Look at any data on Africa’s demographic trends and the story is clear – Africa is a young continent. It is the world’s youngest continent with 70% of its populace under the age of 35.
We recently published some interesting statistics released by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation on Africa’s youth demographic the most astonishing of which was that “in less than 3 generations, 41% of the world’s youth will be African.” The British Council’s “Next Generation Report” on Africa’s most populous nation’s Nigeria’s youth demographic put it most succinctly when it said, “Youth, not oil, will be the country’s most valuable resource in the twenty-first century.”
Just like Nigeria, youth will be the African continent’s most valuable resource in the twenty first century. By 2035, Africa’s labour force will be larger than China’s and by 2050, over 1/4 of the world’s labour force will be African. At the same time, young Africans are overall more literate than their parents, but more unemployed.
With high rates of unemployment and inadequate environments to foster the growth of entrepreneurship, commerce and industry, the talents and energies of many young people in Africa are snuffed out before they can develop the wings they need to soar. When we remember that the average life expectancy in Africa according to the World Health Organization is 52 years (The current worldwide average is about 70 years), it becomes even more worrisome that most government policies in many African countries are not more pro-youth.
Ageism against young people in Africa
One of our favorite lists to publish on CP-Africa is the list of Africa’s sit tight leaders. The list dramatically tells a tale of the fact that the world’s youngest continent is mostly led by the world’s oldest leaders. See below.
Ben Ali of Tunisia – 23 years – 1988 – 2011
Hosni Mubarak of Egypt – 30 years – since 1981 Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast – 11 years+ – since 2000
Moummar Ghaddfi of Libya – 42 years – since 1969
- Mbasago of Equatorial Guinea – 32 years – since 1979
- Jose Santos of Angola – 32 years – since 1979
- Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe – 31 years – since 1980
- Paul Biya of Cameroon – 29 years – since 1982
- Yoweri Museveni of Uganda – 25 years – since 1986
- Blaise Campore of Burkina Fasso – 24 years since 1987
- Mswati III of Swaziland – 24 years – since April 1986
- Omar Bashir of Sudan – 21 years – since 1989
- Idrissu Deby of Chad – 21 years – since 1990
- Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea – 18 years – since 1993
- Yahya Jammeh of Gambia – 17 years – since 1994
- Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia – 20 years – since 1991
- Pakalitha Mosisili (Lesotho) – 13 years – since 1998;
- Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti – 12 years – since 1999
- Mohammed VI of Morocco – 12 years – since 1999
- Abdoulaye Wade (Senegal) – 11 years – since 2000
- Paul Kagame (Rwanda) – 11 years – since 2000
Now, it is not clear that there is a causal relationship between being led by relatively old leaders and not having pro-youth policies but it does make sense these set of leaders would overall be less in touch with the plights and concerns of the continent’s young people. It is terribly heart breaking that the concerns of seventy percent of the continent is being put in the back burner.
By some estimates, the continent’s population boom means that 1 million new jobs need to be created every month. Many young people are embracing entrepreneurship, but beyond pep talks about the value of taking one’s destiny in one’s hands and creating employment for oneself, starting a business in many parts of the continent can be incredibly difficult especially for young people with no collateral, credit histories or safety nets.
Ageism against young people in Africa has many faces. One face is the long list of sit tight leaders in many African countries who continue to advance policies that are not in touch with the present realities and pace of innovation of today’s world. Another face is the ugly reality of runaway unemployment and even worse still underemployment amongst youth. With such odds stacked against young people, many African youths are unable to in a sense, “find their feet” until they turn 35 or older. With a life expectancy of around 50 years, it is a travesty to waste the potential of so many young people.
Many are already talking about a “lost generation” of young people unable to find meaningful and rewarding work despite repeated effort.
Amidst the constant refrains of a rising Africa across the world, it is important to remember the consequences of ageism against young people on the continent. Ageism against young people refers to environments that do not foster the employment and skill acquisition of the young and that limits access to opportunity. Unfortunately many African countries have these environments. What a travesty. It is the true shame of the continent.