Youth unemployment in SubSaharan Africa is cancerous | A CIVICUS member interview with Awa Ndah of Impact Creators

Awa Innocent Ndah of Impact CreatorsAwa Ndah is the Founder and Executive Director of Impact Creators, a youth educational and professional development organisation based in Cameroon. He is also the co- founder and country coordinator of the African Trainer's Network. In the past he has played numerous roles in various local and international advocacy events and campaigns as a trainer, facilitator, team leader and presenter. Lastly, he works with AIESEC in Cameroon as an alumnus coach/ trainer and sponsor.

Given the wide variety of challenges that youth in Africa face, socio-economic instability through the lack of employment appears to be common amongst all states. What are some of the current major repercussions of this challenge for African youth, and what are common debates held by African leaders to curb it?

Unemployment is a current global challenge and its repercussions leave no one indifferent. The global economic crisis affected Africa's economy and it's slow but steady rebound struck a serious blow during and after the Arab Spring. North African youths are the highest of those hit in Africa. ILO's Global Employment Trends for Youth 2013, states that North Africa "has a youth unemployment rate as high as 23.7 per cent in 2012" while the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Councils - Youth Unemployment Visualization 2013 pits unemployment rates in North Africa at 27.9% and in Sub-Saharan Africa at 11.5%. Undoubtedly and regrettably, Africa has the highest youth unemployment rate in the world. Unemployment is therefore blighting a whole generation of youngsters in Africa. The socio-economic, political and psychosocial repercussions of unemployment are far-reaching particularly to the man [or woman] on the street. In the face of economic stagnation and downturn, financial uncertainty crowned by skyrocketing unemployment and underemployment, the future of the African youth leaves little or nothing to ride home with, all whilst populations just keep increasing. African Economic Outlook (AEO) estimates that there are "almost 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 and that Africa has the youngest population in the world." This number according to AEO "...will double by 2045."

Africa's most available and most important resource is its youth and most youth reside in urban areas. According to the UN-Habitat's State of Urban Youth Report, 2012-2013, "there are more people under the age of 25 today than ever, totalling nearly three billion - or half of humankind - of which 1.3 billion between ages 12 and 24 with most live in urban areas." The more unemployed and "working poor" — i.e., in unskilled, insecure employment, and in unsatisfactory conditions, the more problems particularly for the "1%". The rising youth population in Africa, or what is generally refer to as the "urban youth bulge" are among the 90 million young people around the world who are unemployed (47 per cent of the total number of unemployed) with an additional 300 million "working poor." Skills mismatch market demands.

Youth unemployment and underemployment in Sub-Saharan countries is cancerous and the primary cause is the corrupt, unfavourable and discriminatory policies of gerontocratic systems with unfettered control over most government branches. The Arab Spring proved that despite the dictatorial political systems in countries like Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, where youth was suppressed for so long, the increasing "battalion" of unemployed and peripheralised youths in Sub-Saharan Africa can also stir-up upheavals and unleash mayhem that will undermine the stability of democracy in most countries and change governments.

One of the major consequences of unemployment is the desperation and waywardness of youth, thus making them vulnerable cat's-paws for power mongering politicians. Maverick and disgruntled politicians exploit and use unemployed youths as political thugs to settle scores with opponents, all of this to the detriment of youths. As the popular African adage goes; "When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers". The utilisation of unemployed youths to perpetuate post-election violence often leads to lawlessness, political thuggery, intimidations, killings, maiming and unabated destruction of lives and property. Examples include Kenya 2010 and 2013, Cameroon 1990, Ivory Coast 2012, Nigeria 2011 and many others in Africa.

Furthermore, another implication of youth unemployment is the resurgence of urban urchins popularly called "nanga mboukou" in Cameroon parlance or "area boys" in Nigeria parlance. This set of unemployed youths is mostly found in urban towns and cities across most States in Africa. This group survive anyway and anyhow through activities like pickpocketing, robbery, et al. Besides, they can also be used by political "godfathers" for activities that could undermine democracy and electoral process such as ballot box stuffing and snatching, killing and maiming of political opponents. They are often equipped with weapons to breed terror to motorists, urban dwellers and inter urban travellers. Highway robbers in the Northern part of Cameroon is an example, though they are been chased out and even killed by the elite Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR).

