The Waithood Phenomenon in Africa. Impacts and Sustainable Solutions

Term Paper, 2016

10 Pages

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Africa is ageless! It has remained young while all other continents aged. With over 40% of its
working age population between the ages of 15 and 24, it is the world's most beautiful bride.
There are about 200 million youths in Africa and this number is expected to double by the
year 2045 (African Economic Outlook).
These millions of African youths are living in limbo; a timeline between childhood and
adulthood called "Waithood" (i.e. waiting for adulthood). The notion of Waithood was first
used by Navtej Dhillon and Tarik Yousef (2007) and Diane Singerman (2007) in their work on
youth in the Middle East and North Africa
. This large youthful population means that young
people are the catalyst that will propel Africa out of the current state of poverty to prosperity.
Abbildung 1
In 2012, the UN compiled a list of 10 nations with the youngest populations in the world.
Eight of these nations were discovered to be in Africa. Africans under 25 years of age in
Angola, Chad, Somalia, Uganda, Malawi, Mali and Zambia made up more than 66% of the
population in each of these countries.
Presently, Asia is the only continent that can mount a challenge to Africa's position as the
most youthful continent. However, its youth population is currently experiencing a lag time. It
Alcinda M. Honwana, (2012). The time of youth: work, social change and politics in Africa

is estimated that youths in Asia will make up18% of its population by 2050, a significant
decrease from the current 26% (Population Reference Bureau). The growth in youth
population in Africa is not commensurate with the creation of jobs and so in a bid to escape
poverty occasioned by unemployment, youths turn to jobs in the informal sector with little or
no economic relevance further compounding the problem of poverty. According to the
International Labour Organization (ILO), 82% of African workers are "working poor".
Unemployment (this includes underemployment and unemployability) is driving the
phenomenon of Waithood in Africa.
Statistics on unemployment in Africa does not include people in vulnerable employment and
the informal sectors. Underemployment is on the rise in Africa; it means work that is
unfulfilling, does not pay good wages and will not enable the building of capacity for future
responsibilities. It is commonplace to find young African graduates of tertiary institutions
employed doing menial jobs all in an effort to make two ends meet. Underemployment is
much more dangerous than unemployment; it hides the true reality of the state of
employment rates particularly in countries that post low unemployment rates. For instance,
more than 70% of the youth in the "Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the
Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Rwanda, Senegal and Uganda are either self-
employed or contributing to family work," (Brookings Institution). High rural urban migration
has helped to make a bad situation worse; the exodus of young people from rural to urban
areas is worsening the unemployment situation. From Lagos to Cairo, Tunis to
Johannesburg the story is the same. Young people moving into these cities in droves armed
with a plethora of job applications in search of the Golden Fleece -- that dream job.
Abbildung 2

Unfortunately, many of them end up disappointed or worse underemployed. The plight of
young women is worse in that they have to face all manners of discriminations. According to
the African Development Bank (AfDB), it is easier for men to get jobs in sub-Saharan and
North Africa than it is for women, even when they have equivalent skills and experience.
Waithood: The Delayed Transition into Adulthood
Waithood is a nightmare that African youths are struggling to wake up from. It is a state of
limbo between childhood and adulthood; an undesirable phase of waiting without any end in
sight. This unpleasant burden of waiting to attain some reasonable measure of economic
autonomy is driving youth social unrest among the nations in Africa. Young people have
been forced involuntarily to put on indefinite hold key social markers of adulthood which are
economic independence, family formation and political citizenship. The frustration of making
such unfortunate tradeoffs is driving social unrests among youths across Africa. Waithood is
involuntary rather than a brief interlude in the childhood to adulthood transition. It may last for
extended periods, well into late forties for a whole of people. Some youths never get out of it
and remain permanently in the unstable, insecure and precarious and impoverished life that
Waithood imposes on them.
In Africa, prolonged Waithood is becoming the rule rather than the exception. Traditionally
transitions into adulthood involved young people gradually being given adult responsibilities;
they were also marked by cultural or religious rites of passage. Socialization constituted the
main interface between youth and the adult societies. In times of conflict, organizations and
institutions such as family, peers, schools, the media, and state and non-state institutions
that are key sources of socialization can be destroyed. This has a huge impact on the ability
of young people to transit from youth into adulthood. Conflicts (family, communal or national)
affect young people's chances of becoming economically and socially independent adults.
In almost all cases; conflict leads to a loss in education years which further compounds the
problem of transiting from school to work for youths, leading to high levels of unemployment.
Moreover, lack of proper schooling facilities and poor curriculum in many African countries
has left many young people with irrelevant knowledge that has proven useless in securing
employment and participating in social, economic, and political life (UNESCO, 2011).
Unfortunately, advanced university qualifications do not lead to better employment or
reduced unemployment rates. This one fact has turned up by many notches the frustrations
youths feel. Unemployment rate is highest among youths with medium and high level
qualifications (Barakat et al 2010). Therefore, education does not necessarily reduce
frustration among youth; rather it raises expectations which are not met by the labour market.

