Friday, October 07, 2011
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A National Youth Composite Policy Index – the need for a comprehensive, quality measure for youth policies in Africa.

Friday, October 07, 2011
The article examines the state of youth policies on the African continent. It discusses the situation from the perspective of having a functional national youth policy and implementation framework. It observes how challenges young people face should be reflected in youth policies and how that in-turn can inform a more robust coordination mechanism for youth policy implementation. It finalizes by suggesting how a Youth Composite Policy Index can be used as a tool to develop more integrated, comprehensive and cross-sectoral youth policies. 

Youth Policies in Africa

African Youth Forum, 2011
August 2010 to August 2011 was the International Year of Youth. The voices, concerns and renewed commitment amongst young people to transform their countries, regions and the continent of Africa were strong and unified. We saw this in young people’s resolve behind ground breaking peace building, employment creation, health promotion, poverty eradication, leadership and democracy building, and good governance programs across the continent. It is but imperative that these efforts be met with an enabling and supportive policy environment that nurtures, encourages, recognizes and supports these efforts.

In 2006, a momentous Charter
on African Youth was adopted in Banjul, The Gambia. The charter has now been ratified. But two of the conditions set by AU member states towards the implementation of the Charter included (a) that all member states ratify the Charter by 2010 and (b) have in place national youth policies and action plans that take into account and support the implementation of the Charter (this also applies to countries whose national youth policies are not in compliance with the Youth Charter). Whilst this can be perceived as unambiguous commitments of countries to further the youth development agenda in Africa, prioritization on the implied actions needed on the ground at national and local levels is still inadequate.

It is unclear if all African countries are implementing a National Youth Policy. Where there is one, the quality of the policy in most cases is subject to whether they meet the standards and guidelines of the agreements countries have signed and the aspirations of young people. This clearly shows our countries going in the right direction, but the development of a youth policy must hold precedence just as any other sectoral theme.

Some of the characteristics seen in the development of youth policies across the continent are “simplicity”, “political” and “non-inclusiveness”. Perhaps the difficulty has been lying in servicing the needs of young people, because all too often, their interests and needs are addressed on the basis of a problem based perspective rather than seeing young people as a resource to society. If the latter perspective is considered, it would be the role of a youth policy to provide opportunity for young people to realize their full potential as citizens. This would require governments to conduct the process in line with global standards and guidelines, engaging young people at all stages and ensuring local government authorities play a defining role.

The World Bank sites three reasons of why it is difficult to develop successful youth policies. First, it states that a successful youth policy requires working across many sectors to develop one coherent, holistic and inter-sectoral strategy, with clear priorities and measures for concrete action. Second, youth policies fail because young people’s voices are not included in the design and implementation of the policies that affect them. Third, achieving success in youth policy is challenged by the fact that there are few success stories and examples of best practice. 


This experience is echoed in countries across the continent and perhaps the biggest challenge to youth policy then becomes integration into overall national development policies. The discussion thus must remain how we can make the process to develop youth policies more inclusive, broad based, integrated and comprehensive. 

How Challenges Facing Youth in Africa can Inform Policy Design

For policies to be effective on the ground, they must be instruments that are informed by the actual challenges that the key beneficiary, young people, are facing. As part of the development process, significant effort must be directed towards establishing operational-baseline information that will in-turn be translated into targets at the implementation stage. When this is done, we will see the multi-sectoral nature that should characterize youth policy.

Information on the challenges young people face from national, regional to continental levels are well documented. This however does not mean that we should rely on this information alone; we should invest in developing new ways to capture new information and data on young people and installing a harmonized reporting system on issues pertinent to young people. As aforementioned, societies and the needs of youth are dynamic, and with Africa being by far the youngest continent, getting the right and relevant information on the situation on young people as we develop youth policy should be and is a key priority.

Competing Interests on Youth in Government

There is a vital question to address on this subject, and this is the lack of coordination amongst key ministries that have mandate on sectoral themes that are a challenge for young people. We know that young people on the continent are lacking quality education to be competitive in regional and global marketplaces; we know the unemployment “basket” is composed most by youth; we know access to quality and friendly health services and information for young people is imperative, especially when more than 60% of all new HIV infections occurs among young people – with girls and women being most at risk; and we also know that in areas where conflict has ravaged societies, young people have been used as pawns to drive these conflicts. None of these critical development challenges can be addressed independently; the approach must be an integrated and a multi-sectoral one.   

The Role of Youth Policy in Harmonizing Efforts to Mitigate Youth Development Challenges

We know the different ministries in our respective countries that hold some mandate on youth issues have found it difficult to coordinate their efforts. We have yet to establish where there are good practices on mechanisms to implement youth policies, thus one of the first steps we are to take is share experiences and information. Ministers responsible for youth can utilize the platforms under the African Union, and the relevant AU Commission department can complement these efforts.

