Thursday, December 15, 2011

The State of the African Youth Report 2011; Why was it and is Still a Potent Document for Youth Development Actors on the Continent?

Thursday, December 15, 2011
The State of the African Youth Report is a continental analysis providing an evidence based account on the status of young people today. The report was prepared in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund and is intended to be the source of data and information on the continent’s efforts to meet policy and structural challenges in efforts to unlock the potential of African Youth.

The 2011 Report is a critical document in that it cements the African Union’s efforts to describe, consolidate and bring together actors in a common youth development agenda on the continent. Parallel to the report, the African Union Commission is working on a number of programmes that are now underlining efforts to realize development for African youth. From the African Youth Charter, the Decade on African Youth Development Action Plan, African Union Youth Volunteer Programme and Youth Statistical Database, actors across the continent now have a canvas with which to align their efforts to.

2011 was an important year for Youth Development on the African continent. Not only was the agenda advanced to levels never seen before, but young people took precedence and a front seat in voicing their ideas, concerns and commitment to their own development. The International Year of Youth culminated in August 2011; the African Heads of States Summit in Malabo adopted a ground-braking decisions, outcomes and resolutions on young people; this was preceded by an African Youth Forum, completely lead by young people that deliberated on critical issues such as (a) Financing for Youth Development, (b) Implementation of Youth Policy and structures needed for coordination and (c) outlining recommendations that informed the heads of states summit decisions.

The report played an important role in this process. It also informed the process towards and the Heads of States Summit itself in Malabo. Whilst the theme of the Summit was on Accelerating Youth Development for Sustainable Development, the report provided important insight and updated information and data on the State of African Youth as of the year 2010. Never in the history of the continent had a Heads of States Summit convened in the manner it did or were young people engaged in the manner they were. Young people were seated side by side with Heads of States during the Summit and a number of side events further complemented this momentum.

Much of the content informing the agenda young people presented in the process leading to the close of 2011 can be found in the State of the African Youth Report. So what exactly is contained in this report and how can you use it?

This is our take of the report after a lengthy review. We recommend you to also read the report. There is a wealth of information for all youth development actors across the continent. 

The report covers a total of 11 themes spread across what are 13 chapters of the report. These themes in ascending order include; the Demographic Situation, Education, Labour Market Participation, Hunger and Poverty, Youth Mobility, Health, HIV and AIDS and Other Communicable Diseases, Substance Abuse, Youth Crime and Violence, Civic Participation and, Information and Communication Technology.

The Demographic Situation

This section talks about the situation of the youth cohort on the continent from a demographic perspective. It details the African age structure where it provides data on the very young, youthful, transitional and mature populations. It goes on to examine the age and sex structure where the African Population Pyramid and related data is presented. Conclusions from this section confirm the fact that Africa is experiencing a youth bulge, which means, according to the report, an “extraordinarily large youth cohort relative to the adult population.


This section introduces the subject of education by looking at what has been Africa’s commitment to education. It outlines that Africa recognized the importance of education as far back as 1962 when it committed to education for all children by 1980 in the Addis Ababa Declaration. These efforts were later on complemented by the declaration of 1997 to 2006 as the first Decade on Education for the continent. An evaluation of the decade in 2006 noted that many of the goals in the plan of action were not achieved and two important reasons were cited; lack of investment and conflict across 21 countries. Lessons gathered informed the declaration of the Second Decade on Education, which is from 2006 to 2015.

It goes on then in this respect to examine 4 key issues - youth literacy rates, the extent of transition from primary to secondary education, enrolment in secondary education and enrolment in tertiary education.

Labour Market Participation

This section makes a case for the transition to work. Young people should be able to finish school and transition into the world of work, but the challenges in access to quality education and the lack of adequate skills and knowledge become impeding factors. It examines further why there should be a focus on youth on the issue of labour market participation. On this it reiterates the connection between unemployment and social exclusion, the economic impact youth unemployment and the inequalities in employment where it notes the youth-adult unemployment ration to be 3 to 1.

The section goes on to examine a variety of indicators in labour market outcomes on the continents and these include Labour Market Participation among African Youth and Labour Market Status. Under participation, it looks at labour market trends and under market status; it observes issues of employment, unemployment and inactivity.

Hunger and Poverty

The language in the introductory note of this section is perhaps our most favorite yet. It considers the how the experience of first employment “locks” young people into further poverty. This perhaps because of the possibilities offered by the new and first time income they are receiving for the first time. It goes on to describe how much poverty impacts youth development from an individual perspective. Here it compares the western and African approaches towards transitioning to adulthood. Whilst the Western approach is that of individualism, the African approach is that of interdependence. Looking at the transition progression to adulthood in Africa, the report records that poverty clearly does undermine the sequencing that young people would follow. Income and confidence to deliver support for a family leads young men to stay home longer whilst for women, early marriages, unwanted pregnancies and sometimes organized child marriages further compound the these challenges.

The section further examines issues around Youth Poverty in Africa by looking at the incidences of extreme poverty and the poverty gap ratio. It also looks at Social Protection and issues around Hunger.

