Youth and the Rule of Law in Sub-Saharan Africa: Symposium Final Report

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Sub-Saharan Africa (“the region”) is the youngest region in the world, and its youth population is growing rapidly. A common narrative depicts Africa’s youth as a destabilizing force that threatens the region’s security—a concept sometimes referred to as the “youth bulge and instability thesis”—often focusing on concerns about unemployment, unrest, and violence. An alternative to this narrative is that the potential of Sub-Saharan Africa’s youth can be unlocked to create peace and prosperity for the region, a narrative found in regional frameworks—such as the African Youth Charter—and global frameworks—such as United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250. Youth have the potential to be a great asset for Sub-Saharan Africa’s development, but only if the state engages with and invests in youth. A variety of obstacles related to rule of law stand in the way of constructive engagement between youth and the state, however, including but not limited to widespread exclusion of youth from decision-making processes, a lack of confidence among youth in formal institutions of the state, and criminal justice systems in the region that fail to meet the needs of youth. Robust rule of law depends on active citizen engagement in both civic life and the economy, but Sub-Saharan Africa’s youth face barriers in the form of inequality, marginalization, and unemployment. In addition, the marginalization of youth in civil society and the private sector appears to contribute to youth involvement in violent extremist organizations. As the region’s youth population grows, skill and familiarity with technology will become an increasingly important factor in the region’s future prosperity. In many countries in the region, however, public policy regarding technology is weak or nonexistent, and technology—particularly social media—has transformed the landscape for civic and social engagement by youth. The environment also plays an important role in the challenges that Sub-Saharan African youth face with regard to participation in decision-making processes, public health, and employment. Problems in environmental governance, including enforcement, corruption, public-private sector collusion, and land compensation, and particular challenges in extractive industries and the wildlife sector, prevent the region’s youth from participating fully in and enjoying the full benefits of the use of natural resources.