Youth is Just a Lie

“Youth is just a word” said the French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, raising a polemic and, consequently, a heated discussion in academic and intellectual circles around the idea of youth. In fact, “youth” is a term embracing everything, and that enables its easy appropriation.

The elders gain from the lie that all the youth are the same. The youth want to choose their own path.
The elders gain from the lie that all the youth are the same. The youth want to choose their own path.
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Alcides Amaral's picture
March 8th, 2018

“Youth is just a word” said the French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, raising a polemic and, consequently, a heated discussion in academic and intellectual circles around the idea of youth. In fact, “youth” is a term embracing everything, and that enables its easy appropriation. Young people are seen as a layer of individuals of a certain fertile age. But if on one hand they are seen as rebels, criminals and drug addicts, on the other they are associated with the age of both consumption and pleasure. They are seen as those who disrespect their elders when they are marginal, or those who follow, learn and draw on them when well behaved. However, as I will try to reflect in this article, things are not as simple as that.

The reality of young people in Africa calls for more studies in order to understand the complex reality. This complexity is probably due to the fact that “the youth phenomenon” can encompass everything, like politics, economy or culture. This article focuses on the political side of the phenomenon. A reflection about the youth in Africa is  an invitation that Africa itself makes to each of us, based on the history of the continent itself. Common sense does not allow us to deny that many young men and women were “favorable raw material” for the slave trade and for the independence struggles of our continent, that many young people decided to join the struggle to free our people from colonial slavery and oppression.

We could see “youth” as the part of society that sacrifices itself for the good of the “Nation” or of the “Motherland”. The famous expression directed to young people by African leaders (both living and dead), “The future of the Nation is in your hands”, finds its foundation there. Again things are not so simple. The idea of“youth”,both in Africa and elsewhere, is ambivalent, confusing, and a point of much discussion. Asked about the meaning of youth, we come up with many words. If we assume that it was the youth who liberated the continent, we are forced to ask which youth we refer to. Some were called “reactionary” and “armed bandits”, and some were called “comrades” and “compatriots”. Some were on the colonial side, while others joined the liberation front. On the other hand, if we assume that “Young people are the sap of the nation”, we are soon challenged by questions such as “Which young people?” The ones who belong to the cells of the parties or those who protest against them? The ones that can (as we have heard a lot in Mozambique) “sell the nation”, or those who humbly follow the example of their elders? Are they those who have a commitment to the nation and to the motherland, or those who are against the current idea of “nation” and “motherland”? What determines youth? Is it age or the identification with the cause of a certain party?

There are several issues that make the “youth phenomenon” controversial. In this article I argue that, in Africa, youth is often nothing more than a lie. This lie is based on the appropriation of history by the elders. An idea of youth is invented,it becomes official,and the young people appear as the reflection of the elders. That’s why the young people cannot forget the history of the continent as told to them, and they cannot disrespect the homeland and the nation as defined by the elders. This definition must be rejected. It as an erroneous image, because it is invented. It is important to question the notions of youth as a homogeneous group, as a political instrument and as government recipients,1 I argue that none of these notions is true. Every lie about “youth” limits the true participation of young people.

Youth and political participation

From the number of reports and programmes about political participation in Africa we can infer that it is seen asa problem, and the young people (both men and women) are seen as the focus. It is in this sense that the Mozambican Youth Parliament (the Parlamento Juvenil or PJ in Portuguese) commits itself to “actively engage in the civic education process”, and the developers of the Youth Charter urge leaders that they “must ensure the participation of young people in Parliament”.Butdo they participate in decision‑making or do they circumscribe themselves only in the peripheries of power, waiting for an opportunity to attract the goodwill of the elders?

The problem of the political participation of citizens in general, and of young people in particular, is a false problem in the sense that we first need to determine what this participation consists of. According to the 2007 Poverty Observatory in Mozambique, citizens in Mozambique do not necessarily exercise power, but delegate it to political parties and organs of the state (Francisco and Matter 2017, p. 17). Then who controls those parties and organs of the state?It is the elders.The young people, this politically underprivileged group, has to join the parties always fighting in the margins of power or organise themselves in associations because, in the elders’ judgment, they are not yet politically qualified to take power and to exercise it directly. Is this really participation? I don’t believe so! Based on Arnstein’s typology of participation (Norad 2013, p. 10; Francisco and Matter 2007, p. 14), it is “non‑participation” or, at most, a false participation manipulated by some in order to repress true participation (Francisco and Matter 2007, p. 14).