These increased levels of frustration are perceived by some to constitute a risk to stability
and security (Barakat et al, 2010).
Waithood is a contradiction of modern society but a reality in Africa. The opportunities and
prospects available for young people are increased and constrained both at the same time.
The Waithood problems in Africa can be directly attributed to a lack of visionary political
leadership. Because youths are a critical indicator of success in the state of any nation; of its
politics, economy, social and cultural life, young people in Africa cannot be ignored or
allowed to wait forever to attain adulthood.
The Waithood problems in Africa can be directly attributed to;
· Lack of visionary political leadership
· Conflicts
· All forms of unemployment (underemployment and unemployability)
· Outdated curriculum being taught in many African Universities
· Neoliberal frameworks that encourage Nigerian youths to become ardent globalized
And indirectly attributed to;
· Religious institutions that attempt to instill in youths the ideals of being a "Successful
Adherent" through a disguised laziness of believe-it-receive-it.
· Parents and family members who still preach the "get-good-grades-get-a-good- job"
mantra to their children and wards
These factors are driving conflicts in Africa. From the Arab Spring movements in the North of
Africa to Boko Haram terrorists in West Africa, the reasons are the same. Frustrations, anger
and despair all mixed in dangerous proportions leading young people to take to the streets or
in very extreme cases take up arms demanding change and better fortunes. A World Bank
survey in 2011 showed that about 40% of those who join rebel movements say they are
motivated by a lack of jobs. Having to deal with high unemployment, poor leadership and
poor access to quality social services caused largely by previous generations is making the
future less than ideal. Shamefully, African youths are still regarded as an appendage of
society rather than its core.
Impact of Waithood
The severity of the impact of Waithood on the lives of young Africans depends on each
individual's character, abilities and life skills. But it is also, largely, a function of their family

background, level of education and access to resources. Those from the middle class, and
well connected, are better placed to secure jobs and have a smoother trajectory towards
adulthood (Alcinda Honwana, 2014). Young men and women experience Waithood in
diverse ways. Waithood for men involves confronting the pressures of securing gainful
employment, the resources to own a home and form a family. The frustrations that Waithood
brings make it easy for young men to take to the streets in protests against various
governments in Africa. In 2012, joblessness drove many Senegalese youths into the streets
in protest against the then President Abdoulaye Wade because of the high unemployment
rate. The protest did not end on the streets but in the polling stations and opposition
politicians rode on the popularity of these protests to power defeating President Wade in the
presidential elections held in that same year. The story is not different in Nigeria, fed up with
poverty, corruption and unemployment, youths mobilized against the former President
Goodluck Jonathan in January 2011. The government of President Jonathan underestimated
the power of Nigerian youths and it cost him the Presidency. Protests were taken from the
streets unto social platforms. So potent was the chatter on social media that former President
Jonathan mulled the idea of a bill regulating the social sphere. In one case, one of his aides
derogatorily referred to the millions of disenchanted youths on twitter as the "twittering
children of anger".
In countries where incumbents have been surprisingly defeated, youths played a pivotal role
in their defeat.
Why it remains unsolved
Abbildung 3 Source: UNECA Fact Sheet, 2011
UN entities working on youth issues in Africa:
United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the United Nations
Children's Fund
(UNICEF), the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of
Women (UN WOMEN), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United
Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific
and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the
United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the Office of the United Nations High
i i
i h (
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There are 11 organs of the African Union (AU) and not one of them is primarily dedicated to
youth development. The African Union Youth Division is embedded under the AU's
Department of Human Resources, Science and Technology. The "Futures" of Africa do not
participate in decision making process at the highest levels in Africa. The African Union by so
doing is playing lip service to the potential problems that a 200 million youth strong army can
cause. History is replete with testimonies of how youth inspired social movements brought
down many regimes. From the Arab Springs in the North of Africa to the Occupy Nigeria
movement, the power of youths in shaping the political destinies of their countries can no
longer be refuted.
Inept political leadership in Africa is making the youth problem worse. In Africa, most
government initiatives targeted at youths are planned, managed and evaluated by people
who do fall into the chronological definition of youths. Young people are never consulted on
matters that concern them. At the moment Africa has grown past the model of elders
programming future realities for youths. If they had the answers to the myriad of problems
facing the continent, Africa will not be in the socio-economic mess it has found itself. The
truth is that young Africans should be designated as a marginalized group. In Nigeria for
instance, the Minister of Youth and Sports, Hon. Solomon Dalung is 52 years old. In 2012,
the then Nigerian ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) elected a 60 year old
Malam Umar Garba Chiza as its National Youth Leader. Presently, the current ruling party in
Nigeria the All Progressives Congress has a 52 year old Ibrahim Dasuki Jalo-Waziri as its
national youth leader. The story is the same everywhere, Africa is a `homologous series'
where to know one is to know all. Gerontocracies articulate the problems faced by African
youths and not the youths themselves. Political citizenship is one of the key social markers of
adulthood but still the older generation has refused to trust younger generation with political
responsibility despite knowing that many young Africans are more than capable to lead.
Most African countries have a youth policy that is poorly implemented or not implemented at
all. The National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN), one of the creations on the youth policy of
Nigeria is merely an accessory of whoever is in power; praise singers and hangers-on have
become the pitiable name tag Nigerian "youth leaders" have allowed the Nigerian political
leadership to pin on them.
Every time Youth is mentioned all that comes to the mind of older people is sports. This
foolishness has continued unabated as a testimony to the insincerity and hypocrisy of the
half-hearted efforts in resolving the youth development issue of which unemployment is chief.

