We need to stop talking about the 'youth bulge' in Africa

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We need to stop talking about the ‘youth bulge’ in Africa

Young Africans need to fight against the way people speak about them, by Wangui Kimari


Youth bulge: A sign in Uganda tells people to have smaller families. (Photo: Jenny Matthews / Panos)

‘bulge’ = unusual, temporary increase

Africa always talks about the ‘youth bulge’. The number of young people is growing fast – by 2050 there will be almost a billion under 18s there.

But people talk about the ‘youth bulge’ for a reason. It turns people against the youth, people worry about birth-rates in Africa and say there will be big problems in the future.

The problem, they say, is that there won’t be enough jobs for all the young people. If they don’t work, the young people could start to be violent and protest.

People talk about young people in the West (except the ‘urban youth’) in a more positive way. But they see Africa as more dangerous. Now, with Somali Islamists Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram, they say how dangerous the ‘radicalized’ young people will be. Like a ‘ticking time bomb’.

When people talk about the 'bulge', they attack African women for having too many children. People have said this since colonial times. An advert from the Uganda Health Marketing Group in 2012 says: ‘256,700 youths can’t find jobs every year: smaller families will improve our quality of life.’

The UN, African Development Bank and national governments are trying to find solutions. One suggestion, from the World Bank and UN Development Programme, is that young people in Africa should work in agriculture. But they do not say how young people will be able to use land owned by rich people.

Big businesses and their African partners always try to get young people involved in mini-capitalist projects, but they don’t do anything to change the structure of society; they never talk about changing the power from landowner to tenant, from ruler to people who are ruled, from adult to young.

In Kenya, more than 70 per cent of the population is under 35. Young people only become a ‘solution’ when they start small busineses or join government training programmes eg. the pseudo-military National Youth Service (NYS). Young people in Kenyan see this as kazi kwa vijana na pesa kwa wazee (‘jobs for young people and money for the adults’).

And what jobs can they get? A young unemployed Kenyan recently asked me: 'Why have a programme to ‘empower youth’ if it only gives them jobs to clean the streets or work in small construction companies?'

The rich in African only think of the young people getting jobs as self-employed boda boda (taxi) drivers, dairy farmers and sweepers. They are not listening. Young people are asking for: rights to education, land distribution and a fairer economic system.

Young Africans do not want people to talk about them as a problem. Some groups eg. LUCHA (Struggle for Change) in Congo and Y’en a Marre (We’ve had enough) in Senegal are using protest and art to create change.

And as they do this, they create their own future: a future that says young people are not a security risk or a resource that people can exploit. These movements – for water, land and political and economic systems that involve young people – show that a population time-bomb might be exactly what Africa needs.

Wangui Kimari is an urban anthropologist in Nairobi, Kenya.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: https://newint.org/features/2018/01/01/youth-bulge