Inter-Generational Dialogue: Everyone is talking but who’s listening?

In January 2016, the African Union Comission published a draft concept note for Inter-Generational Dialogue (IGD). IGD ideally involves providing spaces that allow for people of different ages to interact and achieve understanding and solidarity between them for the welfare of the community.

The concept note highlighted the fact that in Africa, young people represent more than 60 percent of the continent’s total population and account for 40 percent of the total labour force. Unfortunately it projected that by 2022, anestimated 40 million more youth in Africa will face an uncertain future without work and life skills. This would in turn have the following consequences:

  • It would impair their ability to get good jobs in desirable occupations,resulting in low and unstable incomes while exposing them to potentially long periodsof unemployment.
  • This would then result in a vicious cycle of poverty, poor health, and disempowerment among others.
  • Consequently the result of this unemployment within the present youth generation will also be felt by the nextgeneration, since these youths‟poor economic outcomes” will hurt their ability toprovide favourable opportunities for their own children.
  • Eventually, societies at large will feel theimpact: economic growth will be constrained, limiting the revenue-raising capacity of governments, while the need for public expenditures to support these youth, will expand.
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The realities of the consequences featured above are already upon us with the International Labour Organization reporting that in 2019, youth unemployment rate in Africa is expected to exceed 30 percent and young people will continue to be 3.5 times more likely than adults to be unemployed.

A number of inter-generational dialogue forums; involving youth and Heads of State and Government and key continental and global institutional leaders, have been held before and after this concept note was published, in different countries e.g. in South Africa, Ethiopia and most recently in Ghana.

In his speech President Akufo-Addo noted, “We cannot talk about sustainable development without the active involvement of the youth,” he said. Another speaker at the event and celebrated human rights activist Ms Graça Machel noted, “Too many of us older people have become complacent and accepting of this life of war and conflict but every day it gets worse. It's not a future you want us to leave for you…being vocal without being organised leads to nothing. So become organised.” She then presented four challenges that are important when thinking about inter-generational dialogue (IGD).

Both of President Akufo-Addo and Ms Machel called the youth to use their technological knowledge to advocate and work with African leaders to address the crisis situations that exist on the continent.

That said, Research indicates that institutional age-barriers created by laws and policies, along with informal norms and stereotypes, have restricted interaction between individuals across the life course. One of example of these policies, is the top-down approach that most of these IGD forums take, they involve mainly meetings with Heads of State and Government, key continental and global institutional leaders, key youth constituencies including university students, national youth councils, social justice actors but are they truly representing the concerns of the people on the ground?

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In the last decade the use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in Africa have been influential tools in political resistance as they offer digital spaces to share concerns and ideas. As writer Nanjala Nyabola explains in her book, social media have allowed dissidents and outliers to find and support each other and provide the rising middle class of Africa and other developing countries to find a space in a politics previously dominated by a tiny and elderly elite.

This in turn one report reveals has lead to leaders being aware of the threat that social media poses to their power, thus they are employing a number of methods to stifle internet-based mobilization. “These include internet shutdowns, targeted social media applications shutdowns, website takedowns, extensive surveillance of digital communications, online propaganda, taxing social media and the detention of online critics.” These measures are often enforced under the guise of public order and security.

Another report on Africa’s attack on Internet Freedom views these restrictions as a clear threat to democratic values as the limit the internet’s potential to act as a virtual public square and avert the rise of a strong digital fourth estate. Then there is also the question of those who are not on mainstream social media, who operate within closed networks such as Whatsapp and community groups, where it is harder to get a sense of what conversations are going on.

So essentially we are all talking in our different groups but are any of us listening? Yes and no. No because we have leaders and individuals who are driven by their personal gain and fueling the fire of corruption which, “creates and increases poverty and exclusion. While corrupt individuals with political power enjoy a lavish life, millions of Africans are deprived of their basic needs like food, health, education, housing, access to clean water and sanitation, ” noted José Ugaz, while serving as the chair of Transparency International in 2017.

Image by Manfred Richter from Pixabay.

Our leaders are not the only ones responsible for our societal rot, because we as individuals make the choice to either work for the better of society or for personal gain. “As we subscribe to the sub-normal and accept double standards, as we lie and cheat openly, as we protect injustice and oppression, we empty our classrooms, denigrate our hospitals, fill our stomachs with hunger and elect to make ourselves the slaves of those who ascribe to higher standards,” activist Ken Saro-Wiwo.

Yes, because we have individuals within society who are committing there time, resources and energy to make a difference in their societies. Whether it’s the champion teaching girls from disadvantaged communities to code, or the young leader; trying to get young people to dream a new dream of political accountability. If they do not succeed today, they have planted the seed that will succeed tomorrow. In the wise words of Stokely Carmichael and Ken- SaroWiwa, "There is a higher law than the law of government. That’s the law of conscience…We all stand before history. Some have already cast themselves in the role of villains, some are tragic victims, some still have a chance to redeem themselves. The choice is for each individual. ”