Six years ago, Amnesty International shocked the world by exposing human rights abuses and child labour in the DRC. The report, titled ‘This ... is what we die for’ painted a grim picture of abuse, tragedy and hardship in the DRC’s artisanal cobalt mines.
What was unique about this demonstration was that the protestors were largely young, educated and digitally savvy. Although unconfirmed, up to 11 of them were murdered in what became known as the #Lekkimassacre. It was a sad reward for the young people who chose to take a stand.
The #EndSARS protests in Nigeria are not the only ones unfolding in Africa. In the last few weeks there have been at least seven protest hashtags trending in their respective countries together they have prompted their own hashtag; AfricaIsBleeding.
Growing online movements
#Congoisbleeding is putting the spotlight on the mining industry and demanding an end to child labour in the DRC. An estimated 35.8 % of children aged between 5 and 14 in the DRC are forced to work. #Shutitalldown in Namibia is calling for the government to declare a state of emergency over gender-based violence in the country.
Last month #Zimbabweanlivesmatter was trending and chances are there will be another hashtag marking another protest before the end of this year.
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The reasons behind these hashtags and the underlying movements that created them may vary, but all speak to a level of discontent – probably driven by the economic frustrations of COVID – and growing youth engagement in social and political change on the continent.
The tenacity of today’s youth
We are seeing more young people on the continent with tenacity and a strong sense of agency – the polar opposite of the African narrative that presents Africans as lacking agency. Today’s youth are fighting for – and in Nigeria have died for – the rights many people take for granted in other countries; the right not to be brutalised by police in Nigeria, the human rights and dignity of children in the DRC, and the right to be protected from gender-based violence in Namibia.
Either way the sheer size of this youth population is the single greatest opportunity we have for real and narrative change on the continent
This youth is different to the generation that came before – my generation. We are the ones who voted in the leaders who are the target of many of these movements today. We are the ones who, despite years of trying, have been unable to create real and lasting change on the continent. Inspired by global movements that started online like the Arab spring, #metoo and #Blacklivesmatter, young people are claiming their place and defining the country and continent in which they want to live.
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And it’s about time too. By 2050, the continent’s 18-35 demographic is projected to reach more than 800 million. At nearly 50% of their populations, four countries – Niger, Uganda, Angola and Mali – have the highest concentration of youth in the world under the age of 15. Because of their numbers they are largely viewed as a ‘liability’ on the world’s balance sheet.
They’ve been described as a “ticking time bomb,” although a case has been made for them to be viewed as a potential asset – a marketable consumer base and a workforce. Either way the sheer size of this youth population is the single greatest opportunity we have for real and narrative change on the continent.
Stereotypes about the youth abound
In an attempt to better understand what drives this influential demographic, Africa No Filter unpacked 29 documents of literature including research reports, surveys, academic journals and articles about youth culture in Africa. Although not comprehensive, our report of reports reveals how steeped in stereotypes the narratives are about young people in Africa. The report provides 13 key insights that can help us understand this group :
- They are not pan-Africanists: They identify by their nationality first, followed by being Africa. This is over and above their ethnicity and religion.
- They are not tribal: They disagree with tribalism and are largely interested in a positive coexistence between tribes.
- They feel excluded: They want to be involved in solving socio-political problems in their respective countries but feel ignored by political parties and politicians.
- They are not big on voting: They don’t support political parties and electoral politics, but tend to mobilise around specific issues, such as unemployment, their countries’ economies, and patriarchy.
- They don’t follow the global issues agenda: LGBTIQ+ and the environment did not rank high on their list of things to worry about.
- They are optimistic: about their futures and that of the continent.
- They believe in God: religion is important and plays a strong part in the identity of many young people – this was especially true for young women.
- They don’t believe in jobs: They are least optimistic about their opportunities for employment and blame poor education.
- They are self-starters: entrepreneurial in spirit. Key sectors of interest were retail, agriculture and technology
- But they need hand-holding: They feel their governments need to give them more support especially in terms of training, mentoring and start-up capital.
- Education is irrelevant: Many feel that their education was not attuned to the requirements of modern working life.
- They dream big: But it is the American rather than the African dream they pursue. Better opportunities for employment and education were in rich countries and they were interested in migrating to access better opportunities.
- Pop culture is their outlet: Like most youth globally, they are influenced by movies, TV and particularly music as a way of articulating their identity and expressing their disgruntlement with socio-political issues.
In a CNN interview the Director of Africa’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. John Nkengasong commented that 80% of Africa’s COVID-19 cases could be asymptomatic and attributed the resulting low death rates on the continent to its large youth population.
This is one of the few times that Africa’s youthfulness has been a distinct advantage – we believe this is just the beginning. As Africa’s youngsters continue to emerge as the true change-makers on the continent, we envision a future scenario where political leaders consult, listen and act in the interests of this critical demographic.
Based on what continues to emerge from Nigeria, DRC, Namibia, South Africa, Cameroon, Ghana, Liberia and Ivory Coast, the youth are the ones creating real and narrative change; one protest and one hashtag at a time.
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