At the global level, the youth bulge is alarming and of great concern to all development stakeholders and Africa shares a big piece of this with over 60% of its population under 35 and 35% being between the youthful age of 15 and 35.

unlocking AfricaThese youth are aging and they will soon become adults with little to be done by way of their development.

Many are the developmental challenges that face this great population across the world. Although the youth development challenge is an interrelated global issue but the focus of this article is hinged on the African context of this complex global canker.

For the past two decades, youth development issues and challenges especially in Africa have gained attention among stakeholders. I believe this motivated the coming into being of the African Youth Charter in 2006 and subsequently many national youth policies and programmes in Africa over the past decade. Other opportunities like the Africa Youth Day (November 1), Decade Plan of Action (DPoA 2009-2018) presented Africa opportunity to tackle youth development challenges but not much has been done by far verses what needs to be done. Little has been done by way of implementation of various youth development policies and strategies at the continental, regional and national levels in Africa.

The African Union Commission, Regional Economic Communities, African Countries, Pan African Youth Union, and other youth development partners and stakeholders are yet to deliver effectively in empowering young Africans. Inasmuch as some degree of progress has been made over the last decade including the implementation of continental flagship programmes like the African Union Youth Volunteer Corps (AU-YVC), much still remain to be done in many respects.

Another great opportunity has presented itself to help drive Africa’s youth development agenda. African leaders in Assembly Decision (Assembly/AU/Dec.601 (XXVI) have dedicated the year 2017 to the theme ‘Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through investments in Youth’. It means tackling the major developmental challenges of Africa’s youth through the implementation of the many policies that already exist. This decision calls for the right and strategic time, financial and programmatic investment that will see Africa’s reap some good benefits out of its youthful population.

There is too much concentration on policy and programmes and what we want for our youth that young people have missed out on doing the most important thing for their empowerment and development. There exists a myriad of developmental gaps, coupled with lack and deficiencies among many young people growing up at the family, community, school, institutional, national and continental levels. There is clearly a missing link between what is really important to young people and what is in place for them. It seems we have all miss the boat when it comes to handling issues of this critical population.

Based on personal experiences as young person, my close interaction with several other young Africans and in my present career as a youth development practitioner, I would like to point out some of these missing links that have almost rendered an entire generation of around 400miliion Africans in a state of nothingness:

1. Lack of understanding of the word ‘Youth’: There is widespread lack of knowledge and understating of who young people are both by youth themselves and those who are responsible for their development. And true to the words of the Bible “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”. This is what has contributed to the widespread generational gap between the youth and the older generations. The use of the word ‘Youth’ has almost become a cliché in Africa with no particular interest and attention to its real content and significance. Youth are only mentioned and used when people feel and think it is convenient.

Youth are called in when there is work to be done or the empty spaces needs to be filled and they are left outside the gate when there are serious and important discussions and decisions to be made. Africa has since seen and treated young people as children, inexperienced, immature, irresponsible and less deserving of attention. This is deeply rooted in our family, community, national and continental orientation. Youth are not children and they are not adults and that needs to be well understood when dealing with youth and issues that affect their development. Youth have a lot to offer like adults and don’t have all to offer like children. Their passion, energies, creativity, ideas and most especially the technological tools available to them are unprecedented in human history and these set of qualities and dynamics are what are needed for Africa’s transformation.

2. Belief in Youth: Believing in people is by far one of the most powerful elements that fuels commitment and action towards advancing their interest. Young people are not accorded the needed recognition, respect and value for who they are and who they are not. The experiences and ideals of young people are not given the needed attention in most conversations. It is one thing telling youth you believe them and it is another thing giving them the opportunity to decide, choose and act on their own terms. Youth should not be treated as a light switch, turn them on when we need them and turn them off when we don’t need them. If we believe in the youth, then we should put our money where our mouth is – allowing them to be who they are and not forcing them to be who we want them to be or who they are not.

3. Is Africa’s youth problem or asset, dividend or liability: The English Author James Allen who inspired the self-improvement industry with his book ‘As A man Thinketh’ coveys to us all a very powerful message which stresses the fact that our visions can become reality, when we simply order our thoughts well. And this is very true with the way we deal youth our youth and the issues that affects their development. Working around ‘Positive Youth Development’ has confirmed to us that, when youth are treated as assets, they do powerful and great things. In a world and continent that young people are constantly referred to and treated as a problem, how do we expect them to act differently and how do we expect to get the best out of them. Unless we start, thinking, recognizing and treating youth as an asset, they will remain a problem to our development.

