This lecture examines the broad challenges facing young Africans today, particularly those relating to their socioeconomic position, citizenship, and political activism. It was first presented at the Fifth European Conference on African Studies, Lisbon, 28 June 2013.
Youth in Africa face unemployment and restricted opportunities, driving many of them to challenge the status quo and contest socioeconomic policies and governance strategies that exacerbate poverty, heighten social inequalities, and deny them basic freedoms. Young people have emerged as active social agents in the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, in the ‘Y’en a Marre’ movement in Senegal, and in the food riots in Mozambique, counteracting the notion that youth are apathetic.
Taking the perspective of the youth involved in these movements, the lecturer examines their sense of being ‘trapped’ in a prolonged state of youth, and their view that global and national political structures create serious obstacles to real change and new politics. The analysis is based on in-depth interviews with young people in Mozambique, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia, between 2008 and 2012.
- Young Africans are living in waithood, a prolonged period of suspension between childhood and adulthood. Youth transitions to adulthood have become so uncertain that a growing number of young men and women must improvise livelihoods and conduct their personal relations outside of dominant economic and familial frameworks.
- The recent protest movements, led mainly by young people, stem directly from the economic and social pressures they suffer, and from their pervasive political marginalisation. The young are moving from dispersed and unstructured social and political acts into more organized street protests.
- While these social movements have been able to overthrow regimes, systemic transformation takes time and requires more than a mere change in leadership. Major challenges arise in the process of transition as a new political order is being established. Young activists appear to be struggling to translate the political grievances of the protest movement into a broader political agenda. Clearly, they seem to be more united in defining what they don’t want and fighting it, and much less so in articulating what they collectively want. The key questions then become: how to play an active role in politics and governance, beyond street protests, and how to create space for a new kind of politics?