In addition, there is an increase in the involvement of youths in various anti-social activities and offences as a result of unemployment. They include prostitution, sex slavery, occultism, rape, abduction, murder, drug trafficking and a lot more. In most cases, powerful politicians are behind these crimes and these youths who see the politicians as their godfathers often get away free at the mention of their godfather's name to law enforcement officers. The markets are obviously affected as foreign investors are scared away.

In Cameroon likewise Nigeria, Ghana amongst others, the current phenomenon of scamming within the youths is a big repercussion of unemployment and the government's unfavourable and discriminatory economic policies. Thousands of degree holders with little or no professional work experience ramble the streets. Likewise other Africa urban city dwellers are unable to find gainful employment. The tendency now is to turn to wrongly exploring ICTs1 by dubbing on the internet. Emerging world economies like the BRICS2 Economic Block promote the technological and professional development of its youths, but the case in Sub-Saharan Africa is different in terms of cybercrimes. The youths cannot continue to be labelled with "inadequate and no professional working experience" by the "99 %" because if given a chance within an enabling and equitable environment, their resourcefulness and skills will be demonstrated.

Actors involve in the fight against unemployment and poverty include UN Member States, the African Union, the African Development Bank, Technical and Financial Partners like the World Bank, the European Union, UN Agencies, International and Non-governmental Organisations, Youth Associations, et alia. Prominent past and current gatherings in and out of Africa to curb unemployment include the 12th International Economic Forum on Africa organised by the OECD3 Development Centre, in collaboration with the African Development Bank, the UN Economic Commission for Africa, the UN Development Programme, and the French Ministry of Economy and Finance under the theme 'Promoting Youth Employment: Making the Most of Africa's Human Resources & Natural Wealth'. The conference took place in Paris, France on the 4 October 2012.

Also, regional and continental governments continue to meet to discuss solutions to youth unemployment in Africa. On the 18th February 2009 in Addis Ababa, African heads of state declared 2009-2019 as the decade of youth development in Africa. They resolved to advance youth development and ensure increased investments in youth development programmes at national levels. The hitherto declaration was reviewed on 1 July 2011, when the heads of state and government met in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea to discuss the need to 'Accelerate Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development'. They reinforced the Addis Ababa 2009 declaration and promised the 'creation of safe, decent and competitive employment opportunities'. The "African Youth Decade Plan of Action (2009 – 2019)" is the blueprint "Road Map towards the implementation of The African Youth Charter".

More so, in July 2012, the African Development Bank facilitated a policy dialogue on Youth Employment for the Southern African region, chaired by its Vice President Prof Mthuli Ncube.

In a nutshell, addressing youth unemployment in Africa requires an integrated holistic approach. Shortcuts to satisfy political gains have proven futile and will not work. The World Bank 2008 report advocates for "a comprehensive model that caters for rural development, rural-urban migration, preparation of young people for the labour market and investments in agriculture." Educational curricula have to be revised and decision makers promote and/or institutionalise volunteerism and paid internships.

How conducive is the current environment in Cameroon for the growth and development of new youth initiatives?

Cameroon is dominated by a strong presidency with an unfettered control of all government branches. The president retains the power to control legislation and rule by decree. On 9 October 2011, the incumbent leader, Paul Biya, won re-election as president, a position he has held since 1982 amid frequent social upheavals oftentimes spearheaded by youths and caused by increasing prices of basic commodities, arbitrary arrest, high rates of unemployment and untold frustration. With his last re-election, Paul Biya thus joins the league of the longest serving African heads of state.

Prior to the elections in 2011, the government of Paul Biya launched the massive recruitment of 25.000 Cameroonians into public service. Logically, it was a political campaign strategy that served him right. Despite the fact that 25.000+ Cameroonians, youths inclusive were recruited into public service, it is important to highlight here that the massive recruitment was flawed by irregularities, nepotism and corrupt practices. Economic policies are so unfavourable and the taxation system in Cameroon does not encourage business start-ups, career starters and Small and Medium Size Enterprise's (SMEs).

Youths are however free to create and/or join associations pursuant decree No 90/053/ of 19th December 1990 authorising the creation of associations in Cameroon. Unfortunately, it takes a life time for the office of the local government authority, the Senior Divisional Officer to issue a formal authorisation for the association to operate.

