Despite their numerical strength, young people in Africa are still confronted with significant obstacles to participating in economic, social and political circles. Yet, Africa’s youth are the key to the continent’s renaissance and will remain players in and advocates of social transformation and development in many spheres. The enormous benefits that youth can contribute can only be realised when investment is made in their education, employment, health care, empowerment and effective civic participation. A number of bilateral and multilateral donors, as well as foundations and other global institutions have published policies and strategies, commissioned research and analysis, and launched a range of programmes and initiatives targeting Africa’s youth.
This donor momentum has obviously increased the profile of Africa’s youth across all domains of global development discourse. However, more needs to be done to ensure that donor policies and strategies are matched by an increase in funding and specific programming to effectively and efficiently meet youth needs on the continent. Across Africa, as part of division of labour between donors and partner governments, several donors have moved towards greater sectoral concentration, both at an overall regional level and in specific countries.
This has in most cases led to a diminishing focus on youth development as a sector in its own right; either because it is considered as cross-sectoral or because it has been dropped in favour of other key sectors such as education, health or economic growth. The aid effectiveness agenda has also led to most donors increasingly shifting from the old ‘project’ modality towards larger-scale programmatic sector-wide approaches. This shift has increasingly resulted in multi-donor programmes in which the national government or a UN agency is the main in-country partner. In several African countries for example, for a variety of reasons, governments only pay lip service to youth issues, and as a result, youth development programmes do not receive significant funding. Developing a system to enable specific monitoring of commitments and expenditure on youth will ensure that policy commitments are matched by programming commitments and funding. For more efficiency and coordination, donors should also create specific youth units with advisors that have responsibility for driving policy and programming on youth. The youth units and their advisors could provide more explicit guidance to different country and sectoral programmes on why, when and how to focus on youth with examples of best practice for analysis, programming, monitoring and evaluation.
In the absence of this, youth issues risk being de-prioritised. Donors should also give more overall priority to youth development in Africa. For Africa’s youth to receive the much needed programming and funding they deserve, there needs to be a more systematic approach to analysing their situation, and when appropriate, including more explicit objectives related to youth development in key donor policies, strategies and programmes. Undoubtedly, more funding is needed to demonstrate donors’ recognition of the importance of investing in youth for Africa’s development. Both large and small programmes are encouraged. But in particular, smaller, catalytic projects on youth development in African countries can be critical to supporting the piloting of new approaches particularly at community level.
Large-scale programmes can be executed through multi-donor pool-funding mechanisms, while small projects can be funded through mechanisms like challenge funds and small grants initiatives managed by third parties. In order to provide a fuller picture to form the basis for investments in Africa’s youth, further research is required to provide context-specific analysis of the situation of youth in each African country. Such research should explore the specific risks and challenges faced by different groups of youth and the opportunities that exist for engaging with them to meet their needs and enhance their role in peace building and development.
BY EMMANUEL EDUDZIE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, YOUTH EMPOWERMENT SYNERGY.