The problem or rather question of the youth has resurfaced onto the world market of ideas and public policy. Whereas in the past, atleast in mid-20th century, focus on the youth question was brought about by lack of knowledge and understanding of youth and ‘youth culture’, the late 20th and 21st century sees a renewed focus on youth informed by socio-economic realities of the world.
In Africa and elsewhere in the world, demographic trends are showing the reality of an emergent younger generation (described in demographic terms as the ‘youth bulge’) and the attendant question of whether society and public policy is ready for the needs and aspirations of the youth. For a while, policy debates have also centered around choosing the best models for what is generally known as youth development: the choice being between targeted or mainstreaming approaches?
With the African Union (AU) having declared 2009-2018 the Decade on Youth Development in Africa, it is almost a foregone conclusion that certain sections in the intellectual community will be seized with the notion of ‘youth development’ or better still, the broader youth question.
In Africa, depending on how one defines the youth, percentage estimates of youth can reach the 60% mark. Apparently, this demographic reality has serious implications for Africa’s policy environment, long-term development and sustainability.
The renewed focus by the AU and national governments on youth policy and programme initiatives deserves critical analysis and theorising by researchers, academics and practitioners working in the area of youth empowerment and development.
The discussion in this paper begins with an exploration of the conceptual foundations of the concepts of youth and youth development and their utility in the real world. Secondly, based on available literature and data, the evolving experience of the African continent in developing policies and implementing programmes (practice) on youth development is discussed and a limited comparison is made with the European Union where possible. Thirdly, particular observations and projection of youth policy, programmes and discourse are made and possible future scenarios are proposed. Finally, certain conclusions are made about both the state of the discourse and public policy practice.
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