Major human rights abuses by forces of law and order – disorder I will say – that remain unaccounted for include arbitrary arrest and detention, prolonged and sometimes incommunicado pre-trial detention, life-threatening prison conditions, and infringement on privacy rights. Government forces harass and imprison university students and journalists, restrict freedoms of speech, the press, and association, and impede freedom of movement. According to the 2011 Amnesty International annual report, no action was taken against security force members who violated, beat, locked up and even killed Cameroonian youths in the nation-wide February 2008 uprisings. It should be noted that as many as 100 persons were killed during protests against price increases and a constitutional amendment that removed presidential term limits.

The Cameroon government has not been and cannot be accountable to the Cameroon National Youth Council (CNYC) it created to interface between the government and youth associations because it is a youth-wing of the ruling CPDM party, staffed by hand clappers. They may be youth leaders but they do not represent the interests of the Cameroonian youth because they are only accountable to the Ministry of Youth and Civic Education. There are no checks and balances because the government is the primary funder of the CNYC. It will be unreasonable and detrimental for one to bite the finger that feeds him.

What have the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) done to engage youth in politico-economic processes since its inception in 2000?

The Member States of the United Nations first acknowledged the importance of youth in 1965 when they endorsed the Declaration on the Promotion among Youth of the Ideals of Peace, Mutual Respect and Understanding between Peoples. Two decades later, the United Nations General Assembly observed 1985 as International Year of Youth, with the theme "Participation, Development and Peace". The Global Launch of the International Year of Youth on the 12 August 2010 twenty five years later at the United Nations Headquarters celebrated young people's contributions to development and peace. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, "Youth should be given a chance to take an active part in the decision-making at local, national and global levels." The above shows how important the participation and contribution of youths towards their own betterment and the world at large has become crucial both for development efforts at the local, national and international levels.

Many young people remain marginalised from social and economic opportunities, with limited access to essential resources, particularly education. Youth are among the most vulnerable of all persons the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aim to reach. Inter alia, the setbacks of lack of education, maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS, unemployment, environmental degradation on young people especially girls is far reaching. This is because many young people often lack access to adequate information, schooling, basic social amenities and basic rights, and these are often overlooked in national development agendas. Therefore, the inclusion of young people in initiatives geared toward any national or international development is crucial to ensure a successful and sustainable outcome for all.

The United Nations, its member States and world leaders during the Fifty-fifth session of the UN General Assembly at the 8th plenary meeting drafted and adopted the Millennium Declaration on the 18 of September 2000. They committed their countries to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and set out time bound development goals on meeting the needs of the world's poorest. These goals, to be achieved by 2015, formed the basis for what are now known as the eight Millennium Development Goals, which have been broken down into 21 quantified targets that are measured by 60 indicators.

I believe that despite the consequences of the financial downturn, local, national and international leader and partners are working very hard to increase the role young people can play in decision making arenas. The MDGs have increased the visibility, participation and contribution of youths in a lot of national and international gatherings. Global campaigns have been organised and more are ongoing to mobilise development actors to stop seeing youths as liabilities but as development partners. MDG 8 highlights this urgent call for collaboration. The AU's African Youth Charter is a glaring example that youths in Africa have been given a spot under the lamplight but they need resources to effectively play their role. The "African Youth Conference on Post-2015 Development Agenda" that took place from 12-16 November 2012, Nairobi, Kenya was aim at supporting African youths so they become partners in the development of the Post-2015 agenda, so they take responsibility and ownership in building the "Future We Want in Africa."

According to the "Road map towards the implementation of the UN's Millennium Declaration" adopted during the Fifty-sixth session of the UN General Assembly on the 6 September, 2001, the Secretary General's report states that "It is crucial that the millennium development goals become national goals and serve to increase the coherence and consistency of national policies and programmes.

Some countries without Youth Policies are developing one while outdated Youth Policies are being revised and still, there exist some countries without Youth Policies." It won't be an exaggeration to say that the UN's "Millennium Declaration" and the "Road map towards the implementation of the UN's Millennium Declaration" ignited the development, revision and adoption of national policies in many countries, thus highlighting the importance of youths and the role they can play in socio-economic development.

