Press release

Democracy and the role of youth in Africa

Posted: 2012-11-15

mother africa
Photo ©: Keizerstreetart/Flickr

A genuinely inclusive society needs to ensure that its youth participate in all its affairs, that young people’s views are included in development policies and that young people develop leadership skills. In many African countries, youth have either remained marginalized or not played a role in the political process. This is largely due to institutional and policy constraints of the state and society.

Against this backdrop, the role of youth in governance and democracy building in Africa was examined at a conference entitled “Youth and Democratization in Africa: Lessons Learned and Comparative Experiences,” jointly hosted by International IDEA, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and UNDP in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 1–3 November 2012.

100 delegates attended, including youth activits and others drawn from youth organizations, youth groups working in the social media, young political leaders, policy makers, political leaders and civil society organizations working on youth issues.

The main objectives of the conference were to:

  • understand the role of youth in democratization processes;
  • discuss policy options for youth economic empowerment;
  • articulate strategies for the engagement of youth in promoting sustainable democracy and economic development; and
  • explore better policy options to mainstream youth in institutional, political, democratization and governance processes.
Conference participants
Photo ©: Nuredin Hassen for international IDEA

African Youth Charter

Most African countries have government ministries or departments with the explicit mandate of addressing youth issues, and many have national youth policies and councils pursuant to their obligations under the African Youth Charter1, but a lot still needs to done in order to achieve the mandates of these bodies2. African youth have been only marginally involved in civic participation, electoral participation and providing a political voice. This is partly due to lack of quota systems in political processes and in political parties of many African countries. Accordingly, youth remain on the fringe of political parties.

In countries where there are mechanisms and policies in place for youth participation, these have not been implemented due to the vested interests of the established political elites.

“The dilemma of the African continent is the continued inability to provide the appropriate political and economic frameworks for enhancing the productivity of its youthful population,” said IDEA’s Muna Abdalla.

“In this respect, the future of Africa’s economic and social transformation depends on the ability to effectively translate its large youthful population into a demographic dividend,” Abdalla added.

Despite this unfavorable context, youth have managed to negotiate and force their way to political participation and economic success. The North African experience has provided an inspiring example about the determination of youth to fight for what they believe and bring about change.

Youth mobilizing

International IDEA Secretary-General Vidar Helgesen, who delivered the keynote address at the conference, said, “These events have re-opened the discourse about democracy, democratization and the role of youth in governance in the developing world.”

Other examples were also given of youth social movements and initiatives across the continent which empower young people. These include: the “Y’en a marre” (Enough is Enough) movement in Senegal; the “Communication for Development” in Cape Verde; the “Young Acting for Change” program in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Togo.

Also, the use of mass media and modern communication technologies are important tools for mobilizing youth, and for facilitating, encouraging and building their capacity to take their rightful part in the development and political processes of their countries.

Conference participants
Photo ©: Nuredin Hassen for international IDEA

The youth conference took note of positive regional initiatives and encouraged governments to reform and adapt their systems in order to allow effective participation of young people. 

A new Facebook group was created at the conference called “Youth & Democratization”, which aims to “build solidarity and movemnets, share ideas, perspectives, lessons learnt, best practice, recommendations to ensure that youth are part and parcel of and drive the Democratization of our contienent».

1. The Charter was adopted in 2006 and as of February 6, 2012, 39 of the 54 African Union Member States signed the Charter and 28 had ratified it. The Charter entered into force on 8 August 2009. The legalization of the Charter by all countries will formally enshrine the basic rights of young Africans and provide the framework for an accelerated youth development agenda in Africa.

2. UNECA. African Youth Report 2009 “Expanding Opportunities For and With Young People in Africa”


Adebayo Olukoshi, Regional Director, Africa (Africa)

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