October 18th 2016 marks the World Youth Day for Democracy under the theme ‘AMPLIFY’. Youth, by definition, has been a subject of debate by many a scholar many a time with little or no consensus. The United Nations (UN) defines youth as individuals aged between 15 to 24 years old while The African Union in the African Youth Charter defines youth as individuals aged between 15 to 35 years old. According to Furlong Andy (2013), youth does not necessarily refer to a specific age range as it is a socially constructed category and refers to a state of mind.Whichever definition one chooses to associate with, the most important component is that the strength, agility and capabilities that lie within the youth are incomparable to any other stage of the human life. It is the contributing agent to the wisdom of the old age that is informed by the experiences acquired in youth.
According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the number of youth aged 15-24 in Africa in 2015 stood at 226 million accounting for 19 per cent of the global youth population. By 2030, it is projected that the number of youth in Africa will have increased by 42 per cent with the population expected to continue to grow throughout the remainder of the 21st century, more than doubling from current levels by 2055.The youth in Africa wield incredible power in terms of the capability to turn the narrative of the continent around. The large number of the youth population, the incredible technological advances being made today and the vast amount of resources within the continent present the youth with an upper edge and a basis for the creation of a more prosperous Africa.
In terms of democracy, The African Charter on Democracy, Governance and Elections, and the African Youth Charter as well as Agenda 2063 remain the primary frameworks to ensure the constructive involvement of youth and their effective participation in the debates and decisions making processes in the development agenda of the continent.Opportunities for youth to engage in governance and participate in political and decision-making processes depend largely on the political, socioeconomic, and cultural contexts.
The youth, as other members of society, have an important role to play in the democratic processesas attested in the North Africa and Middle East revolution,the fight against the apartheid regime in South Africa, the “Y’en a marre” (Enough is Enough) movement in Senegal, the “Communication for Development” in Cape Verde and the “Young Acting for Change” program in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Togo. The spread of democracy in Africa has increased chances for young people to participate in political life and civil society. Most African countries have government ministers or departments with the explicit mandate to address youth issues, and many have national youth policies and councils in line with their obligation under the African Youth Charter.
In many African countries, however, youth have either remained marginalized and/or have not played a significant role in the political processes largely due to institutional and policy constraints of the state and society.This is compounded by other factors such as disappointment with the political norms portraying politics as the preserve of the “old elite”, the mistrust towards political parties, disillusionment and manipulation as a result of increasing unemployment rates, age restrictions for voting/eligibility to vie for leadership positions, cultural restrictions and the complexity of democratic decision making processes.
The solutions to these challenges are not uniform in nature thus cannot be applied across the region in a similar manner. There is need therefore for custom-made solutions that are responsive to the diverse challenges on the ground. The leaders have an obligation to create platforms and involve the youth in the decision making processes at local and national levels. These platforms should serve as avenues for the youth to have their voices heard and also to be informed on the government programs, the implementation process and the effect on their livelihoods.
The youth also have a responsibility to seek out opportunities within which they can participate effectively in the development of their countries and the region as a whole. They should endeavour to stay informed by utilizing all sources of information available to them especially as a result of the advancements in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) which gives youth an added advantage whereby they can access information from wherever they are. The youth should also make good use of the platforms that have already been created in the youth ministerial dockets and other youth-led initiatives by coming up with proposals and initiatives which they can receive assistance to implement.
There is also need for the youth to apply the knowledge gained in education institutions to come up with home grown solutions to the challenges facing their individual societies and also hold discussion forums with peers from diverse backgrounds to share ideas and brainstorm on ways in which they can work together to have a greater impact.Through concerted and purposeful efforts the youth will be able to occupy their rightful place in society and contribute effectively to the growth and development of their countries and the region as a whole.