According to 4YOUTHPOLICY.ORG's Overview of National Youth Policies, "as of January 2013, of 198 countries, 99 (50%) have a current youth policy. A further 56 (28%) are revising their existing or, in a few cases, developing their first national youth policy. A total of 43 states (22%) has no youth policy (yet). Of those, 17 states are in Africa, 12 in Asia, 9 in Europe and 5 in the Americas." It is important to note that Cameroon developed its first and only available National Youth Policy in 2006. There is no available monitoring and/or evaluation report after 7 years since this policy was developed. Obviously, the existence of a national youth policy does not necessarily mean that it is being implemented – or that it is particularly good for young people.

Notwithstanding, the place youths occupy in the United Nations Secretary-General's Five-Year Action Agenda and the appointment of the young Jordanian, Ahmad Alhindawi on the 17 January 2013 as his Envoy on youth are vivid indications among others that the MDGs increased the role that youths play side by side their senior development actions. "Working with and for Women and Young People" is one of the top priorities on the UN Secretary-General's Five-Year Action Agenda. The Envoy on Youth's primary assignment will be to " to address the needs of the largest generation of youth the world has ever known."

In addition, the UN System‐wide Action Plan on Youth (Youth‐SWAP) developed by the Youth Inter‐agency Network on Youth Development (IANYD) from July‐August 2012 further highlights the visibility and role youths have to play local, national and development agendas. It is worth mentioning here that the UN Secretary General called for the development of the Youth‐SWAP as it "will guide the work of the whole UN system to promote young people's human rights and development needs." The Youth-SWAP was developed through an online survey with "over 13,500 respondents from 186 countries" and it was endorsed by the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination at its spring session on 5‐6 April 2013.

The Youth 21 Building for Change - High Level Panel on Youth towards Establishing a UN Permanent Forum on Youth Issues and the upcoming UN World Youth Conference (WYC), Sri Lanka 2014 are more indications that the youths have actually taken centre stage in processes leading up to the Post-2015 development framework. The UN WYC 2014 will be all about "Strengthening youth in decision making processes in the development and implementation of the Post-2015 development agenda". A post-2015 Development Framework requires a youth-centered process. The peripheralisation of youths the world over, particularly those from Africa from the adoption, implementation and follow-up of the post-2015 discussions will be unacceptable.

Within the Cameroonian context, what are the key priorities of focus for youth? (For example, education, work, health, housing, nutrition, sanitation etc.) To what extent can it be hoped that the establishment of a Post-2015 development framework will successfully address those issues?

Citing the words of Supawat, a 16 year-old from Yasothon province, Thailand, "No nation can achieve prosperity unless it makes education one of its central concerns. Education brings honour, independence and freedom to a government and its people." Education and employment top the chart among key youth priorities in Cameroon. It is fair to say that education and employment interrelate thus basic education is a sine qua non for employment in a country like Cameroon. Population explosion in urban areas, poor housing and social amenities leaves school dropouts and degree holders wanting, thus an increase in juvenile delinquencies and crime wave. According to the Cameroon Ministry of Economy, Planning and Regional Development, "Urban and regional development is a major challenge." At the current rate of population explosion as a result of rural-urban migration in search of a better life, "over 75 per cent of Cameroon's population will in the next 25-30 years live in urban areas."

Besides the aforementioned preoccupations, other current youth priorities both the rural and urban include reproductive health, entrepreneurship development, political inclusion and governance, citizenship and the protection of basic rights, gender equality and equity, environment and migration.

In April, 2003, the Cameroon government adopted the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), a holistic document aimed at reducing the poverty level In Cameroon. 6 years on, the Minister of Economy, Planning and Regional Development in November 2009, presented the Growth and Employment Strategy Paper (GESP). The GESP builds on the shortcomings of the PRSP. Quoting the Minister, the GESP "...reaffirms the government's will to continue the realisation of the UN MDGs." However, paraphrasing the Cameroon MDG Monitoring National Report, it is improbable that Cameroon will meet-up with the deadline of 2015.

The GESP has 3 main orientations which are Strategic growth, strategic employment and promotion of governance and strategic management of the state (respect for individual rights and public freedoms, continuous improvement in the management of public affairs). The GESP is an integral part of the government's national strategic long-term development vision, named, Vision 2013.

In order to enhance and fully establish the economic recovery process of Cameroon despite the repercussions of the global financial downswing, skyrocketing rates of unemployment and with the advent of the HIV pandemic and its ravaging effects in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Government has prepared a Cameroon shared vision development paper to be fully implemented by 2035." The Cameroon Vision 2035 reads: "CAMEROON: AN EMERGING, DEMOCRATIC AND UNITED COUNTRY DESPITE ITS DIVERSITY".

