Op-Ed: World Poverty Day: An opportunity to reimagine the future of African youth

By Aya Chebbi – Human Rights Activist and African Union Youth Envoy

Commemorating World Poverty Eradication day presents an opportune moment to reflect on the status of Africa’s journey of development as a means for the continent to step out of poverty, and take its place as a global superpower. It must be celebrated the fact that Africa has achieved positive strides in reducing poverty and accomplishing the aspirations set out in Agenda 2063.

Since 1990, poverty on the continent has declined. According to the latest World Bank estimates, the share of Africans who are poor fell from 56% in 1990 to 43% in 2012. However, during the same period, Africa’s population has continued to expand rapidly.  As a result, the number of the continent’s population living in extreme poverty still increased by   up to about 50 million people.  These numbers are staggering. Further, it is projected that the world’s extreme poor will be increasingly concentrated in Africa if present conditions remain the same.

While 60% of the working age population in Africa are employed, many of the jobs are lacking in dignity, decent pay, security and social protection.  Young people are more affected by this as they constitute the majority  of the population, and also have fewer opportunities for jobs with dignity. .

Adding to that, the continent is worst affected by food insecurity as hunger, and malnutrition rises persistently across many  sub-regions. This high rate of youth unemployment can make countries less stable and prone to conflict. Put together, rising hunger and joblessness could mean that Africa is nurturing a generation of economically deprived, hungry and angry young people, who are vulnerable to become agents of conflicts and violence, 

Therefore, Africa’s future and stability depends strongly on the creation of a decent productive employment for its burgeoning youthful population. Failure to generate sufficient jobs with dignity for young people will increase migration and global security challenges. [1]

Africa has the youngest population with a median age of 18 compared to 42 in Europe, 31 in South America, 35 in North America and 31 in Asia.  It is predicted that by 2050, African youth will account for a quarter of the world’s population. Despite what many have referred to as a ‘demographic dividend’, youth in Africa continue to be marginalized and evidence suggests that this demographic dividend is not being harnessed. 

Although the numbers may look bleak, hope lies in the African youth! Africa’s journey to 2063 as a prosperous continent can be achieved by harnessing the talent found in this large pool of young innovative, motivated and change-makers. It is important to empower them with the platform and tools they need to create the type of development and change our continent deserves

The Africa Youth Charter, adopted in 2006 by African Union member States, is the political and legal framework which is intended to enshrine the rights, duties and freedoms of African youth. Specifically, the Charter seeks to ensure the constructive involvement of youth in the development agenda of Africa and their effective participation in the debates and decision-making processes in the development of the continent. The Charter sets a framework to enable policy makers to mainstream youth issues in all development policies and programmes.  It also provides a legal basis for ensuring youth presence and participation in government structures and fora at national, regional and continental levels.

However, despite being signed by 43 member states of the African Union and ratified and deposited by 39, there has not been a genuine commitment to it and little uptake.  In 2019, young Africans remain conspicuously absent at decision-making tables. There is a lack of representation of young people and especially young women, as the continent and its key institutions continue to be governed by leaders who do not represent the largely young populations they serve. This means current leaders are not drawing on the large talent pool to help them co-create solutions to Africa’s most pressing challenges, especially unemployment. From a sustainability perspective, this can be considered dangerous.  Young Africans do not understand the systems and institutions that define their future.  How then will they inherit structures and processes that they do not understand?

This World Poverty Day, is important for African Union member states and policymakers to recommit to bringing in more young people into the various structures and institutions that determine the future of the continent.  Young people don’t just want to be seen. They want to be heard.  They dont’ just to be led, they want to lead and contribute to their countries. 

How can they contribute if the spaces and platforms are closed and excluding them? Opening these spaces and earnestly implementing the African Youth Charter that many African Union member States signed, would be a good start!

Furthermore, it must be noted that the future of work in Africa relies heavily on agriculture and food system development especially because the majority of youth- about 63%  live and work in rural areas, mostly engaged in agricultural related activities. Therefore, agriculture  remains an important source of employment and income in  Africa, for the next decades.  Currently, the level of youth engagement in this sector is, at best, just for survival and these young workers  are not at the table to co-create the necessary solutions that would make this sector more attractive and viable for youth.

Moving forward, we need to ensure that African youth are, in fact, the demographic dividend,.   The inaction of our leaders could be a path to famine and a decline in our prospects for development as a continent.   In the hands of this generation of youth  lies  our hope to see the realization of the Africa we want . For Africa to rid itself from the shackles of poverty, our leaders must  include youth at the table, not just as spectators, but as co-innovators and co-leaders. Let’s shake things up!


[1] Failure to generate sufficient formal-sector jobs for young people will increase migration and global security challenges. , pg 18

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