The participation of young people lies not in the possibility of organising themselves in associations or organisations in order to have a voice, but in their capacity to decide and act freely for themselves and take their own initiative independently of outside institutions (Norad 2013, p. 11) such as the African Union Commission, PJ, the Mozambican Youth Organisation, or the FRELIMO youth arm (OJM).2 It is not up to these organisations, embedded in the margins of power, to mobilise young people to participate in political life. The young people are self‑propelled. They must themselves organise in a party and compete head‑to‑head for power. This is the true participation that is avoided by young people consumed by the different lies about them.

Youth as a herd or homogeneous group

Reading carefully the documents of youth associations such as those of the PJ, the African Youth Charter, or the OJM statutes, we can easily find “youth” as an identified group. They are reflected as a unique group which faces “these‑problems”, problems that need “these‑solutions”. They are a group that think in this way and not any other. They are either the “sap of a nation”, or they are sellouts. They are drug addicts,drunkards, criminals when they are marginal, but “true youth” when they are members of the ruling party, of the Youth League, PJ or of the African Union. They need to be represented, driven and oriented. They need a shepherd. They are no more than a herd. The Youth Parliament, for example, says that it speaks on behalf of young people, but then calls for greater inclusion of young people, and even calls “all political parties to have at least 60 percent of young people in the decision‑making bodies”.3 Why didn’t young people set up their own parties with a different agenda? Setting up a party is the prerogative of our elders. For young people, a future shaped by the elders is what awaits them. The 2063Agenda(2015, p.3),fo rexample, signed

Youth Electoral Manifesto

Young people, men and women, are individuals who have dreams and longings. They are individuals who seek their own happiness. They are not waiting for a helping hand from the government, a charitable soul, or an act of goodwill that puts them in operation. They are in a constant struggle, day and night, men and women, searching for an opportunity to thrive.

by African leaders, proposes to solve the problems of youth because they believe that “[everyone] is confident that the future of Africa is in their hands”. Where does this homogenisation of “youth” come from? It is from such the documents of organisations led and guided by the elders such as “African Union” members with their Agenda 2063. The young people just have to adjust to them.

Thus, the youth becomes a group or herd, a homogeneous group that is easily identifiable. This flock needs to be represented by a shepherd who knows the problems of his sheep, what paths they should follow, what they should do, and how should they do it. If there is any deviation from this homogeneity, this young man or woman is marginal or rebellious. But if it is the youth a nation’s sap then this herd is the sap from the view of the elders. Youth is thus a product of the vision of today’s rulers, the young people of yesterday. The natural course of evolution of the African continent and African society is in their hands — these liberators. They, not the new generation, know what the society wants. They are the ones who founded the state and the ones who fought. They are the ones who set the people free and who know what is right and wrong in the evolution of our continent. And the young people, this unique group called youth, can only have something to say and do after the death of the old people. But about the children who will be the young people of tomorrow?

Youth as a political instrument

I have identified the homogenisation of youth as a falsification, a lie. The elders have a lot to gain from this lie. It makes it easy to manipulate others for their own advantage, and to make them a mere instrument for harvesting political dividends once they are found in the bulk of the pyramid. But to consolidate it, they must make them as vulnerable and needy as possible,so that they are not yet ready to take the lead. That’s the reason why Agenda 2063 defines young people as vulnerable, together with children and women. Then they need to be empowered by their elders. Why? Because the elders are already qualified enough, and it is only after 2063 that they will start thinking about putting young people at the center of decision‑making.

There is never so much reference to young people as during electoral campaigns: employment for young people, housing for young people, vocational technical education for young people, universities for young people, etc. Alongside them are women and children. If the women and children were the vulnerable group, today(and as if there were an absolute distinction between being “young” and being “a woman”), there is now a need to bring the “young people” into the group. These youth are not only vulnerable but also needy, deprived, a group that lives in a “waithood” stage (Honwana, 2017). This fattens up electoral manifestoes, beautifies political speeches and makes the young people a political instrument. Strangely, the charter of youth organisations, the Youth Parliament’s Electoral Manifesto, is in line with the African Youth Charter which, in turn fits the desires of African leaders,wrappedin suits at the African Union. If it is true that youth is a rebel par excellence, on the African continent some of them are (par excellence) a group with an incredible capacity to adjust to the longings of the elders.