Secondly, governments need to employ a paradigm shift in implementing youth policy. It is high time that we do the following; (a) ensure national youth representation bodies (youth council) have been established, (b) establish inter-ministerial working group that can involve technical personnel. The working group must also incorporate stakeholders participation (civil society and youth groups), and (c) adequately finance the implementation of youth policy.

Thirdly, we need to ensure that the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of youth policy is informed by; (a) effective participation and consultation of all key stakeholders, especially the main beneficiaries – young people, (b) that key ministries with a mandate on young people draw a coordination framework for implementation of youth policy, with the Ministry responsible for youth taking the lead and (c) ensuring that there is a structured periodic reporting mechanism for the youth policy implementation – and on this we suggest the use of a Youth Composite Policy Index.    

Arguing the Utilization of a Youth Composite Policy Index

We have discussed the status on young people with respect to the existence of youth policies and examined whether the existing environment and experiences suggest that to be adequate. We have also examined the youth policy environment on the continent and considered if it fulfills young people’s aspirations and if there is room for improvement. Furthermore, we looked at how youth policies can facilitate coordination of youth development efforts, and amongst different ideas, one of the suggestions was to ensure a structured periodic reporting mechanism for youth policy implementation, and on this a Youth Composite Policy Index was suggested.

As is for the UNDP’s Human Development Index or the UNAIDS National Composite Policy Index, a Youth Composite Policy Index can be an important comprehensive measure for a number of aspects with respect to youth. These can include (a) youth development and (b) policy implementation. For your consideration, the thinking here will focus on youth policy implementation as the key element of the suggested Youth Composite Policy Index or YCPI. And at the onset, I see the African Union, which periodically prepares an African Youth Status Report, as being the most adequate institution to facilitate and or coordinate the administration of the index.

To understand the concept behind the YPCI, it is important we look at existing indices. The Human Development Index or HDI can be summed as a composite measure of health, education and income. It scrutinizes development in a much broader sense than at the level of income. And as with any measure, it simplifies and captures only part of what human development entails. The National Composite Policy Index or NCPI is one of the core UN General Assembly Indicators, which is used for sharing information about the policy, strategic, and legal context of the (national) HIV response and pin-pointing gaps, and for identifying barriers to effective service provision. The YPCI can be used to measure the quality and progress in the implementation of national youth policies, in accordance with broader guidelines, such as the provisions in; (a) the African Youth Charter (2006) and (b) International Standards on Youth Policies (United Nations).

The index can then be defined as a measure of quality (at the early stages), compliance and progress in the implementation youth policy. The target group of the index can be all actors in the implementation of youth policy (government {central and local} and non-government {youth groups, civil society, UN agencies, and development and multi-lateral organizations}). The measurement tool can be separate, meaning that it is not pegged onto any other international reporting mechanism. Alternatively though, the AU (and also the UN) can consider incorporating and making this an integral part of national, continental and global youth reports. And the questions developed to measure the proposed elements of the index can be informed by the provisions of regional and international agreements as aforementioned.

We can ask ourselves then, why another index. Some aspects of youth policy are already covered in the NCPI, and a broader picture from the HDI, whose data can be used to estimate conditions of different parts of the world in diverse human development issues. The response to this is that despite more than 25 years of promoting youth policies on the continent (when the United Nations African Regional Preparatory Meeting for the International Year of Youth {1983} and an African Regional Plan of Action on Youth was adopted) and despite the adoption of the African Youth Charter in 2006, among others – young people on the continent are still an underutilized resource. They are faced with numerous challenges that can be addressed by policies that can complement Africa’s demographic bonus and to that effect, we are still lacking translated progress in youth policy implementation. Africa needs to ask itself why, and one of the important tools to assist in doing so can be the YCPI.  

Lastly, the YCPI, without dwelling into the arithmetic, should be mostly qualitative. A limited number of actors can be engaged for responses, and their selection should be based on specific criteria and these can include participation in implementing current policy, knowledge of the policy environment and experience working with young people. More than one actor should be engaged to paint a broader picture of the situation and safeguard the integrity of the information collected. 

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This article is a summary of a broader paper that was prepared by Robert Kasenene as a contribution to an open debate session on National Youth Policies during the 2011 African Youth Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The text presented is a collection of thinking from the author and citations from different publications from different institutions and individuals from across the world. It must be noted that the observations presented in this paper are those of the author and not reflect those of the African Union, African Union Commission or its partners supporting the proceedings of the 2011 African Youth Forum.
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