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  • Writer's pictureIrungu Houghton

The Challenge of Unequal Growth and Exclusive Governance

Comments to the AU Conference of African Union Ministers in charge of Youth Development,

12-14 September 2012, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Irungu Houghton, Oxfam Pan Africa Director[i]

What do today’s violent protests in South Africa’s mines, Mali’s northern region, the streets of Benghazi and Khartoum have in common? They are led by youth who claim that they have been excluded, disrespected and denied basic rights. These and other signs of youth protests during the Arab Spring and the African Summer are the consequence of the failure to fully implement the Youth Charter.

The youth comprise of 1/5 of Africa’s population. They are likely to be the majority of those who are underemployed, denied health services, under-represented in political and public office and poor. They are likely to be female and rurally based.[ii]

The challenge therefore for the Ministers and Experts present is how to deliver the promise of the 31 Articles of the African Youth Charter[iii] in the shortest time possible. For the 22 Ministers here present whose Governments have ratified the Charter, it is to popularise and implement the Charter to the letter. For the 31 other Ministers whose Governments have not ratified the Charter, it is simply, take the first step and ratify the Charter.[iv]

The excellent State of the African Youth 2011 report identifies many challenges currently being faced by Africa’s youth. Two are particularly explosive. They are unequal growth and exclusive governance.

Several reports most notable the 2012 Africa Progress Panel demonstrate that “Africa in 2012 has an unprecedented opportunity to set a course for sustained economic growth, shared prosperity and a breakthrough in poverty reduction. But this journey will not happen without determined action and crucial changes to make growth much more equitable.” [v]

Africa’s inequalities are among the biggest in the world, 24 countries, almost half of Africa, have Gini indices over 42 with South Africa, one Africa’s most industrialised economies, running at over 60. The poorest 20% of Africans receive 6% or less of the national income. Many of them are young men and women between the ages of 16-35. Left unchecked, these trends jeopardise Right to Development (Article 8) and Right to sustainable Livelihoods and Youth Employment of the Youth Charter (Article 15).

Afrobarometer research reveals that young people are more likely to be distrustful of public institutions including political parties, Governments and electoral bodies. They are more likely to attend protests and demonstrations than community meetings or raise issues with appropriate authorities. Is it no wonder that youth are on the frontline of our streets and paths? Article 11 on Youth Participation provides a clear set of standards to unlock this vicious cycle.

I end by requesting Ministers here present to prioritise strategies that close the gap between have and have-nots and accelerate the full participation of youth in public and political offices.A key decision that could be taken in addition to those being suggested is to institutionalise the State of the African Youth reports every two years to run concurrently with meetings of Ministers. Another is to institute a Ministerial award for young men and women who take the boldest actions to bring the promise of the Charter into reality.

I thank you.


[i] With gratitude to Desire Assogbavi, Head of the OI Liaison Office with the African Union who presented these remarks on my behalf.

[iv] After six years, 31 Governments have yet to ratify the Charter. They are Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Cape Verde, Chad, Comoro, Congo Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea (the host of the 2011 AU Summit that had youth as its main theme), Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Seychelles, Somalia, Sao Tome, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania and Tunisia. At least a third of these countries have had or have ongoing civil strife in which young men and women are in the forefront. For a full list see


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