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Investing in Africa’s Future

2011 July 14


By Nathalie Sheppe

The question of youth empowerment took center stage at the African Union’s 17th Annual Summit. Heads of States and African youths grappled with the threats posed by youth unemployment, low levels of education and inaccessible labor markets. These realities affect youths most directly but the wider sustainable development of African states languishes as well.

Today roughly two-thirds of the continent’s population is below 25. In failing to meet the needs of this pivotal group, African leaders fail to invest in the strength of their tomorrows. The deficit is all the more glaring as many of these states look to make the transition towards emerging market status. In order to take that step forward these states will need, amongst other things, strong human capital. By neglecting its primary source of human capital, its youths, Africa has made this transition all the more difficult. The summit was then both an acknowledgement of past shortcomings and a call to swift action. The attention brought to the matter was well received and one can only hope that it will bring about a real and deep commitment on the part of the interested parties.

I was able to delve a little deeper into this issue upon meeting a senior government official of the Ministry of Youth in Conakry. The Ministry is a partner in the execution of the UNICEF project, Jeunes de Guinee: Acteurs de la Non Violence, that I have had the opportunity to work on during my time in Guinea. I was eager to get the gentleman’s impressions of youth empowerment in Guinea given his privileged vantage point and marked interest in the matter.

He echoed many of the concerns raised over the course of the summit: Employment opportunities are scarce, and access to decision-making positions extremely limited. The latter is compounded by the fact that youths lack the education which would allow them to participate in a meaningful way.

To reverse these trends, the gentleman suggested, prioritizing the youth perspective to incorporate the needs of the young in development plans at all levels.  This reversal will take months and even years to accomplish but it is to this end that the Children and Youth activities of SFCG Guinea are dedicated. The work of Search in the field of youth empowerment is important because it “triggers” (his words), not only a greater level of youth participation but also a greater degree of adult awareness.  The initiatives equip the youths with the skills and aptitudes necessary to impose themselves as key players in the development process. The UNICEF project is a prime example of this dynamic at play.

Now in its fourth iteration, the UNICEF sponsored project Jeunes de Guinees: Acteurs de la Non Violence, was recently launched in the mining areas of the country – a conflict-prone zone which spans three different regions. It is an area rich in natural resources, the benefits of which are not equally enjoyed by the area’s residents. The project aims to educate the regions’ youths, who are often victims of political manipulation, on how to approach and resolve conflicts in a non-violent way.  After participating in a three day training, and with technical assistance from Search, these youth are tasked with educating an ever greater number of people on conflict resolution through radio programs, festivals, outreach activities, etc.  The project is designed to engage and include youth perspectives from the earliest stages on matters that are fundamentally important to them. It also puts them in positions of authority as messengers of change.

Another aspect which is integral to the project’s success is the involvement from adult support staff. The adult accompagnateurs act as coaches, providing moral support and facilitating the execution of outreach activities by leveraging their clout and contacts for the benefit of the program. This partnership offers the youths and the adults an unprecedented opportunity to work side by side, as equals, on an issue of national importance. The youths are given heavy responsibilities from the very start and the constant interface with local authorities creates a new channel of communication from which both partners benefit.

If the project has been successful to date it is because it realizes the human potential of young people and equips them with the tools and knowledge they need to become positive actors for change. But perhaps more important is the dialogue and sensitization process which derive from the fine tuned media strategy that frames the project. And while it would be naïve to suggest that one project will reverse an ingrained tendency to sideline the young, the impact is nonetheless wide felt and people are talking.


Nathalie Sheppe is an international intern, working in our Guinea office. She is currently working toward a Master of International Affairs at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Find out more about our work in Guinea here!

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