The debate was coordinated by Emmanuelle Bastide, journalist at RFI. The speakers were Yaovi Abla, President of the Highlands Region Farmers’ Union (UARP), Togo; Aminata Diallo Thior, MP at the National Assembly and President of the network of parliamentarians for the protection of children against violence and abuse, Senegal; Ismahène Lekhlifi, Secretary General of the association Bel Horizon d’Oran, Algeria; Mamadou Touré, Technical Adviser for youth and sport to President Ouattara, Côte d’Ivoire; and Valérie Huguenin, Deputy Director of the NGO Partnerships Division at Agence Française de Développement.
It was introduced by Annick Girardin, Secretary of State for Development and Francophonie, and Anne Paugam, Chief Executive Officer of Agence Française de Développement.
In African countries, which are marked by strong population growth, policies targeting youth pose a major challenge. Rural exodus and the mismatch between training provision and economic needs drive a large number of young people into informal employment. Since the beginning of 2010, in the wake of the Arab Spring, young people have been expressing their discontent by challenging those in power, like the “Y en a marre” (We’ve had enough) movement in Senegal. Politicians and international donors need to identify the right drivers in order to give a future to this youth, which is increasingly mobilized in the public arena.
Youth in Africa: What diagnostic?
The extremely large proportion of children and young people in the population is one of the fundamental features of African demography: in Sub-Saharan Africa “half of the population is under 18” (Anne Paugam). In Côte d’Ivoire “young people [16-35 years old] account for roughly 36% of Ivorians » (Mamadou Touré). It is important not to draw up a uniform picture of this age group: “There is not one, but several types of African youth. Young executives, students, artisans or farmers do not have the same needs or aspirations” (Mamadou Touré). However, in Côte d’Ivoire, as in most Sub-Saharan African countries, the vast majority of young people live in rural areas as workers in the agriculture sector. This situation is endured, which fuels the exodus towards large cities: “Today, young people are losing interest in the agriculture sector because of the difficulties that are inherent to this sector” (Yaovi Abla). This factor, but also the mismatch between vocational training and the labor market, explain why it is difficult for young Africans to access employment: they suffer less from unemployment than from underemployment, and fuel an informal sector where incomes are low. Health is also a major challenge: HIV/AIDS infection “continues to be the second cause of mortality among young people aged between 10 and 19” (Annick Girardin). Young people are victims of various forms of violence: violence against women – “the prevalence rate for excision reaches 26% in Senegal; 68% of marriages in Casamance are early marriages” (Aminata Diallo Thior) – as much as the violence caused by conflicts, such as the civil war in Côte d’Ivoire: “Many young people found themselves enlisted in the militias” and it is now necessary to reintegrate them (Mamadou Touré). In addition to these different characteristics, there is a disillusionment that is typical of young generations: “Today, 50% of young people do not believe either in civil society or in change” (Ismahène Lekhlifi). Most of the time, the political elites ignore the demands of this population, but can exploit its discontent when the need arises: “Young people are used as tools by politicians, and this is at their expense – the fact that they have destroyed or pillaged is an argument to deny them any form of responsibility” (Mamadou Touré).
Social movements seeking political opportunities
However, young people are increasingly making their views heard. The “Y en a marre” protest movement, which began in Senegal in 2011, is an example of this: “for lack of being listened to by the Government, the street and tyres on fire have become the field and means of expression” (Aminata Diallo Thior). In Algeria, “young people are increasingly speaking out via the action of associations” (Ismahène Lekhlifi). Social networks serve as a sounding board: “[Their development] has opened up new fields of expression” (Valérie Huguenin). For these dynamics to feed into public reflection in a constructive manner, “young people must have their voice in the groups which prepare the policies targeting them” (Annick Girardin). They also know how to make full use of the mainsprings in order to be heard: “they know what a politician wants and adapt their approach accordingly. There is a manipulation game on both sides” (Mamadou Touré). The best approach therefore involves formalizing exchanges between public authorities and young people by recognizing that the latter have the status of a legitimate intermediary: for example, the African Union recommends establishing National Youth Councils. This type of entity should soon be set up in Côte d’Ivoire. In Morocco, the Morocco Concerted Program, coordinated by the association Solidarité Laïque and 140 French and Moroccan associations, aimed to “promote the exercise of citizenship nationwide in Morocco” (Valérie Huguenin). Young people have taken hold of the project: “they have demanded to be stakeholders in the governance of the program in order to become actors in the development of their country” (Valérie Huguenin). This shows that these programs correspond to very real expectations.
Drivers to be implemented
Policies targeting youth must combine two approaches: they must be “multisectoral”, like the actions conducted by AFD for Africa’s youth (Anne Paugam). Certain actions directly target youth – improvement in training, vocational integration, education in sexual and reproductive health… Others aim to work in depth on the economic base so that young people find their place in development processes. This requires overall reflection on the economic and demographic structure of the countries in question: in order to curb population flows, it is necessary to stem the rural exodus. There is a need to reassert the value of the agriculture sector: “parents do not encourage their children to turn towards agriculture” (Yaovi Abla). Yet Yaovi Abla’s background shows that it is possible to make a livelihood from farming today: her company is profitable, because “[she] had the opportunity to receive training”. This professionalization of farmers, the gradual mechanization, the ability to form cooperatives, and Government support via the Project to Support Agricultural Development in Togo (PADAT), which promotes the setting-up of young people: these are all solutions likely to stem the current dynamics: “the fact that agriculture […] opens the way for a possible profitability stimulates the interest of young people” (Yaovi Abla). Another possible avenue may lie in industrialization policies that could absorb the young labor force, in Côte d’Ivoire in particular. The other driver that needs to be activated is to facilitate access to the labor market for young people. Côte d’Ivoire observed that there was a mismatch between its training system and employers’ expectations and launched a reform of higher education, but also of technical and vocational training. “The long-term objective is to take charge of all these young people and reduce school failure” (Mamadou Touré). It is also important to encourage the initiatives of young people by putting them in contact with donors. Finally, the promotion of North-South mobility is an important objective: North-South exchanges make it possible to know what is going on elsewhere, enrich the expertise of young people, and also to combat prejudices.