronting young people are arguably Africa’s most vexing policy challenge. The typical young person in Africa is poor, unemployed, living in a rural area and probably angry. Education is lacking or inadequate, as are essential services and adequate skills for the knowledge economy. A general exclusion from decision-making has left young people disillusioned. They are easily lured into substance abuse, risky sexual behaviour, crime, violence and armed conflicts. The persistence of crippling poverty (in all its dimensions) is cited as a key factor.

The challenges are massive—they are structural and deeply entrenched. They require a response that is equally massive, structural and deep.

Policymakers in Africa have to reflect on this honestly. Trends must be examined and education, health, social and economic development policies systematically evaluated and reshaped where necessary. Effective social partnerships have to be developed or strengthened.

Otherwise the youth, our future, have no future.

Vusi Gumede is an associate professor in development studies at the University of Johannesburg and a trustee of the Southern Africa Trust

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