Image of people sitting on a bench
The muffled voice of youth? Africa’s optimistic next generation. Photo ©

British Council, adapted from the original.

December 2018

Almost 10% of people in the world are Africans aged under 25.  An optimistic and ambitious new generation is looking to overcome some old challenges. A new British Council report explores their hopes, fears, and dreams.  

One in every 11 people in the world is an African aged under 25. Next Generation Africa summarises the findings of research commissioned by the British Council into the views of this hugely important rising demographic in countries across Africa. The research series, which has so far included Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa, and is soon to turn to Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, has directly sourced the views of more than 11,000 young people. The findings so far have been examined by young African influencers, and show important common themes. They paint a picture of how booming youth populations offer the potential of rapid social and economic transformation. However, they also show how young people in many places continue to be underemployed, under-skilled, and excluded from decision-making - and as such are often being held back by policies that typically favour older people. This is contributing to wide-spread frustration, which in some cases could potentially lead to instability and unrest in societies under significant economic, political, and demographic pressures. 

One in every 11 people in the world is an African aged under 25

The education gap

Education is identified as one critical area for improvement across sub-Saharan Africa. Firstly, there is a call that access for disadvantaged children to education should be developed. Secondly, increasing investment for teacher training is necessary. An important third priority is to expand and improve vocational training, to better prepare graduates for a challenging labour market and give them the entrepreneurial, language, and soft skills to forge their own employment destinies.

The employment challenge 

Like education, the lack of employment opportunities is widely echoed throughout the Next Generation studies. In South Africa, youth unemployment is seen as a result of inadequate education and the failure of government to create jobs. According to respondents in South Africa, Kenya, and Tanzania, young people face discrimination because of their age. Other case studies have identified the same issues facing young people. In Kenya and South Africa, for example, the unemployment rate among young people is three times higher than among middle-aged and older people. As a consequence, young people face severe financial difficulties and are feel frustrated and unsatisfied with their governments. As one person put it: ‘Getting people to employ us – it’s like a dream that you will probably die without achieving. Our youths have so much talent – youth need to be given access to employment.’ 

Getting people to employ us – it’s like a dream that you will probably die without achieving

In general, the report identifies a positive view of the future across Africa, and reveals a generation bursting with energy, creativity, and optimism. In Tanzania, for example, 62% believe that their lives would improve in the future. Nevertheless, young people are well aware of the many barriers they still face to fulfilling their aspirations, which in many cases are not accommodated by appropriate youth-orientated policies. The frustrations experienced by large young populations when they are denied the chance to contribute to society are potentially destabilising, as several countries in North Africa have discovered in recent years. They also risk depriving developing economies of the full potential benefits of the demographic surge. 

It is therefore vital for policymakers to engage positively and proactively with the ambitious but sometimes frustrated young populations across the continent. The UK can have a role to play here, by forging partnerships in areas from teacher training, to skills, employability and entrepreneurship hubs, to exchange programmes, all of which could potentially help unlock a great deal of mutual benefit between the UK and huge numbers of future producers, consumers, and leaders. After all, young Africans will form a huge segment of the world’s Next Generation.

Alasdair Donaldson and Agota Molnar, Insight, British Council

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