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A Lost Generation: Young People and Conflict in Africa

their rehabilitation and reintegration into society. Many former child soldiers do not have access to the educational programs, vocational training, family reunification, or even food and shelter that they need to successfully rejoin civilian society. As a result, many end up on the street, become involved in crime, or are drawn back into armed conflict. Few youth organizations are in place to create avenues for young people to articulate their issues. Young people are often spoken for by adults in children’s organizations.

Conclusion: Why the Interest on Youth and Conflict in Africa

It is estimated that there are about 300,000 child soldiers in the world (UNICEF 2003). This estimate tells of huge numbers of young people directly affected by war as combatants. The pervasive use of children and youth in fighting forces in conflicts across the African continent is a phenomenon linking violent conflicts to the youth bulge40. This is when 15 to 24-year-olds make up 20 per cent or more of the population. In many African countries nearly half the population is aged 5-24 (Krijn Peters et al 2003). The current trend of eliciting young people in African conflicts partially supports the arguments by Political scientist Samuel Huntington that the huge reservoir of young men aged 15-30 provides a natural pool of instability and violence (Samuel Huntington 1993). Furthermore, it is said countries in which young adults comprised more than 40 percent of the adult population were more than twice as likely as countries with lower proportions to experience an outbreak of civil conflict (Population Action International, 2007). There is correlation between youth cohorts and violence/conflict, particularly when poorly performing economies and weak governance combine with a youth bulge in the population (USAID 2005, Goldstone 1991, Fuller and Pitts 1990).

Youth has been described as a ‘threat to security’ (UN High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, 2004). The social circumstances of poverty and unemployment are contributing factors that may lead thousands of young people to look at war as lucrative. The youth unemployment rates are generally three to five times that of adults. The armed groups have exploited young people because of these factors and have lured young people to fight for little or no payment for a promise of a better future or for the peace for their countries. Often the young people especially those in displaced persons camps are frustrated because they have dropped out of school or lack of school fees. Such young people have fallen victims of calculated predation by armed groups. Youth have the numbers, energy and devotion, factors that make them effective in the execution of violence and conflict.

The link between youth cohorts and armed conflict may explain why some young people have joined armed forces voluntarily as in the case of Burundi and Liberia.

  • 0 A demographic term used by Gary Fuller, director of population studies at the University of Hawaii

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