This Sunday July 11th 2010 marks the annual commemoration of World Population Day which seeks to raise awareness of global population issues. The event was inspired by Five Billion Day marked on July 11th 1987, approximately the date on which the world’s population reached five billion people.
And even though globalisation has meant that youth experiences in the developed and developing countries are converging with the advent of new communications such as the internet and mobile phones; sub-Saharan Africa is grappling with a critical population challenge which if not addressed will literally explode.
The bubble that’s inflating is called the youth bulge, a social phenomenon where societies with burgeoning young populations often end up with rampant unemployment and large pools of disaffected youths who become susceptible to recruitment into crime, vigilantism, rebel militias or even terrorist groups.
Though the term was first coined by Gunnar Heinsohn in the 1990s, political scientists Gary Fuller and Jack A. Goldstone brought the youth bulge phenomenon into prominence. They argued that as the number of young people increases, the economy being unable to absorb them results in the unemployment rate rising leading to diminished self confidence and esteem as well as a great sense of frustration among the youth. As seen in countries where civil conflict has emerged such as Kenya during the post election violence, the sense of frustration among the youth as a result of chronic unemployment made them easy prey for unscrupulous politicians who triggered their anger to engage in violence.
So why is the Youth Bulge a problem? According to Population Action International, there is a correlation between countries prone to civil conflicts and those with rapidly growing youth populations. Research from the advocacy organisation says that between 1970 and 1999, 80% of civil conflicts occurred in countries where 60% of the population or more were under the age of thirty.
However, in no way should the youth bulge be seen solely as a threat. In fact such bulges if harnessed effectively can spur on economic development. If the education system in countries where such bulges are eminent are re-assesed to ensure that the curriculum is progressive, the youth manpower market can not only build the domestic market but can also be an export resource. In other words, the youth bulge can bring about a demograophic dividend or a return on investment, so to speak!