Youth Participation in the Post-2015 Development Agenda

This article was presented by Johanssen Obanda during the Pan-African Youth Summit (PAYS) 2018 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Youth in Africa form a larger part of the population. According to the US Census Bureau (International Database), in 2010, 63% of Africa’s overall population was below the age of 25. Unfortunately, there is an evidently slow and deteriorating progress in youth development and in youth participation in the post-15 development agenda.

It is important to note that the efforts toward fostering Positive Youth Development may arise from socio-economic, institutional and cultural barriers. However, if Positive Youth Development programs are designed in culturally appropriate manners, they can empower local/indigenous youths and become a significant positive influence on their growth and development.

In order to effectively engage Youths in African Countries in the post 15-development agenda, Positive Youth Development has to be effectively and sufficiently implemented in a culturally appropriate manner and made accessible to all indigenous and migrant youth populations in each African country and across the African continent by 2030 through a combined effort of governmental and non-governmental incentives.

The Big Questions

  • What is the place of young people in countries where more than 50% of the country‟s wealth is controlled by just about 0.25% of the population?
  • How can the youth be involved in the development agenda in economies that suppress their efforts by lack of proper housing and settlement, poor and unaffordable health services, uncertain job security, difficult access to business capital, poor and nonintegrated educational services that results to skills mismatch, poor economic skills, lack of access to clean water and sanitation, a digital divide, financial crisis due to inflation making it difficult to survive?
  • What is the plight of young people in economies that are steadily rising yet unemployment rate remains constant or become higher? 
  • What is left for young people in countries where corruption carries the day and unethical behavior goes unpunished?
  • What are the place and the identity of young people in a highly globalized society? 
  • How can young people be effective in environments that do not embrace Positive Youth Development?

Challenges and Opportunites for Youth Participation

More than 73 million youth are registered unemployed globally. Considering how many are not registered, this number is actually much higher. 620 million are currently not in employment, education or training (NEET) according to the World Bank. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 3 in 5 of the total unemployed are youth (International Labor Organization ILO 2006) and on average 72% of the youth population live with less than $2 a day.

Moreover, most African countries are associated with unequal distribution of resources, poor governance, high rate of corruption, and nepotism, making it difficult for youths who are equally advantaged (i.e. academically fit and having required skills for a certain career opportunity) to get equal chances; making them look for other means for survival – most settle for vulnerable employment in the informal sector and some end up in criminal activity.

Youths in many African countries add up to the statistics of crime, early pregnancy, school drop-outs, HIV transmission, accidents and many more disheartening statistics. This could give a general outlook of a neglected population, or else, a population that is beyond control.

A World Bank survey in 2011 showed that about 40% of those who join rebel movements say they are motivated by a lack of jobs. Alexander Chikwanda, Zambia‟s finance minister, puts it succinctly: “Youth unemployment is a ticking time bomb,” which now appears to be perilously close to exploding. Mr. Chikwanda‟s analogy draws attention to the consequences of high youth unemployment in a continent where about 10 million to 12 million young people join the labor market each year. “As events in North Africa [the Arab Spring] have shown, lack of employment opportunities … can undermine social cohesion and political stability,” warns the AfDB (African Development Bank). Ahmad Salkida, a Nigerian journalist who has had rare access to the militant group Boko Haram, told Africa Renewal that although the sect is mainly driven by ideology, pervasive unemployment in northern Nigeria makes for easy recruitment of jobless young people.

Fortunately, many intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, community organizations and the individual governments are taking a leap forward to intervene in the “youth crises” through programs and projects that aim to help young people to live better – especially through mitigating urban-migration, providing entrepreneurial support, providing better social services and enabling young people to explore and exploit their energies, talents and skills through intensive programs like volunteer corps, technical and vocational education and training and national youth service,
for instance. 

In this light, there is a need for rekindling Africa-specific strategies toward Positive Youth Development. For young people to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals and to the success of their countries there has to be an enabling environment to allow them to build and nurture their confidence, character, competence, connection and caring selves. The term “environment” should be interpreted broadly and includes: social (e.g., relationships with peers and adults), normative (e.g., attitudes, norms and beliefs), structural (e.g., laws, policies, programs services, and systems) and physical (e.g., safe, supportive spaces).

If Positive Youth Development Programs in Africa do not harmonize the cultural divide, the efforts may as well be in vain. Young people are most directly affected by globalization and therefore central to current debates on identity. They are experiencing globalization on an
everyday basis through employment patterns, the friendship groups they develop, their usage of the internet (particularly for social networking) and wider cultural influences on their lifestyles (Kenway & Bullen, 2008; Edwards & Usher, 2008; Burbules & Torres, 2000).

Countries in Africa face different challenges in this age and time for instance war in Somalia and South Sudan, Islamic radicalization in non-Islamic states like Kenya, immigration like Libya, slavery like Democratic Republic of Congo, adverse climatic conditions like part of Somalia and North Eastern Kenya, terror like Nigeria. Subsequently, these factors cause super-diversity, multiple-diversities and trans-nationalism. Making it practically sophisticated to establish effective programs that are youth centered in such environments. In addition, engaging the young people in decision making and in economic development and socio-cultural stability becomes critical if their identities and the risks associated with these shifts towards a lack of stability in their environment are not taken care of.

Policy-makers and practitioners ought to give greater consideration to the relationship of globalization to identity and a sense of belonging, and the implications this relationship has for national policies and programmes. Moreover, to enable young people to make sense of the complex nature of the world around them, they need the opportunities to learn, engage and make sense of how the global changes impacts upon them. To respond to the influence of globalization on young people‟s lives, there is a need to ensure that this understanding of the wider world is linked to initiatives that enable them to engage locally. The indigenous African Youths have a deep sense of cultural identity across the continent, and with time, there is need to work collaboratively in diverse environments drawn from across race, class, gender and generation.

In conclusion, Africa is the continent with the most resource thanks to our Maker. We ought to work interdependently with developed countries, but on most instances, we depend on them almost entirely, ignoring the power of young people of Africa. The youth of our continent Africa are undisputable resources, if they will not be engaged strategically and meaningfully, the will eventually be a life-threatening people group, and be a major impediment to the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals SDGs.


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U.S. Census Bureau (International Data Base); available at (2009)

“Youth and Employment in Africa – The Potential, the Problem, the Promise” (2007)

“Keys to Quality Youth Development”. University of Minnesota Extension. Retrieved 16 October 2014.