African Youth Worst Hit by Austerity Programs

More than half of Sub-Saharan Africans (SSA) is under age 25 and nearly half are under age 14. The youngest region, Africa has over 200 million people ages 15 to 24, expected to double by 2045.[i] Many of them are in “waithood” not able to find a job or working part-time in the informal economy. Some of young people rebelled against government policies in street protests as in Sudan, Angola, Burkina Faso, Malawi, Nigeria, Mozambique, Senegal, South Africa, and Tunisia, but, like other young protesters against corruption and inequality, activists lack a plan for replacing the current neoliberal system as politics revert to the familiar. This is the observation of a Mozambican scholar Alcinda Honwana based on her interviews with young people in four African countries.[ii] After studying African youth and unlike many researchers, actually talking with many of them, Honwana concluded that neoliberal austerity policies have hurt them more than any other continent so that a majority of youth are stuck in waithood.[iii] On the other hand, child soldiers, laborers, and caregivers to younger siblings are forced into adult roles. Yet electronic communication makes young people aspire to live a “modern” lifestyle. Without good education and jobs, young people can’t afford to live on their own and get married, leading to disapproval from older adults.

Honwana blames widespread waithood, or what West African countries refer to as a youthman, and the resulting lack of dignity that comes from supporting oneself, on bad governments and failed neoliberal policies. She faulted African nations for not offering “reliable pathways to adulthood” in a time although waithood is a global phenomenon in what she calls the global crisis of the middle class. Many young people migrate to cities in hopes of finding jobs, leaving rural areas she calls “gerontocracies,” but reports their opportunities are very slim. Those that make it to university often find a mismatch between their education and available jobs.

Young creative Africans get by in the informal economy, becoming entrepreneurs, finding a sugardaddy or sugarmomma, migration, or illegal work in youth subcultures. Despite these problems, the young people Honwana interviewed don’t seem to be a “lost generation” or apathetic.[iv] Without faith in government, they share an identity and awareness that leads them to challenge authority and are active in civil society and on social media. They join associations, debate on social media, avoid traditional political parties expressing their views outside of established politics as by organizing campaigns against corruption, for women’s rights and so on. However, she observes their horizontal organizing methods don’t lead to clear leadership, raising the question, “Will it be possible for the younger generation to drive the creation of a new political culture from outside dominant cultures?” Her interviewees do believe they can create such change but aren’t sure how.

[i] Kingsley Ighobor, “Leaders Awakening to the Need for Joy-Creation Programmes,” Africa Renewal, May 2013.

[ii] Alcinda Honwana. The Time of Youth. Kumarian Press, 2012.

Youth and Revolution in Tunisia. Zed Books, 2013.

“Youth, Waithood and Protest Movements in Africa, African Arguments, August 12, 2013.

[iii] Alcinda Honwana. The Time of Youth: Work, Social Change and Politics in Africa. Kumarian Press, 2012, p. 3.

[iv] “Youth, Waithood and Protest Movements in Africa, African Arguments, August 12, 2013.


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