The promotion of durable and sustained peace, socio-economic development and good governance emerged as the most pressing and recalcitrant challenges beleaguering Africa, particularly vivid in the final decade of the last millennium. Armed conflicts littered the continent with about 31 countries witnessing intense violence triggered by political or socio-economic disaffections in some sections of these countries’ polities and societies. HIV/AIDS poses a pervasive and non-violent threat to the existence of individuals, as the virus significantly shortens life expectancy, undermines quality of life and limits participation in income generating activities. The political, social and economic consequences are equally detrimental to the community, in turn undermining its security.
Changing weather conditions are reducing the ability to produce and distribute food. The most direct implications will be felt in agricultural losses and rising food prices undermines access to food by everyone who depends on markets for their consumption needs, possibly translating in to about 200 million Africans threatened by malnutrition and abject hunger. Even the crops manageably produced for exports, face an embargo in harsh trade policies slapped on importation from developing countries by the developed world, in a bid to plunge the Developing World in to more slavery, while, the advent of democracy across the African panorama heralds a show of ill-preparedness for the structures of democracy which now results in complex humanitarian emergencies and crises.
The crumble of colonialism in Africa, caused decomposed ethnic lines and City-State allegiances to bear cracks of insecurity and ill-preparedness to the glory and worship of urbanization, independence and civilization. This resulted in weaknesses in the State-centric concept of security, regarding development, human rights, peace and good governance. Thus, whether it concerned civil wars with their dramatic consequences, natural disasters and accidents, or yet, health crises and major pandemics, populations face life threatening dangers.
And even though the security of state sovereignty is very paramount in these circumstances, the protection and later, empowerment of people at individual and community levels – human security, has been labelled as essential to national and international security. Inter-ethnic conflicts, regional instability, poverty, disease, bad governance amongst others, shape the meaning and content of security today. The preamble of the United Nations Charter opens with the words “we the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war…”, to indicate that the issues of peace and security, as well as economic and social progress and human rights, were – and to a large extent still are – seen as matters with the purview of individual states, their territories and their institutions, as at the time the United Nations Charter was adopted.
Today though, the definition of what constitutes and what influences human security is changing. Freedom from want and freedom from fear are increasingly recognized as not only emanating from the actions of States, but of others. Additionally, ethnic conflicts, regional instability and terrorist attacks, have forcefully demonstrated that the State is not the sole actor. National borders are permeable, and national sovereignty is no longer sufficient justification to avoid international scrutiny and action. In essence, human security thus, means safety for people from both violent and non-violent threats. It is a condition of state of being characterized by freedom from pervasive threats to people’s rights, their safety or even their lives. It is an alternative way of seeing the world, taking people as its point of reference, rather than focusing exclusively on the security or territory of governments. Like other security concepts, – national security, economic security, food security, and job security – it is about protection. Human security entails taking preventive measures to reduce vulnerability and minimize risk, and taking remedial action where prevention fails.
In 2000, 189 governments reached one of the great decisions of the 20th century, agreeing to work together to end extreme poverty, and to do it within 15 years. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as they are called set specific targets – on education, gender equality, child mortality, maternal health, disease and environmental sustainability – to protect the most vulnerable people, and empower them, thus providing them with human security. Eight years on, these targets seem unattainable. Every day that passes means in Africa, more mothers are losing their children to malaria, a mosquito bite, or diarrhoea, an upset stomach. Africa is most likely to record the least progress in the advent of any.
While the key triggers and causes of Africa’s woes and upheavals may differ from country to country, what is common to all of them is the central involvement of Africa’s youth, either as perpetrators, victims or both. As Alex de Waal puts it, “Children and youth represent the possibility of either an exit from Africa’s current predicament or an intensification of that predicament”.
Youth are an increasingly compelling subject for study in Africa, entering into political space in highly complex ways. To pay attention to youth is to pay close attention to the topology of the social landscape – to power and agency; public, national and domestic spaces and identities, and their articulation and disjunctures; memory, history, and sense of change; globalization and governance; gender and class. Youth as a historically constructed social category, as a relational concept, and youth as a group of actors, form an especially sharp lens through which social forces are focused in Africa. Through this lens, relations and constructions of power are refracted, recombined, and reproduced, as people make claims on each other based on age – claims that are reciprocal but asymmetrical. Youth figure centrally in debates and transformations in membership, belonging, and the hybridizations in membership, belonging, and the hybridization of identities – memberships in family and kinships, in ethnic groups, and in the state.
