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Involving Africa’s young people in building a better future

Understanding the opinions, concerns and aspirations of young people will be vital for future partnerships between the EU and Africa
Understanding the opinions, concerns and aspirations of young people will be vital for future partnerships between the EU and Africa
Sep 28 2020

Africa was recently described by Commissioner Urpilainen as 'a continent of youth brimming with confidence, full of potential'. It has the youngest population structure and the fastest growing youth population of all continents.

Understanding the opinions, concerns and aspirations of those young people will be vital for future partnerships between the EU and Africa. And a new JRC report analysing data from the Afrobarometer public opinion survey suggests that Africa’s young people could pave the way towards a more sustainable and equal future.

The report finds that young people aged between 18 and 35 are more familiar with the term 'climate change' than older people. Over two-thirds of the young people who have heard of climate change think that it should be stopped, and half of them feel that ordinary Africans can play a part in stopping it.

A vast majority of young people in Africa agree that women and men enjoy equal opportunities in education and employment and should have an equal chance of being elected to political office.

They also recognise the progress made by their government in this field, though there is still a way to go to make a significant impression on the unequal practices. Over half of 18 to 35 year olds think that ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption too.

Young people feel they can make a difference, but how?

The report also show however that, in general, young Africans engage relatively little with formal political institutions. Levels of voting and the tendency to contact the government for action or help are both lower than for older people. Only 58 % of young people on the continent claim to have voted at the last election, in contrast with those over 35 years of age (79 %).

In fact, the report finds that political institutions are generally viewed poorly by African youth. Their opinions are characterised by a low level of trust and a perception of widespread corruption.

But Africa’s young people may express their views through other channels. They more frequently engage in protest movements than older citizens and tend to trust social institutions such as religious leaders more than their political representatives.

Generational, territorial and educational divides

The report also highlights the importance of a nuanced understanding of different groups across the continent. Significant differences in the views and experiences of young and old, rural and urban residents, and those with lower or higher levels of education, reflect potential social divides.

In particular, young people in rural contexts are less informed about climate change and less connected to digital media and the internet than young people in towns and cities. At the same time, young people in urban contexts are less trusting of political and social institutions and less likely to take part in formal political processes than their rural counterparts.

Youth, a cross-cutting priority for the EU

The report follows a previous study examining the perspectives of young people in Africa, which identified economic concerns, and particularly unemployment, as their primary concern.

In 2017, the African Union-European Union summit in Abidjan was devoted to the topic of “Investing in Youth”. During the summit, the EU external investment plan was unveiled, aiming to trigger €44 billion investments in Africa by 2020.

The EU’s Comprehensive Strategy for Africa, which was presented following Ursula von der Leyen’s trip to Ethiopia, her first official visit during her tenure as Commission President, views African youth as a driver of change in the continent’s political, economic and social outlook.