Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Africa's Generation Gap

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Africa's Generation Gap

Article excerpt

ONE of the salient characteristics of African society, as of the vast majority of Third World societies, is its rate of demographic growth. According to some estimates, the population of Africa may double between now and the end of the century. As a result of this demographic trend this population is very young.

The predominance of young people both in the rural areas and in the popular districts of the big cities raises the problem of their integration into society. Young people cannot be successfully integrated into society unless the institutions concerning them are also well integrated, or unless they participate in a society which functions successfully as a whole. This is not the case in Africa, where society is facing a general crisis, especially in its relations with young people.

Most of the migrants who pour into the towns and cities from the countryside are, as in most Third World countries, young people seeking jobs in mines, on plantations and elsewhere.

In the countries of the Sahel, this phenomenon began in the colonial period when these countries were integrated into the international economic system; it has become more widespread because of drought and other climatic factors. In the past migrations were temporary; today migrants are everywhere tending to settle down permanently. In addition, many young people are migrating to the industrialized countries of the West. The result is that the rural areas are becoming depopulated; those who live there tend increasingly to be adult women, children and the elderly.

Young people seem to feel condemned to an inevitable fate which, when analysed, appears to be the result of a number of factors, the most important of which are economic, social and cultural.

Among the economic causes is the system of land-ownership which, in spite of the conditions specific to Africa, make for social inequality, the irregularity of farm yields as a result of climatic conditions and technological backwardness, and the regrouping of industries in urban centres.

The social causes are due to a variety of factors: the inequality of individual incomes between rural and urban areas; the centralization of essential social and (especially) political activities; the limited extent to which young people participate in the organization and execution of local activities; the weight of administrative and supervisory structures in the rural areas; and the inadequacy of infrastructures: roads, electricity, water, transport, hospitals, schools, leisure and information facilities--all that can make village life self-sufficient and counteract the attraction of city life.

A cultural factor worth noting is the burden of community-based customs and traditional values which impose constraints on the individual and imply constant reference to the group. Migration to the towns is sometimes felt to be a liberation, even though it is prompted by material conditions.

Young people who have been through the educational system are particularly sensitive to this. They form a large proportion of the migrant masses since it is more difficult for them than the rest to make a place for themselves in rural society; their education turns them into misfits in their own environment.

For African schools are usually incapable of integrating young people into society. In view of the widely admitted fact that the modern school system inherited from colonialization has failed, reforms have been widely attempted. However, it must be admitted that the problems remain.

One of these problems is the small number of children in school. In spite of big efforts and often-repeated declarations of principle, many children are still excluded from any form of schooling. In some cases, the percentage of children in school is even falling. Illiteracy is high both among young people and adults, in spite of the organization of literacy campaigns in national languages. …

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