People who might be considered “youth” form an increasing proportion of the African population. By 2005, the African youth constituted 13% of the total global youth population (18% of the world’s population). Indeed, defined biologically as any person between the ages of 15 and 24, the African youth is expected to constitute 15% of total global youth population by 2015, thanks to the continent’s average annual population growth put at 2.7% and fertility rates at 5.1% over the past 30 years. This roughly translates that at least 62% or 654 million of the continent’s approximately 906 million people are under the age of 24. Furthermore, analysts deduce that only 5% of Africa’s population are aged 60 years and above – a reverse of the ageing trend in most developed countries. This phenomenon is exponential, but imbalanced growth in youth population is what some have described as a “youth bulge” – defined as a situation in which young adults aged 15-29 makeup at least 40% of a country’s population.
Youth today, have become the focus of rapid shifts in post colonial and global economy and society. In the “occult economies” of Africa, the potency of youth are extracted to sustain the power of those in authority while young people themselves feel increasingly unable to attain the promises of the new economy and society. In Niger in May 2000, a crisis of promise and frustration prompted secondary school students to riot, burning tires and barricading streets, protesting a shortened school year and the prospects of failing exams. In Sierra Leone in June 2008, a report on the spate of violence linked to inter-school sporting events revealed schoolchildren were smuggling weapons like knives, razor blades and bottles into the national stadium, where most of the competitions take place. Most of these schoolchildren were found to be those recruited during the civil war, who were still carried weapons. On the whole, critics continue to label Africa’s youth bulge as a major culprit in its travails and woes.
However, it is useful to note that it is only a tiny proportion of Africa’s youth population that have been involved in armed conflict, the said spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and other insecurities. The majority who rejects for example, violence, would perhaps be better appreciated if judged against the backdrop of the frustrations caused by failed and disrupted provision of public services, education and economic opportunities, compounded by ‘infantalisation’ by traditional elites, exploitation by business elites and marginalization by political elites; or those who are infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, would perhaps be better appreciated if public enlightenment, education and sensitization were taken seriously, condoms are made readily available and cheap to get, antiretroviral drugs are provided for infected people appropriately, and stigmatization is thoroughly cut out from the society.
These are as compared with the compelling incentives provided by rebel leaders to join armed groups; bribes doled out by top public office holders in money politics to try and buy over the suffrage of youths in order to remain in power and loot public treasury; and indeed, the force either through trafficking; rights abuse; parental consent and/or accord, to indulge in prostitution all as means of assuaging the natural human need for economic survival, self-preservation and empowerment, social relevance and belonging.
Current trends across Africa indicate a deepening and intensification of the cycle of poverty and economic malaise kick-started in the 1970s. Furthermore, increasing marginalization of large sections (principally youth) of the population from the mainstream socio-economic and political sphere have created a sense of social dislocation, and in some cases, strong disaffection, amongst youth. Put together, these elements culminate in economic pressures and social tensions which often conflagrate into full-blown conflicts. The threats of Africa’s youth bulge on the one hand; and opportunities and potentials that this bulge represents on the other, have left sections of the continent’s now vulnerable societies and governments uncertain as to how to respond. While there abound opportunities and potentials amidst this bulge, the threats to this bulge presently pitch Africa’s youth in a precariously vulnerable position, considering issues that concern political marginalization, employment, urbanization and rural-urban migration, food, HIV/AIDS and education. Over years of susceptibility, youth perceptions of human security are bordered around these aforementioned issues. In the advent of legislation, inadequate action beckons and where action sets in, there is inadequate legislation. When action and legislation lack a truce and is not in this case induced, to a large extent by uncertainty, spawns indecision.
One of the enduring failures of the post-independence nation building project across Africa has been the shrinking of the public space, limited opportunities for civic engagement and the increased marginalization of a majority of Africa’s vulnerable populations, particularly youth, from participating effectively in governance and political processes. This is ironic considering the euphoria of the collective fight against colonization and the subsequent victory of independence, which led to the ascendance of a majority of Africa’s post-independence ruling elites to the heights of political leadership in their youthful years. The irony itself lies in the reality that though it was the youth who spearheaded and fought for decolonization and against repression in several African countries, some of these same youth leaders – who became political leaders of their countries and societies – were often the same ones who suppressed and excluded youth from mainstream participation in the political arena. Clear examples are stories of the late Dr. Hasting Kamuzu Banda, the erstwhile dictator of Malawi; Paul Biya, ‘Life’ President of Cameroun; and Mr. Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe.
