Vanguard or Vandals: Youth, Politics, and Conflict in Africa

By Jon Abbink; Ineke Van Kessel | Go to book overview

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Being young in Africa:
The politics of despair and renewal

Jon Abbink


The ‘problem of youth’ in Africa

In his most recent book on Africa, Négrologie, the French author Stephen Smith makes a sober assessment of Africa’s problems: ‘il faut cesser de travestir les réalités de l’Afrique en mêlant ce qui serait souhaitable à ce qui existe …. le présent n’a pas d’avenir sur le continent’ (2003: Avant Propos). Even if we are less Afro-pessimist than Smith, see more diversity and variety than he does and look for positive aspects, this remark could very well apply to the overall situation of young people in Africa. They are facing tremendous odds and do not seem to have the future in their own hands. While there has been progress in some respects – for example, in education, migration and job opportunities in the urban arena – the exponential population increase and the fierce competition for resources within the contexts of malfunctioning or failing states have led to a relative decline in the well-being and social advancement of young people in Africa. They are growing up in conditions of mass unemployment and are facing exclusion, health problems,1 crisis within the family due to poverty and the AIDS pandemic, and a lack of education and skills. They also are marginalized in national state policies and have a weak legal position. African youths are over-represented in armed rebel or insurgent movements of various kinds as well as in criminal activities, to which they are so easily recruited. There is no prospect that this situation will change for the better in the near future.

1 This starts early. According to Black, Morris & Bryce (2003: 2226), there was a child mortality rate in 2000 of 176 per 1000 live births in Sub-Saharan Africa (as against 6 per 1000 in developed industrialized countries).

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