Africa has the highest population of youth in the world, with almost 60% of the total population being under 25 years of age. Such a rapid growth in population has made it all the more difficult for Sub-Sharan Africa to achieve its social and economic development objectives. In addition, despite a significant increase in the youth population on the continent, young people are disproportionately marginalized; with little to no focus on education, the highest unemployment and poverty rates, and poor access to basic health care. Another problem faced is that they are almost never invited to participate in decision making when it comes to policies that affect them and their well-being. This situation has led to a lack of trust between youth and various levels of government, mainly due to the fact that there are no clear policies focusing on them, or aimed at positive youth development.
In 2006, the African Union endorsed the African Youth Charter (AYC) at their meeting in Banjul, Gambia. The charter is a political and legal document which serves as framework that gives direction for youth empowerment and development. Yet, despite many African countries having youth policies in place, the failures of policy-makers and governments in Africa have created unstable societies within which opportunities for social mobility are limited specially for marginalized Africans including children, women, and youth (youth with disabilities).
For example, I distributed a questionnaire to 20 professionals in 2016, attempting to better understand the meaning and impact of positive youth development. Professionals were approached in 11 different countries, all with experience in the youth development sector, including areas such as education, training, health, and human rights. The first question asked “What do you consider to be the main three obstacles to increasing the integration of youth concerns into international development programs? The majority of the group felt that governments and policy makers did not regularly engage youth in designing and implementing youth programs, nor did they involve them in decision-making processes. In fact, many respondents said that governments failed to fully understand what meaningful youthful participation would actually look like. This lack of engagement was seen as leading to an overall lack of trust between youth and their leaders. The frustration of youth is never something that just occurs overnight, but is the result of decades of political grievances.
Over the past 10 years, many African countries have faced a wave of youth revolutions and social youth movements demanding political change. It proved to be an effective strategy in Tunisia and Egypt during the Arab Spring, when peaceful protests and demonstrations succeeded in changing regimes in each country. Unfortunately, this nonviolent resistance turn to civil war and conflicts in other states like Libya. Recently, Zimbabwe, Algeria and Sudan put an end to their respective dictators through large mobilization and demonstrations. These revolutions and youth movements are a direct result of exclusion of youth and failure to address the economic and social concerns young people.
In Sudan, the revolution was unique and lasted for almost eight months. It started in December 19, 2018, with a series of protests and demonstrations in several cities around Sudan against an aggressive government economic reform plan to prevent economic collapse, this reform led to a sharp increase in the cost of basic needs such as bread and affected fuel subsidies. Youth of Sudan under the umbrella of the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) presented their demands and called on President Basheer to stepdown. As a result many protesters were killed by the National Security and Police force.
Image courtesy of Mohamed Abdallah
Nevertheless, this did not stop them from raising their voices and saying enough. on April 11, the military arrested Basheer after 30 years in power and created the Military Transitional Council (MTC) aiming to rule the country for one year followed by an election. Sudanese youth continued their protests demanding that a civil government that represent them. In August 2019, and after long negotiations mediated by the AU and the Ethiopian PM Aby Ahmed, the TMC and the Forces of Freedom and Change alliance (FFC) a wide “political coalition of Sudanese groups” signed an agreement to share power for 39 months followed by an election. During this transitional period a sovereign council of 11 members formed (5 military officers and 6 civilians) , PM and 20 member cabinet was appointed by the FFC. a legislative body of 300 members will be formed within 3 months.
Now the youth of Sudan are guarding the revolution and hoping that this transitional government will come to an agreement with the leaders of various armed-groups to end the civil war in Darfur region, South Kurdufan and Blue Nile state, especially that the Leaders of the armed movements are supporting this change and are willing to sit-down with the new government and negotiate peace agreements that will help the country shift its resources toward achieving sustainable development and begin to tackle issues that concern the youth of Sudan such as quality of education, health, gender discrimination, as well as tackle economic challenges and create job opportunities, and foster youth political participation.
In conclusion, It was clear that ignorance of youth led to social unrest, youth were able to raise their voices and challenge governments. African leaders should create more space for youth and look to them as part of the solution, therefore, engaging youth in decision-making and design interventions that target the root causes of youth frustration, such as good quality of education and job creation.
About the Author: Hashim Ismail has a total of 12 years’ experience in the non-profit and private sector. He has extensive experience working with youth, women, communities and educational programs in Sudan, SSA and U.S. Hashim is a 2nd year MA candidate at Norman Paterson School of International Affairs Carleton University.
Image courtesy of Mohamed Abdallah
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect iAffairs’ editorial stance.