Youth Mobility

This section looks at human migration as an important aspect, for young people, to make the transition to adulthood. More than 175 million people live and or work outside of their countries of origin today. Young people are an integral part of these migrations because of the impact their movements have on their places of origin and destination. This is because mobility of labour and its associated human capital between regions and occupations lends an important equilibrium for factor markets in different parts of the world. Issues of Internal, International and Forced Migration are examined in later parts of the section.


This section discusses issues around Reproductive Health, Mortality, Disability and Mental Health with respect to young people. It scans the issue of health as an imperative aspect of youth development because it affects their ability to receive information, services and engage in econoic activities. It affirms the need for young people to access reproductive health care and services because at this stage, they are developing secondary sexual characteristics and often engage in sex for the first time. Issues of Fertility, Contraceptive Use, Child Marriage and Femage Genital Mutilation are also discussed in more detail. Under Mortality, issues of Maternal Mortality Ratio and the main causes of death among African Youth are also discussed.

HIV and AIDS and Other Communicable Diseases

This section reiterates the impact the HIV/AIDS pandemic has had on the African continent. Sub Saharan Africa accounted for 78% of all new infections and 68% of all people living with HIV in the world in 2008. HIV and AIDS continues to be the leading cause of death among young males and females and the report notes that worldwide, many of the new infection occur among the 15 to 24 year age group.

This section talks about HIV/AIDS and Young people, where it examines issues of HIV Prevalence, Comparative Knowledge on HIV, and Condom Use. It also talks about Other Communicable Diseases and these include Tuberculosis and Malaria. The focus is mostly on TB and this is because of the demonstrated link between the TB and HIV.

Substance Abuse

For this section, the report clarifies that “substance abuse refers to the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs.” The introduction goes on to say that “these
substances can lead to dependence syndrome, defined as cluster of behavioural, cognitive and physiological phenomena that develop after repeated use and that typically include a strong desire to take the substance, difficulties in controlling its use and persisting in its use despite harmful consequences.”

The connection that the report is trying to make between substance abuse and young people is that substance use begins early and whilst adults also abuse, young people tend to do so in more risky ways. It also presents a challenge that exists in document the extent of substance abuse among young people. Further discussion looks at the different substances being abused and these include Alcohol, Tobacco and Illicit Drugs.

Youth Crime and Violence

This section builds discussion on Youth Crime by first looking at description on youth behavior from the Riyadh Guidelines. It notes that “youthful behaviour or conduct that does not conform to overall social norms and values is often part of the maturation and growth process and tends to disappear spontaneously in most individuals with the transition to adulthood.” It discusses further that such behaviors are cause for concern because if proper interventions are not taken, this behavior can stay untill adulthood and lead to these young people to being retained in the criminal justice system as adult offenders. The session goes on to discuss the causes and concequences of youth crime and violence on the continent.

It makes this focus by looking at Youth Crime in Africa, Youth Violence in Africa and Youth as Victims of Crime and Violence. One of the key conclusions it makes is that the drivers of youth crime and violence include Poverty and Socialeconomic Exclusion.

Civic Participation

This section looks at Civic Participation from a youth perspective where it notes that this is imperative to making governments more responsive and effective in addressing poverty (and the needs and interests of youth). Civic participation, it goes on to highlight, can then be grouped into three areas; in civic, electoral and political issues. For youth, the report quotes the 2003 World Youth Report in saying that “civic initiatives range from taking part in international conferences to implementing participatory
projects and programmes at local and national levels. Other initiatives involve developing youth organizations such as clubs, unions, networks, committees and parliaments.”

Other sub sections of this report look at Youth Civic participation in Africa where Civic Engagement, Electoral Participation and the Political Voice.  

Information and Communication Technology

The final thematic discussion in the report is on ICTs. The term according to the report embraces all communication devices and applications. The focus on this subject lies in the potential and fact that as a sector, it is increasingly creating more jobs and career opportunities across the continent, especially for young people. Services and information are increasingly becoming easily accessible because of the advances in the sector in technology packages. The section, however, discusses the issue of access to ICTs and also discusses a new trend in the global community, social networking.

Subjects discussed further in this section include Access to Information and Technology in Africa, where access to telephone services, computer use, internet use and social networking receive additional attention.


The structure of the report is quite potent based on the main reason why it was compiled. Each section or chapter is started off by an introduction that lays the ground for discussion. This is followed by specific sub sections that take the discussions further into aspects that broaden the main theme of the section. Each section is finished by Summary of key Points and Recommendations for African Governments. Since this report greatly informed discussions preceding and during the Heads of States Summit, this structure as we said is compelling, but what focus if not structure will future reports take? What will happen to this other report that is being released by the UNECA also taking on the same subject of “African Youth?” Will there be some sort of convergence of these efforts? We hope the wisdom guiding the commitments being made to shed light and ignite the potential of young people on the continent through documenting the challenges they face in these reports will guide these efforts to be inclusive and less repetitive. We are losing precious time and resources that way.

Editorial Team. 

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