The four overall goals of Cameroon's Vision 2035 are to:

  1. Reduce poverty to a socially acceptable level;
  2. Cameroon becomes a medium-income country;
  3. Cameroon acquires the status of a Newly Industrialised Country; and
  4. Reinforce national unity and consolidating the democratic process.

By and large, with Cameroon's Vision 2035, the UN Secretary General's Five-Year Action Agenda among all the ongoing Post-2015 processes and discussions both at the national, regional and international levels, it is the wish and hope of the Cameroonian youth likewise their counterparts the world over that their priorities, as diverse as they are shall not only be penned down on a "declaration" but adopted, strategised, implemented, monitored and evaluated with them involved at every stage of the multiple discussions.

What is Impact Creator's perspective on youth participation in developmental affairs and how is this being promoted amongst youth in Cameroon?

One cannot unequivocally say that the Cameroonian youth has an active voice in governance and decision making processes in Cameroon, be it at the local or national. At the local level, youths suffered from a stringent socio-cultural construct that oftentimes demands that they listen and only talk when authorised. At the traditional level, a defiance of this system in some villages can cost the young person a heavy fine or worse still banishment. Local and Municipal Councils, be it under the governance of the ruling party or the opposition are staffed with old men and women who have falsified their ages in order to retire from the system. Some youth activists who were recruited into the Public Service through Paul Biya's 25.000 massive recruitment are advised to join the team if they cannot beat it.

After numerous years of advocacy and pressure from the international community, youth civil society, among them Impact Creators, the Cameroon government authorised the creation of the first Cameroon National Youth Council (CNYC). The CNYC is as defined in the Articles of Association is "a national platform for dialogue, expression and coordination of discussions and actions of youth organisations in Cameroon" and is under the guardianship of the Ministry of Youth and Civic Education. Ridiculously, an "apolitical" association that is meant to interface and defend the rights of member youth organisation and advocate for their preoccupations is only answerable to the government through the Ministry of Youth and Civic Education. Where then is transparency?

A CNYC strategic plan was developed for 2010 – 2012 with a one year Action Plan developed in 2011. The first and only available report was developed in 2010 and unfortunately, none of the CNYC's official documents are in English. Cameroon is a bilingual country but it is unquestionable that most Cameroonians and most Cameroonian institutions are not bilingual. Though a national council, the CNYC serves the interest of a few and the majority sits and watch.

If at all, how is Impact Creators currently engaging with the Post-2015 Development Agenda?

So far, Impact Creators has been actively involved in two international Post-2015 processes. Our participation and contribution in the UN Youth-SWAP and most recent, the CIVICUS Youth and Education in Post-2015 interview and other discussions are clear indications of our interest and contribution in the Post-2015 Development Agenda. We are also supporters and contributors of the World We Want - Beyond 2015 online campaign and discussion aim at defining a common position towards a better world beyond 2015.

We cannot undervalue our participation and role at different regional and international gatherings such as the UN ECOSOC Youth Forum at the UN in May 2012, "Creating a Sustainable Future: Empowering Youth with Better Job Opportunities" and the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) that took place in Brazil, in June 2012. At the national level, Impact Creators is planning to organise different University Forums as a follow-up of the ECOSOC Youth Forum as a means to contribute in the Post-2015 process.

Awa Ndah serves as a management and trainer/ consultant, youth activist and leadership coach and motivational speaker with more than 6 years of professional experience working with various Cameroonian civil society organisations and youth groups. He has worked with organizations such as EU- PASOC, VSO, the Cameroon National Youth Council, Cameroon Growth and Employment Strategy Paper and UN- HABITAT. Some of the events that Mr Ndah has been involved with include the sub- regional African consultation, "Catalysing Broad Implementation on the Accra Agenda for Action", the 2010 5th World Congress in Istanbul, the 2011 London Youth Symposium, 2011 UN- HABITAT African Urban Youth Assembly in Nigeria, 2012 ICTD Conference in the United States, 2012 ECOSOC Youth Forum at the UN, the Youth 21: Building for Change Stakeholder meeting, the Global Youth Leadership Forum on Inclusive Democratic Governance at the UN in Kenya and the UN Rio +20 Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil.



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