As such, the era of post colonial governance in Africa increasingly witnesses the systematic exclusion and marginalization of youth from decision-making and political processes at national and local levels across parts of Africa. A vivid example, is a study carried out by The Conflict, Security and Development Group (CSDG) in Nigeria which identified that, “the minimum age for becoming a lawmaker at the state level and the Lower Chamber (House of Representatives) at the national level has been raised from 21 and 25 in 1979 and 1989, to 30 years in 2005, while that of a Senator (Upper Chamber at National Law-making Chamber) has been raised from 25 to 35 years. Unsurprisingly, there is no single member of the Senate who is under 35 years of age, and the average structure of Senators (2003-2007) shows that people aged 45-55 years form the core with 44% of the 109-member Chamber, followed by those between 36 and 40 years (17.2)%. Similarly, in the National House of Representatives, of the total 360 members, only five are under 35 years of age (all male), and people aged 41 to 51 years form the core (59%), followed by those under 40 years of age – 23% (but mostly within age 35-40 years) and those aged 52 years and above (15%). The average age in the House of Representatives is 45 years. The current state of affairs reflects deterioration in youth participation over time given that in 1993, 52.4% of members were between age 30 and 40 years, and this dropped to 46% in 1999 and 23% in 2005.”
The implications of the continued exclusion of youth from decision-making processes, both social and political portends ominous consequences as has been starkly displayed in countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola, Nigeria’s Niger Delta region, et cetera. The challenge is to prevent fragmentation, marginalization and polarization. Individuals in our societies are being traumatized and fragmented in different ways, and large groups are being excluded from the benefits of production. This situation characterizes many parts of Africa. The response to this problem, the response to this fragmentation problem is psycho-cultural; the response to this marginalization problem is socio-economic; and the response to this polarization problem is socio-political. The aim is to generate co-existence at minimum so that all of the different communities in the societies and nations in which you are part can join together optimally to produce higher levels of social cohesion. The requirement of social cohesion, on which societies and human security depend, is nonetheless being constantly undermined by the uncontrolled and uncontrollable pursuits of States.
The marginalization of youth however, transcends the political scene and extends to other major facets of decision-making and participation in mainstream society across Africa. For example, there are very few cases in which the youth ministry and the youth budget have been administered by youth themselves. This neglect has also been translated in to a recurring cycle of unemployment, unemployability and underemployment. The United Nations’ 2005 World Youth Report notes that 60.7 million and 102.1 million youth in Africa live under $1 and $2 respectively, with over 40 million under-nourished young people aged 15 to 24 years. These figures are further exacerbated by high-levels of youth unemployment, with access to education still a problem for many young people. Higher educational attainments do not guarantee a path in finding employment and where shrinking employment is rampart; job security often overrules job satisfaction as a motivator for young employees. This is made even worse by the problems of urbanization and rural-urban migration.
Across Africa, it has been observed that dysfunctional urbanization has generated three troubling consequences: first, the intensification of social frictions and strains among members of similar and different ethnic groups in the competition for political influence and limited socio-economic opportunities and resources. This often translates in to inter-group conflict, often entered around age-old ethnic and religious divides. Nigeria offers a good example with over 100 cases of inter-group clashes occurring between 1999 and 2005, mostly in cities such as Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Bauchi, Jos and Warri among others. The second consequence relates to the upsurge in crime, especially juvenile delinquency, in major cities largely due to the influx of unskilled youth migrants from rural areas. The intense competition for limited economic opportunities and the limited skills to gain urban employment mean that youth migrants are more likely to engage or join underground criminal networks that abound in urban areas for their survival. Apart from getting involved in perennial turf wars between rival gangs, youth migrants especially those aged 16 to 29 years are likely to take to petty thieving, substance abuse or rape. For young girls, there is more intensive exploitation of their labour, their sexuality and their socio-economic vulnerability. They are often forcibly involved, or have no option but to resort to prostitution which increases their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS for example.
For the young girls in conflict zones, they are often abducted, sexually abused and forced to become ‘wives’ of rebels, often becoming impregnated and subsequently discarded by the rebels, reducing their opportunities for social re-integration and economic viability after the cessation of hostilities and leaving many with both mental and physical scars and long term health problems due to severe sexual abuse, rape and gang rape. A third consequence is the multiplier effect of diseases and infections arising from over-crowding and congestion, poor sanitary conditions and limited access to health care. With an alarming share of 60% of the world’s people living with HIV/AIDS, a huge number dying of tuberculosis and at least 200,000 children dying of malaria every 5 minutes, health remains a big issue in Africa. Infact, by 2006, a reported 1.7 million people were dying of AIDS annually, and more than 9 million children had lost one or both parents to AIDS in Africa. Although immense intervention have curbed and reduced prevalence in such places as Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Uganda, Swaziland and Lesotho still record some of the highest prevalence rates in the world while zones like Darfur, Somalia and the Eastern region of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo, remain high risk prevalence areas with sexual abuse and rape rampantly used as weapons of war. Thus, the 4.6% and 1.7 % infection rates of female and male youth populations respectively could go up.
