Africa's Diverging Approaches to Youth Inclusion and Participation

Discussions about youth have taken various forms in Africa, as this segment of the population grows exponentially, propelling government responses and policy interventions to meet the needs of young people. A coordinated response requires a shared understanding of key components such as youth participation and youth inclusion, which seem to take diverging paths in Africa. Certainly, the interpretation of these concepts may differ based on country contexts. However, it is imperative that African countries take guidance from the existing standards and codes to which they are signatories. To adequately harness this demographic dividend, no country can run away from fully empowering its youth and creating an enabling environment for young people to be an integral part of development. African countries need to go beyond the narrow definition of participation and inclusion – characterised by the delivery of basic services by the state to young people – to rather empower and elevate youth to decision-making. First the continent’s response to the needs of its young people is assessed in accordance with its normative and operational frameworks. The paper then measures participation against the central tenets of the participatory governance theory and hones in on Africa’s key good governance assessment and promotion institution – the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) – and its role in fostering participatory approaches. It finds that there is policy incoherence in how frameworks are interpreted and implemented at policy and programmatic level. Examples of meaningful youth participation are few and far between in Africa. There are instances where the inclusion of young people is a tokenistic tick-box exercise and not demand driven, and there are limited indicators and targets for measuring progress in terms of youth empowerment.