4. Enabling environment: One of the most important missing links in Africa’s youth development discourse is the lack of enabling environment in terms of policy and programme implementation and impact. This is evident in the fact that many youth development policies, institutions and programmes are simply not seeing the needed commitment, resources, implementation and impact. It seems everything in the youth development arena is not working right because the environment is highly flawed. Policies and programmes lack commitment, implementation and impact. We have made these policies and programmes the end in themselves instead of being just a process or means to the end. Maybe this just emanates from the fact that, we really don’t know or lack clarity on what the end is in our youth development conversation and activities. The youth development problem must not be treated in isolation to the bigger social, economic and political problems we suffered by all.

5. The little things that makes all the difference: Like children, young people are deeply interested in the little things that they experience from their caregivers and those around them. They know very well when these seemingly little things are there or not and whether they are given genuinely. Love, care and support are three mere and yet powerful words that are deep rooted in all my engagement with young people. These were words I have used to run many projects and activities while serving as a Student Counsellor and Peer Educator especially during my University years from 2007 to 2011 at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and the Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana. To most young people, unless you demonstrate through genuine action your love, care and support, nothing else that you do matters.

6. Is youth development even important at all: In recent times, many important people in my life and many respected people I have come across have simply downplayed the importance of youth development work. These people never saw the need why I told them I am pursuing a career in youth development. Recently, I was told not to write youth development practitioner as my profession when I was filling some official documents because it is not official. There is also the notions that, anyone at all can say he is a youth development practitioner or worker. My argument here is not only about the fact that youth development should become a professional area of study and research but allowing and respecting those who have chosen to commit to the development of young people as practitioners and institutions. If youth development is a problem, important and critical to our African development, then we ought to give it the right and needed attention, commitment and resources.

7. Putting our money where our mouth is: By money I mean commitment, implementation, action, investment and impact. There has been much more talks, meetings, conferences, workshops, fora, policies than commitments, implementation and impact. In-as-much as these talks are all important to the youth development process, they don’t give us benchmark for measuring success. We need more commitment in the implementation and ensuring impact to help us measure success. We have seen much talks for the past decade on creating youth funds, reviewing educational systems to respond to the job market, skills and jobs revolution, youth in decision making, peace building, agriculture, ICT among others but very little has been done to implement and achieve these. Just pull out speeches of your President, Youth Minister or any other high level official on youth issues over the last decade and all you will read are promises and fancy words about youth development. Sometimes, it gets irritating when youth are mentioned in speeches these days because we know it is just a cliché with no commitments, plans and implementations. We need to take more action if we want to see lasting development for our youth and harness their demographic dividend. Let’s put our money where our mouth is.

Youth empowerment and development is a matter of urgency which demands time and resources to help develop our ever energetic, passionate, innovative, connected and creative young people of our continent. Though young people today are tagged as ‘the lost generation’ and seen as lazy, unfocused, disrespectful, impatient, rule breakers but these are the unique set of qualities that define young people. All what young people need is the right investment of time, opportunities and money and they will become the important asset which they already are. We must not lose sight of the intangible and the real empowerment needs of young people (encouragement, recognition, respect, value, love) even as we focus on the obvious tangible (policies, institutions, money).

In conclusion, if you still find it difficult to understand my point, then consider the example of parents who keep telling their children that, all they are doing is to work and ensure quality life for these kids. Yet, they are consumed with satisfying their own selfish dreams and desires without paying attention to the welfare and well-being of these kids. They don’t show up at parent-teacher meetings and hardly get time to spend with their kids to know and understand their basic and intrinsic needs. One will ask, if these parents are really living for their kids as they claim. I am sure you have experienced or observed such situations at some point in your life.

Africa’s major focus through the implementation of policies and programmes should be at arming its youth with the tools needed to give them the genuine chance of building a sense of responsibility, dignity, self-worth, and emotional, psychological and economic well-being. As a young person myself, I believe we need to be showered the much awaited love, care and support in all its genuineness to grow up, prepared and challenged to create our own destinies and independent life. Our generation craves for the urgent attention and strategic investments by all stakeholders to champion Africa’s development because we are on the verge of entering our adult lives with nothingness. In a globally interconnected village like ours, everyone will suffer and bear the consequence of this great inadequacies and loss.

By: Musa Frimpong
email: [email protected]

Disclaimer: The views and information expressed in this article are those of the author and do not in any way reflect those of his affiliations including employers and any publisher of this article. You are free to challenge or disagree on the views expressed herein.