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Society

Africa's youth impatient for generation change

In North Africa, young people's frustrations drove them to topple their leaders. There has been no youth-driven revolt in sub-Saharan Africa, but the frustration is no less palpable.

When Mkhuleko Hlengwa arrived in Cape Town, South Africa, for the opening of parliament in February, the 25-year-old made heads turn. The youngest member of parliament was sporting a red bow tie, matching red footwear and a black suit. He had a button on his lapel that read "No to rape." His message was clear. 'I'm young, full of self-confidence and am going to focus on the things that are important to young people.'

As one of 18 deputies from the conservative Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), Hlengwa faces formidable political opponents, the ruling African National Conference (ANC), who have 264 of the 400 seats, a comfortable majority. Hlengwa says his youth is not an issue with the IFP.

"They've got a clear understanding that it is not really much about age, but about the work that needs to be done," he told DW.

Wer hat das Bild gemacht?: Thomas Mösch
Wann wurde das Bild gemacht?: 7.03.2013
Wo wurde das Bild aufgenommen?: Berlin
Bildbeschreibung: Bei welcher Gelegenheit / in welcher Situation wurde das Bild aufgenommen? Wer oder was ist auf dem Bild zu sehen?
Mkhuleko Hlengwa ist Südafrikas jüngster Parlaments-Abgeordneter. Er sitzt seit Mai 2012 im Parlament in Kapstadt.

Mkhuleko Hlengwa was elected to parliament in Cape Town in May 2012

Hlengwa wants to see young South Africans playing an active role in the life of their country and holding their rulers accountable for their actions. Combating violence against women is a priority. There were 64,000 reported cases of rape in South Africa in 2012. The real figure, human rights organizations say, is probably far higher.

Invest in recreation and sport

Fighting unemployment and improving education are also important for the young deputy. If youth unemployment remains stubbornly high – it currently stands at 50 percent, double the national average – then Hlengwa is convinced South Africa will find itself on difficult terrain, like one of its neighbors.

"Zimabwe is a case in point where human rights are down-trodden and the country has collapsed," he said . "South Africa is headed in that direction as long as it does not take the problems and the expressions of young people seriously."

Hlengwa believes the state should not only be investing in education and health, but also in recreation and sport. "Young people can only contribute to the South African economy, if the conditions are right," he said

Sick of corruption

Yusuf Kiranda from Uganda shares such views. The 31-year-old works in Kampala for the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a German organization which seeks to promote democracy and civil society. Kiranda is supporting a group of young Ugandan managers who are trying to develop alternative solutions to the country's present political problems. Youth unemployment is also the biggest issue in Uganda, Kiranda told DW. The future looks bleak for young people and the government is doing nothing to rectify this.

Wer hat das Bild gemacht?: Thomas Mösch
Wann wurde das Bild gemacht?: 7.03.2013
Wo wurde das Bild aufgenommen?: Berlin
Bildbeschreibung: Bei welcher Gelegenheit / in welcher Situation wurde das Bild aufgenommen? Wer oder was ist auf dem Bild zu sehen?
Yusuf Kiranda ist Programme Manager bei der Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in Kampala / Uganda. Er ist Mitglied im Young Leaders Think Tank for Political Alternatives.

Yusuf Kiranda is dismayed by government inaction over corruption in Uganda

"The youth continue to be disgusted by the pervasive corruption in the public sector. Funds that are initially allocated for programs – among them those which are suppose to empower the youth - are squandered and misappropriated," Kiranda said.

He added that no action is taken by the government to ensure that those responsible for stealing public funds are reprimanded or face the consequences.

 "So the frustration is no job, conditions are bad now, but there is nothing that is being done that could make conditions better" is how Kiranda describes the predicament of young people in Uganda.

Not around during liberation

Kiranda and other young people like him are fed up with hearing their rulers blame the colonial era for the inadequacies of the education system. That is so far back in the past that it is no longer a valid excuse for the absence of reform, they say. The education system should be overhauled so it can offer young people proper training for the world of work, Kiranda believes.

Africa has a young population. Two thirds of Africans south of the Sahara are under 25, yet the needs of young people are not given priority. In Uganda, there are youth quotas for representation in the local and national assemblies, but their impact on political life appears minimal. 

"Even when the young people try to speak out  they are not being listened to and they are always reminded of the fact that they were not there when the liberation movement was taking place," he said.

Kiranda complains that older politicians don't understand that young people don't simply want to talk about the future, they want to help shape the present, here and now.

Der Präsident a.D. von Accra/Ghana, John A. Kufuor, aufgenommen am Samstag (04.06.2011) nach einer Veranstaltung des Deutschen Evangelischen Kirchentags unter dem Motto Auf dem Weg zu einer neuen Weltordnung? in der Halle 1 der Messe in Dresden. Der 33. Deutsche Evangelische Kirchentag findet vom 01. bis zum 05. Juni 2011 in Dresden unter der Losung ...da wird auch dein Herz sein statt. Foto: Arno Burgi dpa/lsn

John Kufuor was president of Ghana from 2001 to 2009

John Kufuor qualifies as an "older politician." The 74-year-old former Ghanaian president insists young people are gaining influence in political life in his country. Age is no longer the barrier it once was. 

"If you come to the parliament of Ghana now you will find a parliament of 275 members," he told DW. "I believe that over 50 percent must be under the age of 40, 45. Many young people now are given ascendancy. Africa is changing very fast, it is opening up," he said.  

Kufuor believes young Africans like Mkhuleko Hlengwa or Yusuf Kiranda will drive that change. They will not easily be silenced. According to Hlengwa, the older generation must do their jobs better in future, or "they will have to take their leave." 

DW.DE