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African Youth Survey 2022: Brimming with gems of insight

Current Affairs

African Youth Survey 2022: Brimming with gems of insight

New African is once again proud to be associated with the Ichikowitz Family Foundation’s African Youth Survey. This unique polling of the opinions, hopes and fears of Africa’s youth is an invaluable guide and tool for the continent’s planners and leaders as they try to make sense of the current times and chart out courses for the future. Report by Anver Versi.

The Ichikowitz Family Foundation’s second African Youth Survey, following on from the first edition in 2020, comes at exactly the right time as Africa begins the slow recovery from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and all its ramifications. 

A great deal has happened between the two surveys – aside from the Covid pandemic and the resulting economic shutdowns, which led to very considerable loss of income and opportunity, there has been the global political turmoil, the climate crisis, the spontaneous uprisings against authority, the increase of politically motivated violence, and a growing dissatisfaction with establishment governance and lack of vision at the national leadership level.

Young Africans’ reactions to these developments are perfectly captured by the survey, which comes up with many sobering insights – for example, although optimism for the future has declined considerably since the last survey, young people have not sunk into despair. Instead, they seem determined to shape the future through their own efforts and open up different paths to earning their living. While their confidence in the older generation to find solutions has declined, their confidence in their own abilities has not. 

This is a very encouraging sign and shows that Africa’s youth has now developed powerful wings and is prepared to fly off on its own and carve out a much better future for itself.

Survey polling was carried out in 15 African countries – Angola, Congo Brazzaville,Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda, and Zambia – in each of which 300 young people, on a strict 50:50 gender basis, were asked their views on the 10 topics. Forty percent of those surveyed said they were students.

“We have now interviewed just under 10,000 young Africans in two separate surveys,” says Ivor Ichikowitz, chairman of the foundation.

An accurate reflection of how the youth see their world

Over the last few years, sitting at my editor’s desk, I have come across a great deal of discussion about Africa’s ‘youth bulge’ and all sorts of theories about what this means and how to handle it; but very rarely have I heard from the youth themselves. This survey, like its predecessor, does just that. It accurately reflects how the youth see their world and their place in it.

It also shows that many perceptions about young Africa, often arrived at from little more than disjointed fragments of information or the narrow projections of observers, are well off the mark and bear little resemblance to the reality.

“The whole aim of this exercise,” writes Ichikowitz in a foreword to the survey, “is not just about changing perceptions though, it’s about giving African countries the tools to understand their future leaders. When they do that, they can develop the power to get to the bottom of their own problems.”

In a guest foreword, Kgalema Motlanthe, former President of the Republic of South Africa, says that while there is a real belief that this will be Africa’s century, “it will not be the elders of this continent that do it, but the generations that come after, especially the most important cohort of all – the 18 to 24-year-olds – since they are the leaders in waiting. What do they think? What do they need? Most, importantly, how do they feel? Thanks to the second edition of the African Youth Survey, we know the answers to these pressing issues.”

The African Youth Survey 2022 is once again presented with its unique combination of eye-catching graphics and informed but pithy commentary. It is subdivided into 10 areas of concern for African youth, like Afro-optimism, connectivity and media, environment, safety and security, employment, foreign relations and so on. 

Each segment discusses the issues within it exhaustively. For example, the segment on foreign relations looks at the relative influence of foreign powers on Africa, debates whether China’s influence is positive or negative and even discusses the continent’s relations with the US, contrasting views on the leadership under Donald Trump and Joe Biden. 

It rounds the section off with a very interesting verdict by young Africans on the level of trust that they have in their own leadership – and perhaps it comes as no surprise that they see their elected officers as the least trustworthy of all leaders.

Essays

The segments are bookended with essays from a variety of people who each provide a deeper delve into the subject. I was honoured to be invited to contribute to the segment on ‘Connectivity and media’, which discusses the importance not only of the mobile phone as a means of communication but also makes the case for universal access to the internet as a human right. It examines the growing significance of e-commerce in the economic mix, how the youth get their information about the world around them, which sources they trust and which they are suspicious of, the power of the social media and the menace of fake news.

I observe: “The challenge has been how to incorporate the best of traditional media with its checks and balances with the digital delivery and consumption system. There is little doubt that unless this happy medium can be reached, the future will be characterised by chaos and an unchecked and sometimes violent clash of ideas all beamed at the young world of tomorrow.

“It was with relief that I found that the majority of African youth consider traditional local and international news outlets as the most trustworthy and although they very often consult Facebook for news content, they find it least trustworthy.”

It is very encouraging to discover that in a world that seems to be finding it more and more difficult to distinguish between what is true and what is false, African youth, according to the Reuters Institute at Oxford University, “shows the highest levels of concern of all regions, with more than three quarters (78%) expressing concern over misinformation.” It means that it is not and hopefully will not be easy to fool an African!

The essayists include: Chido Cleopatra Mpemba, Special Envoy of Youth, Cabinet of the Chairperson, the African Union Commission; Belvin Tawuya, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at the Africa Centre in London; Ineza Umuhoza Grace, CEO of The Green Fighter, a youth-led environmental NGO operating in Rwanda; Dr Richard Munang, the Africa Regional Climate Change Coordinator at UNEP; and Masa Mara (Eli Gold), a Rwandan-born fashion designer and visual artist, among others.

The survey is full of little gems of information, each of which can be teased out for full-length discussions at various levels in various institutions. The content is fairly tightly packed and I found that the more I visited the survey, the more information I discovered. While it is very pleasant to leaf through, you realise that it is designed as a practical tool to help planners and decision makers – and provides a sobering insight for politicians, who may want to pay a good deal of attention to what the youth thinks of them. 

The African Youth Survey 2022 is in essence a tribute to the importance of the continent’s young people. As Ichikowitz says in his foreword: “So many of Africa’s youth today are marginalised. I hope this survey proves to them that someone is listening to their concerns and by sharing their dreams publicly, gives them hope. 

“It’s about telling them that the dreams they dare to dream for themselves aren’t unique, because so many others across Africa share the same hopes and the same fears. I hope this survey will give them the confidence to continue on the journeys that so many have begun, to unlock their own promise.”

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