Literature Review: African youth and the impact of narrative

In a recent CNN interview, the Director of Africa's Centres for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. John Nkengasong said that 80% of Africa’s Covid-19 cases could be asymptomatic and attributed the resulting low death rates on the continent to its large youth population.

This is one of the few times that Africa’s youthfulness has been an advantage rather than a ‘ticking time bomb’.

This youth audience who swing between the ‘assets’ and ‘liabilities’ column on the world’s balance sheet, is a large part of Africa No Filter’s focus. By 2050, the continent's 18-35 demographic is projected to reach more than 800 million – and that’s a lot of people to be concerned about.

So we set out to find out more. We read twenty-nine documents of literature including research reports, attitudinal surveys, academic journals and articles about youth culture in Africa. 

Although not comprehensive, our report of reports highlights how Africa’s youth think and consider the future of this continent - important insights for our work.

We pulled out 13 things we thought were important about Africa’s youth:

  1. They are not pan-Africanists: they identify by their nationality first, followed by being Africa. This is over and above their ethnicity and religion.
  2. They are not tribal: they disagree with tribalism and are largely interested in a positive coexistence between tribes.
  3. They feel excluded: they want to be involved in solving socio-political problems in their respective countries but feel ignored by political parties and politicians.
  4. They are not big on voting: they don’t support political parties and electoral politics but tend to mobilise around specific issues, such as unemployment, their countries’ economies, and patriarchy.
  5. They don’t follow the global issues agenda: LGBTIQ+ and the environment did not rank high on their list of things to worry about.
  6. They are optimistic: about their futures and that of the continent.
  7. They believe in God: religion is important and plays a strong part in the identity of many young people – this was especially true for young women.
  8. They don’t believe in jobs: they are least optimistic about their opportunities for employment and blame poor education.
  9. They are self-starters: entrepreneurial in spirit. Key sectors of interest were retail, agriculture and technology
  10. But they need hand-holding: they feel their governments need to give them more support especially in terms of training, mentoring and start-up capital.
  11. Education is irrelevant: many feel that their education was not attuned to the requirements of modern working life.
  12. They dream big: But it is the American rather than the African dream they pursue. Better opportunities for employment and education were in rich countries and they were interested in migrating to access better opportunities.
  13. Pop culture is their outlet: Like most youth globally, they are influenced by movies, TV and particularly music as a way of articulating their identity and expressing their disgruntlement with socio-political issues.

And finally, in its "Poverty and Shared Prosperity" report released this week, the World Bank confirmed that extreme poverty will rise for the first time this century due to COVID-19, predicting the pandemic could create 115 million "new poor" this year alone. 

In this new scenario, Africa’s youth walk an even finer line between asset and liability. We will continue to explore ways to leverage the power of pop culture as a tool for influence to help counter the stereotypical narratives that we believe many African youth imbibe.