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Key findings
  • ▪ Like their elders, more than six in 10 young Africans (64% of those aged 18-35) say their country is going “in the wrong direction.”
  • Unemployment tops the list of the most important problems that young Africans want their government to address, followed by health, education, and infrastructure. Young people are more likely than their elders to prioritize government action on unemployment and education.
  • Young Africans are, on average, more educated than their elders. A majority (60%) of 18- to 35-year-olds have at least some secondary school, compared to 43% and 28%, respectively, of the middle and senior age brackets. But almost half of young Burkinabe (48%), Malians (45%), and Guineans (44%) have no formal education at all.
  • African youth are also considerably more likely than their elders to be out of work and looking for a job (34% of youth vs. 22% of 36- to 55-year-olds and 15% of those above age 55). Unemployment rates reported by young respondents range up to 49% in Botswana and 57% in Lesotho.
  • Only a minority of Africans say their government is doing a good job of meeting the needs of youth (27%), creating jobs (21%), and addressing educational needs (46%). Young and older respondents offer almost identical assessments of the government’s performance.
  • A solid majority (57%) of all Africans say they would be willing to pay higher taxes to support programs to help young people. This is the majority position in all surveyed countries except Botswana, Uganda, and Angola.
  • If their government could increase its spending to help young people, job creation (cited by 51% of respondents) would be Africans’ top priority for additional investment. Education ranks a distant second (17%), followed by job training (12%) and business loans (12%). Young Africans see eye to eye with their elders on these priorities
  • Despite concerns about the unmet needs of youth, almost six in 10 respondents (58%) – including 56% of youth – say that in order for their country to do well, “we should listen more to the wisdom of our elders” rather than “to fresh ideas from young people.” o One striking exception is Tunisia, where 70% of citizens say young people’s ideas should get more attention.
  • Youth are less likely to be politically engaged than older citizens. The largest gaps are observed in the most fundamental form of voice and participation: voting. Youth are 20 points less likely to vote than those 56 years and above. But they also lag behind in most other types of community participation and contact with leaders.

Addressing the needs of youth – for education, engagement, and livelihoods – has become a central tenet of global and continental policy discussions over the past decade. The African Youth Charter underscores the rights of youth to participate in political and decision- making processes and calls upon states to prepare them with the necessary skills to do so (African Union, 2006). The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) consider youth essential partners for achieving inclusive and peaceful societies (United Nations, 2018).

Almost 60% of Africa’s population is under the age of 25, representing enormous opportunities and challenges (Mo Ibrahim Foundation, 2019). The fact that only 14% of lawmakers on the continent are under the age of 40 highlights the gap between youth’s voice and their importance to economic and social progress (Brookings, 2019). Youth unemployment rates are double those of adults in most African countries, and 60% of Africa’s unemployed are young people (African Capacity Building Foundation, 2017). Almost half of young Africans have considered emigrating – most often in search of jobs (Sanny, Logan, & Gyimah-Boadi, 2019).

Findings from the latest Afrobarometer surveys in 18 countries shed light on challenges confronting Africa’s youth. Young citizens do not feel they are getting the support they need from their governments – and their elders agree. Younger Africans have made substantial gains in terms of educational achievement, but they still face huge gaps in paid employment, making job creation the most critical issue on the youth agenda. While both youth and older citizens support more aggressive government efforts to help young people, they give their governments failing marks in meeting these needs.

Africans of all ages seem to understand that if the youth are suffering and unable to establish productive livelihoods, this is not just a “youth problem,” but a “society problem.” But even if their elders support a pro-youth agenda, young Africans could do more to make their own voices heard directly in policy-making processes (Kuwonu, 2017; Resnick & Casale, 2011). The youth of Africa are far less likely to vote than their older compatriots, and they are generally less engaged in day-to-day political processes as well. African states have failed to effectively engage youth in governance and decision-making processes (African Union, 2017), but youth themselves could find ways – including voting – to ensure their voices are heard in the design of policies and programs to overcome the hurdles they face.

Gildfred Boateng Asiamah

Gildfred Boateng Asiamah previously served as a research analyst at the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana).

Ousmane Djiby Sambou

Ousmane Djiby Sambou is a knowledge management officer at UNICEF

Sadhiska Bhoojedhur

Sadhiska Bhoojedhur is a senior data analyst for Island Living, Mauritius.