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C H A P T E R O N E Demography and Alienation The Shaky Status Quo One unavoidably confronts Africa’s demographic realities soon after arriving on the continent. After moving through airport customs and heading into a capital city, it is impossible not to notice youth everywhere. Lining the streets,angling alongside vehicles to sell sunglasses,watches,and batteries at traffic intersections, sitting idly under shade trees, Africa’s unprecedentedly youthful population and its rocketing urbanization are absolutely manifest. One distortion in this view is that it may seem that nearly all youth are male, since their female counterparts tend to be much less publicly prominent. The sense of burgeoning youth populations and mushrooming cities is accentuated in war and postwar nations in sub-Saharan Africa, where most governments are works in progress, economies wobble, rural villages are frequently forbidding, cities are teeming hotspots, and young people are absolutely ascendant—partly because of their huge numbers and partly because some were the war’s primary perpetrators or victims (or both). In these circumstances, thronging youth may inspire a sense that things are unsettled if not unsafe. Just what do all these young people want? In such fluid situations, how might their drives and aspirations be addressed? Before explaining how this book addresses these vital and interlocked questions, let me begin with a couple of examples that illuminate two of the many dimensions of the youth challenge and the weaknesses in current responses to it. The first took place in Sierra Leone,while I was carrying out field research with youth in 2010.This small West African nation,about the size of Ireland but with a slightly larger population,may have a greater focus on youth than anywhere else in sub-Saharan Africa.1 It also continues to recover from a 2 C H A P T E R O N E devastating civil war (1991–2002). The war itself was immortalized, after a fashion, by the movie Blood Diamond, in which virtually every male youth appeared to be irrational, violent, armed with an ak, and high as a kite on drugs. While that cinematic stereotype was wildly off target—a minority of today’s young men get involved in wars, even at their height (Barker and Ricardo 2006: 181)—the steady focus on youth in Sierra Leone is apt.Indeed, my 2010 field research in Sierra Leone revealed a government and international agency contingent entirely aware of the nation’s burgeoning population of youth in need of support. Members of the poor and marginalized youth majority whom I interviewed in the city of Kenema, for example, spoke often about their goal of participating in an employment training program for youth. Yet the chances of gaining access to the program were low—and not only because there were few slots and high demand for them. There also were charges of blatant bias. One international agency had a high-profile youth training program operating in chieftainships around Kenema . Reportedly, chiefs chose the participants. Kenema youth and program officials alike stated that nepotism drove access into the treasured program. Some of those whom the chiefs selected weren’t even youth. Program officials explained that chiefs couldn’t afford to pay supporters, so becoming a program participant became compensation in another form.The practice certainly didn’t strike the program officials as inappropriate: it’s an accepted and long-standing custom, they told me. To them, the selection process created no real problem. Not quite. In a context where vast numbers of poor youth desperately sought access to such programs as a way to jump-start their employment prospects,youth watched the program closely. After seeing who got into the program, the youth’s next step was to see what came afterward. It appeared that the result was yet again watching the favored few reap unjust rewards. In other words,a program that positively affected youth participants ran the risk of negatively affecting large numbers of young people who were not in the program. In unsteady Sierra Leone, a country with enduring legacies of inequality, corruption, and violent resistance, such a result promises to exacerbate youth anger and fatalism in the face of still more elite favoritism. Two years before my 2010 fieldwork in Sierra Leone, I was finalizing extensive field research with youth in Rwanda.In some ways,the two countries could not be more different. For example, Rwanda’s government is overbearingly authoritarian, while the awareness of Rwandan youth about...


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