While it must be noted that the spread of HIV/AIDS appears to be slowing down in Africa thanks to increasing involvement of governments and civil society groups in awareness and enlightenment campaigns, the HIV/AIDS scourge still presents serious immediate and long-term consequences for Africa’s youth. The first relates to the sheer loss of human capital, especially among the youth population who have been identified as the “most-at-risk” group, given their vulnerability as well as their tendency to engage in risky sexual behaviour, in comparison to adults. The impact of losing over 2 million people to HIV/AIDS scourge annually can have long-term consequences for the supply and quality of skilled youth in the private, public and civic sectors. The second impact is the associated problem of over 15 million HIV/AIDS orphans scattered across Africa. Several youth have to now take on additional burden of becoming heads of households, catering for their siblings in an already pressured and austere economic environment. The third relates to the acute lack of capacity to adequately address the HIV pandemic, highlighted by the inability to provide adequate antiretroviral drugs for most youth in affected regions. The final aspect is that HIV/AIDS is fast decimating Africa’s youth which make up its core labour force, its economic engine and its future.
Fast reactional measures become paramount to reducing the effects of HIV/AIDS in Africa. Education has proven to be a key medium for prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS. Its effects on maternal and child health have been rewarding – education is correlated with improved reproductive health, reduced infant mortality and improved child nutrition. Education increases creativity, and makes it easier for job-seekers to find gainful employment, and most especially, help people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA), live ‘responsibly’ positive, and enlighten societies on the dangers of stigmatization; warn young people on the dangers around having unprotected sex; and discourage medical personnel on the transfusion of unscreened blood. This is perhaps the reason why the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) number two, is to achieve universal basic education with its third indicator as “literacy rate of 15-24 year-olds”. Education can be useful in resolving conflicts, and building peace. It encourages debate and dissent, and may discourage the resort to violence or crime.
Education is the process of enlarging people’s choices to live longer and healthier lives, to have access to knowledge, to have access to income and assets, and enjoy a decent standard of living. Basic literacy and numeracy can make a significant difference, as they provide a certain amount of independence from the readings and calculations of others. Education enables people to make informed decisions. Education builds and strengthens democracy – it arouses interest and increases participation through better understanding of issues. Also, people are better able to articulate and protect their rights when they are educated, and knowledge builds confidence to affirm one's rights. Education enlightens individuals and communities so they can aim to achieve goals and seek changes when necessary.
Youth literacy rates have generally improved in recent decades, increasing from 66.8% in 1990 to 76.8% in 2002. But this is still not good. Several factors account for the relatively low educational attainment in Africa. Education and schooling is still tied to socio-economic circumstances, and the progress in education remains affected by poverty. Education is under-funded – educational infrastructure, equipment and books, not to mention computers, are either limited in supply or simply unavailable. Moreover, there are also critical challenges associated with aligning school curricular to the peculiar needs and future development aspirations of particular African countries, as well as the need to match the rapid expansion in the number of literate young people with corresponding economic growth rates capable of absorbing the new, future outputs.
Education can help cut the high rate of unemployment, education can solve the problems of unemployability, and education can make underemployment a thing of the past. If youth get adequate education and literacy rates improve, the number of empowered minds armed with creative ideas which can be divested in to the various peculiar needs and development aspirations of their various countries increase, and the youth would no longer wait for their governments to create jobs. Indeed, skilled and competent youth will fill vacancies in the public service, but more would be empowered like Mo Ibrahim, to become entrepreneurs, owners of their own businesses, and employers of labour. On the long run, the problems of marginalization, the problems of fragmentation, and the problems of polarization will begin to die out to usher in an atmosphere of sustained socio-economic, political and cultural development.
Advancing human security requires a broader range of analysis than achieving the MDGs does, but the subject of human security has not yet been as fully articulated in terms of goals, targets and measurable indicators. The burgeoning body of work on the MDGs can therefore be helpful to future efforts to clarify and measure steps towards greater human security. We may need the MDGs as a timeline to hold our governments accountable. But we also need to ask ourselves as well, and hold ourselves accountable. The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) initiated by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) is being freely accepted by African governments even as it forms a key part of long-term conditions for sustainable peace and security. By ensuring good and democratic governance and respect for private enterprise, nations will be enabling poor people to access up-to-the-minute information, money and business expertise, as well as creating new commercial and employment opportunities. By opening up Africa to big companies in a Business Call To Action motive, initiatives from these and other companies will save almost half a million lives, create thousands of jobs, and benefit millions of people across Africa.
In the race to achieve the MDGs, one of the greatest untapped resources is the private sector. Businesses are beyond traditional business practices to also focus on the needs of those locked out of the global market and also show concern for the vulnerabilities of the African Youth in the ever evolving platform of global business; it will be much easier to make your next million dollars in Africa than in the United States or Britain. Growth and prosperity is the objective, not aid – the purpose of aid is to no longer require it. However, we must acknowledge the African youth as innovative, resilient, hard working and persevering; exhibiting high-levels of ingenuity and coping mechanisms in very volatile and insecure environments where lack of human security thwarts goals and aspirations.