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Africa’s Disengaged Youth

While Africa is making progress on boosting political and socioeconomic engagement among young people, it is moving much too slowly. If the continent is to harness its youth bulge, rather than be engulfed by it, barriers to progress – from excessive dependence on commodities to weak civil liberties – must urgently be dismantled.

ADDIS ABABA – With almost 60% of its population under the age of 25, Africa is the world’s youngest region. Yet it is widely recognized that young people are often left behind. They frequently face inadequate economic opportunities and may also be socially or politically excluded. Unless youth socioeconomic and political engagement is addressed, achieving many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be impossible.

When young people are engaged in their societies, economies, and politics, they are not only more productive; they also contribute to stability and development in their communities and countries. This is all the more true on a continent where there will be more than 830 million young people by 2050.

And yet, as it stands, the median age of African leaders is 62, older than the OECD median. In South Africa’s latest general election, held this past May, 46% of the nine million eligible voters who did not register to vote were aged 20 to 29, according to the Independent Electoral Commission.