Sustainable Solutions
In order for Africa to take full advantage of its youth population and to ensure future
prosperity, heavy investment is needed in education, health and employment, for men and
women, in both rural and urban areas (UNECA, 2011). The diagnosis of Waithood regardless
of terminology is often made in academic contexts with an explicit focus on Africa (Jorgen
Carling 2015). But there is a need to look at the subject of Waithood from a cultural and
traditional perspective as well.
Youth development schemes and initiatives should be given
the serious of time, resources and attention it requires. Issues that affect youths require more
critical thinking and strategic planning, but till date, these issues are treated with levity
without any though for the consequences. Conquering unemployment (which includes
underemployment and unemployability) is on the top of the wish list for African youths; the
attainment of gainful employment and political citizenship will enable the integration of youths
into the mainstream of national, continental and global development.
Countries in Africa must as a priority involve youths in all stages of planning of youth policies
and programmes. Young people must be involved in policy making and national
development planning. There can be no future for youths without their active input; youths
must be given a chance to take the lead in development research focused on youth issues
as they are the ones who are faced with them.
There is need to breathe life into the popular statement that the African Union considers
African Youth a special resource that requires special attention. That African youth must be
harnessed for the socio-economic development of Africa is no longer in doubt. Africa's youth
have been through a lot; war, poverty, deprivation; poor quality of education and limited skill
development opportunities. All these have stunted their development in their journey towards
becoming responsible citizens.
The waiting is getting too long and youths are getting more restless. In Nigeria, young people
who did not witness the Nigerian civil war (Nigeria-Biafra war) are agitating for the creation of
the Republic of Biafra. Frustration at the constrained opportunities and anger at the state of
their nation is fueling such agitations. All over Africa, youths are talking but Africa is not
listening. The agenda setting process must not be initiated by violence before national
governments in Africa wake up.
It is time for a change in the proper direction; an era to engage youths in the decision making
process. The popular hash tag (#NoFuture4UsWithoutUs) that has been trending on Twitter
since January 2016 is a true reflection of the demands of African Youths. History may judge

while posterity bear witness but African Youths will not stop their agitations not even in the
face of military force.

1. Africa's Youth: Ticking Time Bomb or an Opportunity (May, 2013). Retrieved from
2. Anna Louise Strachan (2015). Youth transitions into adulthood in protracted crises.
Retrieved from
3. Honawa, A. (2014). "Waithood": Youth transitions and social change. In D. Foeken, T.
Dietz, L. de Haan, and L. Johnson (eds.) Development and Equity: An
interdisciplinary exploration by ten scholars from Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Leiden: Brill.
4. Jorgen Carling (2015). Pathways out of Waithood: Initial steps towards a conceptual
framework. Paper presented at ECAS 2015, the 6th European Conference on African
5. Kurtenbach, S. (2012a). Postwar youth violence: A mirror of the relationship between
youth and adult society (Working Paper No. 199). Hamburg: GIGA German Institute
6. Kurtenbach, S. (2012b). Youth and gender and the societal dynamics of fragility
(Background paper for World Bank report on the societal dynamics of fragility)
7. Regional Overview: Youth in Africa (UNECA, 2011). Retrieved from
8. Roudi, F. (2011). Youth population and employment in the Middle East and North
Africa: Opportunity or Challenge (Paper submitted to the United Nations Expert Group
Meeting on Adolescents, Youth and Development). New York: Population Division,
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9. UNESCO. (2011).The hidden crisis: Armed conflict and education (Education for All
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The Waithood Phenomenon in Africa. Impacts and Sustainable Solutions
University of Lagos
Research and Public Policy
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Waithood, African Youths, Waithood in Africa, Henry Akwuebu, Sustainable solutions to waithood
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Henry Akwuebu (Author), 2016, The Waithood Phenomenon in Africa. Impacts and Sustainable Solutions, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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