Africa is the youngest continent in the world, with more than two-thirds of its population under 30 years old. The African ruling class peaks at 63 years of average age. A real paradox.
Paul Biya, 89 years old. Yoweri Museveni, 77 years old. Or Alassane Ouattara, 80 years old. The average age of African presidents is well over 60. A statistic that probably explains the disinterest of African youth in politics?
In any case, for the South African blogger and activist William Shoki, in Africa, the involvement of young people in politics continues to decline despite some encouraging signs. He believes that the status of young people in public affairs does not exceed that of an electoral "fetish". “Making youth a political subject, rather than a demographic group, is the wrong way to do politics,” says Shoki.
And, indeed, young people are under-represented in the upper echelons of African states. Yet they have been at the origin of the greatest political and even geopolitical upheavals. Between 1965 and 1971, student movements in Morocco, Mali, Senegal, Algeria, Ghana, Madagascar and Togo caused profound changes in the African political establishment.
It was also during this period that the African leaders of independence, even the most popular, were forced to include younger ministers in their governments. This militant student movement certainly had European origins – France, Austria, the United Kingdom – but this above all underlines the very different vision of young people vis-à-vis geopolitics.
The African oil and mining windfall in the 1980s and 1990s reduced the role of young people in Africa. The youth movements, which were mostly socialist or communist, also suffered the defeat of the Eastern bloc and the end of the cold war as ideological routs.
It was in the same period that the current African ruling class was established. Since then, while African states have been led by some of the world's youngest leaders, others have also had the oldest at their head.
Why is Africa, where nearly 60% of the population is under 25 years old, mainly ruled by “old presidents”? pic.twitter.com/YTEZFTIigk
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Are youth in Africa poorly represented in politics?
The United Nations regularly welcomes the “new wind blowing over Africa”. “More and more young people are winning elections. Presidents, ministers or governors, senators or deputies, they want to be represented at the political table,” reads a report by the United Nations Information Center (UNIC).
The gap between the continental average age (19 years) and that of African leaders (63 years) is enormous. Moreover, in 2022, it is enough to note the treatment reserved for the youngest leaders on the international scene. The youngest of them is Malian President Assimi Goïta (39). But its relations are stormy with regional institutions.
Another young person in power: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (45). Since the beginning of the Tigray war at the end of 2020, between 300 and 000 civilians have died. When we talk about the governance of Ahmed, we no longer speak of his Nobel Prize, or of the "Ethiopian economic miracle", but of the humanitarian crisis, famine and war crimes that the country is still experiencing.
Behind Abiy Ahmed, we find the Malagasy President Andry Rajoelina (48 years old). After a relatively quiet term between 2009 and 2014, his second term, since 2019, has been marked by a major international boycott. Nothing institutional, but in fact, Rajoelina's sovereignist ideals are poorly perceived by the West and, unsurprisingly, by the African Union (AU).
Military leaders, youth and reformers, but…
It's not much better for the West African military trio. Assimi Goïta from Mali (39), Mamadi Doumbouya from Guinea (42) and Paul-Henri Damiba (41) have been in the spotlight since their coups in their respective countries.
The three transitional presidents launched numerous reforms in their countries. Constitution projects, environmental initiatives, new military agreements or even overhaul of the education curriculum… Certainly more attentive to their populations.
And yet, we don't hear about it. All three countries are under such great economic and financial pressure that everything else fades into the background. But, precisely, the Malian, Guinean and Burkinabe transitions do not make the headlines in the international media, at least not for the right reasons. And therefore do not attract foreign investment, while the other leaders, African and foreign, do not hide their wish to drive the three soldiers out of power.
In the case of Mali, it is the third African country since independence to suffer an AU embargo – after South Africa in the 1980s and Liberia in 2005.
But it is also because of a generalized political resignation that African youth no longer see politics as a credible vector for taking power.
What are the expectations of young people?
Indeed, according to the African Youth Survey 2022, published on June 13, the optimism of the youth polled in 15 African countries has declined by 11%. Admittedly, this annual survey by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation is, as is often the case, thoroughly subjective. But with 5 young people surveyed, with rather effective questions, there are no other credible references.
What is obvious is that these thousands of young people seem more far-sighted than their leaders. “The appetite for African-style democracy, rather than imitating Western systems, is strong. Above all, African youth see the equality of all citizens before the law, freedom of expression and free and fair elections as the most important pillars of democracy”. This is one of the four points that dominate the opinions expressed by African youth.
But beyond that, these young Africans, ranging in age from 18 to 24, 40% of whom are university students and half of whom are women, agree on the importance of entrepreneurship. We are therefore far from absolute confidence in the social economy, or in the role of the State in economic development.
Other points of convergence: the importance of security, the protection of the environment and the involvement of young people in the diplomacy of their countries. A large proportion of those interviewed believe that relations with the former colonial powers are based on neocolonial relations. They also say they have more confidence in their presidents than in foreign heads of state. As for security and ecology, as well as digital transformation, these three sectors represent solutions for the modernization of the African economy in the long term according to them.
Subjects little discussed by the oldest presidents
However, there are indicators that are more divisive. For example, the confidence granted to the policy of the State and continental authorities. Young Ghanaians, Mozambicans, Rwandans and Ugandans are among the most optimistic. While in Nigeria, Zambia, Malawi and Sudan, the young people questioned are rather neutral or pessimistic.
The African Youth Survey 2022 also highlights immediate priority development areas for young people. Creating jobs, reducing corruption in government and modernizing education totaled 67% of the votes of respondents. The most amazing thing is that at the bottom of the list, we find universal access to the internet and the increase in foreign and international aid!
72% of young Africans are also concerned about climate change. A particularly inspiring indicator, when most Western media claim that “Generation Z and millennials” are “particularly nihilistic about climate change”.
With regard to the daily life of young Africans, many complain above all of the fall in purchasing power. Also, 35% claim to spend more than a quarter of their money… on drinking water.