Thinking global, living local: Voices in a globalized world

Youth Unemployment in Africa and its Political Implications

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Africa is a young continent, with 65 percent of the continent’s population is under the age of 24, with over 40 percent of the total population below the age of 16, and about 25 percent between the ages 15 and 24. Contrast the population makeup with the leadership of African nations- in Zimbabwe, where the life expectancy is 45, Robert Mugabe is 87. In 2009,  Niger’s then-President Mamadou Tandja (age 73), rewrote the nation’s constitution to extend his term as President, only to be ousted in a military coup. Egypt’s recently-ousted leader Hosni Mubarak was 82. Cameroon’s Paul Biya is 78. Tunisia’s ousted leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali is 74. Libya’s now-deceased embattled leader, Moamar Gaddhafi,  was estimated to be 68 years old, as is Eduardo dos Santos of Angola. Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo-Brazzaville is thought to be 67, a year older than Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, believed to be 66.

All in all, the average age of the African leader is just over 72, compared to about 51 for European and North American leaders. The bitter truth is that many of these African heads of state are former leaders of the anti-colonial movement of the mid-twentieth century. Having attained the prestige and material trappings of being heads of state, many have neglected to be leaders.  It’s one thing to have a title, and another entirely to be accountable to those under your leadership.

In Angola, student protests are challenging the authority of Angola’s President Eduardo dos Santos. Aside from Cuba’s Castro brothers and monarchs, Dos Santos is the second longest-serving leader in the world. The longest serving leader is Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, whose rule began on August, 1979- 49 days before Dos Santos. Angola is a wealthy nation- particularly in terms of mineral and natural resources. In 2010, Angola profited $50 billion for its crude-oil exports. However, this has been overshadowed by accusations of mismanagement and corruption on the part of MPLA and President Dos Santos.

In 1985 Angolan youth were 30 percent of the 5 million employed (ILO). A recent SADC statistic (2000) indicates that the unemployment rate in Angola stood at 31.1%. Employment among youth is highly unstable, mostly concentrated in the informal and agricultural sectors, where 85% of the total workforce is located. During Angola’s Civil War (1975-2002), which displaced over a million Angolans, youth comprised the labor force in the lucrative, illegal diamond trade.

Today, youth in Angola’s capital are protesting Dos Santos’ rule, and also the possibility of his tenure extending past his 70th birthday (August 28, 2012). There is no guarantee that he will keep his promise to step down on his 70th birthday, especially since general elections are next year, and if MPLA (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola – Partido do Trabalho or People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola) wins, and Dos Santos is again voted into office, he could be entitled to two 5-year terms, according to Angola’s Constitution. This means that Dos Santos could possibly be in power until his 80th birthday. Please note that MPLA has been incumbent since independence from Portuguese colonial rule in 1975. This is especially important in light of the Angolan government preparing for elections in 2012.

What does this mean for youth? Well, on August 12, 2010 (International Youth Day), the Provincial Youth Council (CPJ) in northern Malanje province of Angola expressed concern at the high rate of unemployment among Angolan youth, citing cuts to education and professional training in the social sectors. This, factored with increasing rural-urban migration among youth, is a source of discontent. Urban centers like Luanda, Johannesburg, Nairobi, Accra and Cairo carry the promise of opportunity (better schools, better jobs) and the realities of slums that result from population growth that outstrips infrastructure development. Even among the majority of African youth who still live in rural areas, the scarcity of opportunity and disinvestment in education and skills training is a frustrating reality. Meanwhile, unemployed, college-educated Portuguese youth have been migrating to Portugal’s former colonies- Angola, Mozambique and Brazil for jobs.

As demonstrated across the developing world, youth unemployment in synthesis with less-than-equitable socio-political conditions leads to upheaval. For this reason, Africa’s aging leaders need to consider the social and economic costs of extending their tenure in office.

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ArriannaMarie Twitter: ArriannaMarieArrianna Marie

Writer. UChicago Grad Student. Novelist-in-Progress. Budding Activist. Researcher. Consultant. Prolific Reader. History Buff. Lover of all things Africa. You can find my blog on human trafficking and development issues in Africa here.