Africa is the world’s youngest continent, yet corruption and a penchant for tyrannical and dynastic regimes has left that population governed by the world’s oldest ruling class, which is woefully out of touch. The result has been a clash of generations that seems irreconcilable, as the mode of response from authority figures to the restless youth’s criticism has been decidedly strong-armed.
Over the past three decades, Africa’s total population has grown at a rate of 2.6%, while the world’s average stands at 1.5%. Equatorial New Guinea leads the African nations with a population growth rate of 3.7%, and the lowest is the developing island states Mauritius, where growth stands at .8%. While a decline in fertility is expected to slow the rate of growth eventually, the momentum of African popular expansion has resulted in the most youthful populace on the planet.
For many continents and nations, a population skewing towards youth is a pipe dream. Japan has been grappling fruitlessly with how to turn around a fertility crisis as its aging population faces inevitable healthcare costs that its shrinking number of young people simply will not be able to pay for. Italy, Greece, Germany, and Portugal are among the other Western nations coping with an aging population that outpaces its young. In these nations, Africa’s demographic makeup would be seen as a blessing. In Africa, the situation is not quite as clear.
Demographers have openly wondered whether Africa’s excessively youthful population is an asset or a liability. Those who argue that it is more problematic than beneficial point to already sky-high jobless rates plaguing the nation; six of the ten nations with the highest unemployment are African, and four of those nations have 40% unemployment or higher. History and the human condition tell us that a young unemployed population is more difficult to assuage than an aging one, and so the youth have turned to counterfeiting and other forms of illicit activity to provide for themselves.
‘Walk into many cyber cafes in West Africa and you will see scores of young minds running sophisticated counterfeiting schemes aimed at making money by defrauding innocent people. They blame unemployment and lack of opportunities for driving them into entrepreneurial criminality.’ (BBC)
While some speak with the optimism that is inherent to youthfulness, that view is quickly dashed by those who point to the instability in the Middle East, and the resulting rise in unrestrained extremism, that came largely as the result of restless youths utilizing technology, willpower, and violence to overthrow their out-of-touch elderly rulers. In many cases such as Libya and Egypt, the results of those uprisings has been catastrophic, with old-school authoritarianism giving way to complete and utter lawlessness and human slavery.
This is precisely the fear that many hold for Africa. The median age in Africa is 19.4 years. And yet, the continent also has the world’s oldest leaders, with its five longest tenured presidents aged 71 to 88 years. Nine African presidents are 73 years or older. And, most of these leaders tend towards the outrageously corrupt. As most know, and the exorbitant unemployment numbers and general misery plaguing most of Africa also suggest, corruption does not make for smooth economic or social climates.
The result has proven a supremely pissed-off population of young people lashing out at their circumstances, and more acutely their national leadership. Uganda is currently serving as a case study for this toxic dynamic, with 73-year-old Ugandan tyrant Yoweri Museveni as the focal point of a nation’s understandable dissatisfaction.
‘With a median age of 16 years, Uganda has Africa’s second-youngest population after Niger, but it is ruled by one of the continent’s oldest and longest-serving presidents. Mr. Museveni, who calls himself a “wise old man with a hat” and regularly refers to young Ugandans as his grandchildren, has maintained a bigger public profile than some of his fellow longtime rulers.’ (Wall Street Journal)
Museveni isn’t helping his case, as he’s responded to complaints about his out-of-touch ruling style with an approach that proves his critics’ point.
‘Last year, Mr. Museveni removed term limits from the constitutionand in July imposed a tax on social-media use, which he blames for spreading “fake news.” He has closed down critical media and pro-democracy groups and arrested dozens of journalists.
Government data, meanwhile, show that 3.4 million Ugandans slipped into poverty during the past five years, youth unemployment stands above 60% and public hospitals routinely lack basic medicine.’ (WSJ)
Museveni recently arrested a popular Ugandan rapper named Bobi Wine, who is known for frequently criticizing the president in his songs. Wine is also now a member of Ugandan Parliament, and his lyrics speak directly to the youth that Museveni, as a matter of age and tactics, has completely disenfranchised.
‘“We know you fought a bush war,” he sings about Mr. Museveni in his 2017 single “Freedom.” “But imagine a child who wasn’t born when you came [into power] has now become a parent.”’
Bobi Wine has a point. And, more importantly, it’s a point that can be reasonably shared by several other African nations, including Cameroon, whose President Paul Biya is 85. The Republic of Congo’s Denis Sassou Nguesso is 74 and has been in control of the perpetually chaotic central African nation for 32 years, while Equatorial New Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema is 76.
And, though Africa has never been a bastion of stability, expect the domino that is Uganda to spark a wider sentiment of upheaval in these nations where the young are coming to outnumber the old, and will not live in misery quietly.