The demographic dividend lens offers African nations a unique opportunity to focus on sustainable youth development and to achieve the vision of Agenda 2063 (the African Union’s framework for continent-wide socioeconomic transformation).
The African Union’s roadmap on implementing the 2017 theme, “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend Through Investments in Youth” identifies four pillars of investment and action to achieve a demographic dividend:
- Employment and Entrepreneurship
- Education and Skills Development
- Health and Well-Being
- Rights, Governance, and Youth Empowerment
It also advocates for creating an enabling environment that includes framing the discourse to encourage ownership by Africans.
This was the backdrop to the media consultation held by the African Union Commission (AUC) in collaboration with Population Reference Bureau—part of the activities for the creation of a media campaign to popularize the demographic dividend among African youth. The consultation was held from the 29th to the 31st of July 2017 at the AUC headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Thirteen young media professionals from across the five regions of the African continent came together to offer insights on how to take the demographic dividend conversation to the African youth to create awareness and inspire ownership.
Below is a summary of the discussion with some key takeaways.
“What Does This Have to Do With Me?”
During a session on identifying audience insights regarding the situation of young Africans, facilitated by M&C Saatchi World Services and RED Media Africa, the participants, young media professionals, identified linkages among the issues affecting the average African youth and the potential solutions offered by the demographic dividend pillars. Workshop participants thought that youth challenges included access to technology, lack of available spaces for self-expression, tension between religion and other aspects of contemporary society, social exclusion of some groups, boredom among some young people, increasing levels of obesity, conflicting affiliations that define youth’s identity, expectations based on traditional culture, and the weight of colonialist history. The group explored the idea that young people may view their lives and problems as individual, while their problems actually fit directly into the large, continental issues that youth typically find abstract and distant.
Overcoming Youth Apathy to Sociopolitical Issues
Participants identified some fundamental hurdles to overcome before young people can feel included in the conversation around the demographic dividend and own their focal role in its actualization. They discussed how lawmakers and country leaders seem to lack the political will to practically prioritize youth through targeted policies and actions and this has led to youth’s strong sense of apathy towards their governments and the African Union. Participants reported that young people feel a definite disconnect between their realities and the apparent priorities of their leaders.
Despite verbal commitments by African heads of state and initiation of continental frameworks for youth development—such as the African Youth Charter and its subsequent Decade Plan of Action—African youth still feel unheard by their leaders. This has led to a “what’s the point?” mindset, where young people have turned away from government as a tool for progress and are now focused on achieving personal advancement without the support of social and political structures. The consultation identified the need to strengthen channels of communication between young people and their political leaders, using the demographic dividend and the African Union’s mandate to accelerate tangible action in its 55 member states.
Youth Hustling for Progress
As mentioned above, the group gained one key insight: African youth have a relentless desire for personal advancement. Young Africans are constantly “hustling to survive” in a continent where they meet resistance to progress on many levels. African youth feel an urgency to change things and move forward into the future, despite the odds against joining their global contemporaries. Currently, the tension between a past that they cannot really identify with and an uncertain future in which they are not confident of their place in their society means that many young Africans are striving for progress in an isolated and more tortuous manner.
Activities designed to popularize the demographic dividend among African youth should aim to capitalize on this inherent spirit of hustling and determination to succeed against all odds. Participants emphasized that self-actualization will only be achieved by creating opportunities for others and collaborating to optimize results. The four pillars of the demographic dividend identified in the roadmap for the 2017 AU theme of the year—Employment and Entrepreneurship; Education and Skills Development; Health and Well-Being; and Rights, Governance, and Youth Empowerment—focus this collaboration and accent the necessity for things to work in tandem to achieve any measure of progress. For example, education for girls will delay early marriage, equip them with skills for employment, and empower them with knowledge and understanding of their rights. More women in the formal workforce will lead to lower fertility rates, which directly affects the future of achieving the demographic dividend. The dual purpose of individual actualization and community development is better achieved when people work together along with their governments. Interventions under the four pillars should work concurrently, and in a chain reaction to accelerate collective development.
Inspiring Ownership Through Effective Messaging
Reviving the sense of community and collective effort towards universal development is important, and the demographic dividend framework provides goals relevant to youth. A key future challenge of the campaign will be crafting messages that can help overcome youth apathy and inspiring youth ownership of their own development, while leveraging the African spirit of resilience and determination to “beat the odds.”
To promote this ownership, young people need a personal understanding of the concept of the demographic dividend and must be able to relate to key focus areas. Young people ask, “What is in this for me?” Identifying avenues for personalization emerged as a priority for messaging. Participants also acknowledged that demographic dividend framework compels African youth to consider how their day-to-day issues fit into a broader development agenda that cuts across multiple sectors. This is a key step toward personalizing the discourse on the demographic dividend and finding direct points for youth participation.