Africa’s youth: patience
at an end
“Human security” as leitmotiv
for foreign policy
Africa’s youth: patience at an end
Alcinda Honwana, Filip de Boeck (Eds.):
Makers and Breakers. Children and Youth in Postcolonial Africa.
Oxford, James Currey 2005, 244 pages,
£45.00, ISBN: 0-85255-434-6
Children and young people can be found at the centre of all social upheavals in Africa today. This is hardly surprising. The average age of Africa’s population is considerably lower than that of the industrialised nations. The high level of politicisation of young people in the Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Sierra Leone is one of the signs of the collapse of national and pan-African identities. Extreme social polarisation drives them to gather and form new communities of their own.
The essays assembled in “Makers and Breakers” understand youth to be a socially-constructed category. While young people share the experience of most other inhabitants of the continent, they suffer particularly hard from social, political and economic marginalisation. They live, after all, in societies in which the elders call the shots. In debates on roles, rights and responsibilities, youth movements often align themselves with global discourse on human rights and democratisation. In this way they open up new, previously-unavailable fields of communication to those excluded from power and prosperity. The authors use the term “youth” loosely, to include those who identify with the young, irrespective of their actual age.
Understood in this way, “youth” are people without steady incomes or opportunities of achieving a certain social standing through marriage or house-ownership. Their common experience of exclusion is the starting-point from which they challenge elite-defined notions of development or poverty reduction.
Various articles broach the issue of how oppositional attitudes evolve. The collection covers a span of topics ranging from pop music and dance to individuals’ revolts to joining militias. Mats Utas describes the role of young women in the Liberian civil war, Brad Weiss analyses currents in the globalised youth culture in Arusha, Tanzania. Ibrahim Abdullah discusses the subversive effects of cultural activities during the dictatorship in Sierra Leone in the 1980s.
Other essays address ways of coping with the physical and psychological traumas stemming form permanent instability, war and social upheaval. The experiences of conflict in the Western Cape of South Africa in the late 1970s and in India following the murder of Indira Gandhi in 1984 are examined. Filip de Boeck deals with accusations of witchcraft against children and the spread of Pentecostal churches in Kinshasa. He explains the pivotal place taken by religious ideas and ritual practices in the life of this city.
The authors of this stimulating and comprehensive publication are united in their rejection of popular dichotomies, which see children and young people as either victims or perpetrators (as in the often clichéd image of child soldiers). With their promise of modernisation, the post-colonial elites succeeded in absorbing criticism and protest until the 1980s. However, people’s patience has largely come to an end. Africa’s youth is no longer prepared to postpone demands for prosperity and respect.
In his afterword, Mamadou Diouf states – perhaps a little prematurely – that the era of the young being represented by their elders has come to an end. However, the dominance of youth gangs and militias in the war regions depressingly illustrates that young people do not necessarily act any less violently.