PARIS - One in every five Africans is between the ages of 15 and 24 years old. That is a quarter of a billion young people who are coming of age. Much has been made of the lack of jobs on the continent, and nearly two-thirds of Africa’s unemployed are young people. Even in South Africa, one of the most sophisticated economies, 55% of youth do not have a job.
Much, too, has been made of the lack of educational facilities to train the next generation. Nigeria has an estimated 13.2 million children out of school. This has serious consequences for those betting on an African industrial revolution. UNESCO says Africa on average has 79 engineers per million people, compared to 650 in Brazil, and 4,500 in the US.
Less tracked is the impact that this large cohort of disenfranchised youth will have on politics, outside of European hand-wringing over migration (see page 30). The raw rage of young people in North Africa led to the overthrow of regimes: the match that ignited Mohamed Bouazizi’s petrol-doused body sparked a turbulent period from which genuine change – in Tunisia – and more of the same – Egypt – has emerged.
But, elsewhere, politicians are getting better at directing the anger. First among equals, comrade Julius Malema of South Africa ditched his role as court jester for the African National Congress to take a more incendiary line as leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), catalysing the anger of the ‘born free’ generation. He has managed to push radical land reform far higher up the political agenda than anyone thought possible a few years ago, not to mention playing kingmaker in a few municipalities.
Echoing the red berets of the EFF, the Ugandan musician and member of parliament known as Bobi Wine, 36 years old, has focused the discontent of Kampala’s urban poor. His criticism of President Yoweri Museveni, 74, has earned him beatings and ever-greater fame.
Campaigning is changing, too. Joshua Osih, perhaps not a youth candidate at 49, but young by African standards, led a digital-first campaign using social media to help to unseat President Paul Biya. He was unsuccessful, but for how long will Cameroon be run by an 85-year-old, when in just a few years one in two Cameroonians will have a smartphone?
Certainly the trend for younger leaders who can connect with young populations is not going away. The huge crowds of youth rallying for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, 42, of Ethiopia shows a new guard is on the way in.