Youth as a recipient of government goodwill

It is not enough to look at youth as a political instrument, but also to see them as recipients of “goodwill” from governments. This is the noble lie! A Centre for Research does not hesitate, through the misery of young people, to ensure its reproduction by emphasising this image. Young people appear as herds which need grazing, but for this they need to organise themselves into associations “in order to better become recipients of government efforts”.4 It notes, without much effort, a clear politicisation and domestication of young people. These are nothing more than animate objects.

The idea of the centre (also shared by the AU and probably by the PJ) seems simple: young people are a needy group that, undoubtedly, needs the efforts of the elders to at least ensure their survival. It is not surprising that the title of the text published by the centre is “Resolving the concerns of young people”. Resolving by whom? It is by the government, the one that is totally controlled by the elders. The government needs to hear what are the problems ofyoung people, to sit in a Council of Ministers and, finally, to resolve them. But to better resolve such problems the sheep need to be in one place so that the efforts of the shepherds can be successful. The young, these sheep today, are nothing more than government vassalsor, strictly speaking, mere objects, like sacks, jars, cups or bottles. It is incumbent upon the government to fill or empty them.

Final considerations

There is no better way to dominate, humiliate, exploit and oppress others than to make them believe that they are what we say they are. This is why young people in youth associations or organisations with a juvenile wing (such as the African Union) accept without reservation what is said about them. Young people are not a homogeneous group that has these problems, with these solutions, that are in the hands of these individuals. They are not instrument sof political propaganda, they are not gilded artifices that embellish speeches, they are not people in need and they are not recipients of a government that is said to have the function of solving the problems of its citizens. This is the image that the elders have, because they have built it themselves.

Young people, men and women, are individuals who have dreams and longings. They are individuals who seek their own happiness. They are not waiting for a helping hand from the government, a charitable soul, or an act of goodwill that puts them in operation. They are in a constant struggle, day and night, men and women, searching for an opportunity to thrive. They are finding tactics or strategies in pursuit of their own happiness. They are not just a word (“youth”) and they are not passive recipients (a flock) or instruments. They are individuals willing to act in search of their own self‑determination. They are ready to take the power of governing themselves and others here and now – not in a future molded, invented and built by the elders. If I am correct, then perhaps Bourdieu is wrong about them. Maybe they are more than a word.

ABOUT THEAUTHOR

Alcides André de Amaralwas born in Quelimane in Mozambique. He studied at Eduardo Mondlane University and attained a degree in Sociology. He contributes to socio‑political debates in Mozambique through his writings in public media. His areas of interest include power relations, gender, human rights and culture.

REFERENCES

Agenda 2063 (2015). A África que Queremos, Popular version
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Bourdieu, Pierre (1983). A juventude é apenas uma palavra. In: Questões de sociologia. Rio de Janeiro: Marco Zero.
Comissão da União Africana s/d. Carta da Juventude Africana. [S.I.: s.n.]. Available in: uploaded‑documents/ADF/ADF5/portugese‑african_youth_ charter.pdf. (Accessed 27 May 2017).
Francisco, AS e Matter, Konrad (2007). Poverty Observatory in Mozambique: Final Report. Available at: . ac.mz/lib/pobreza/Poverty_Observatory_in_Mozambique.pdf. (Accessed 8 June 2017).
Honwana, A (2014). Juventude, Waithood e Protestos Sociais em África. In: Desafios para Moçambique(pp. 399‑412). IESE: Maputo.
Mozambique. Ministério da Justiça. Boletin da República, n. 20, of 18 of May of 2012. It provides for regulation of OJM. Available at: download/5873/42257/version/1/file/BR_20_III_SERIE_2o_ SUPLEMENTO_2012.pdf. (Accessed 8 June 2017).
NORAD (2013). A Framework for Analyzing Participation in Development, Report 1/2013. Evaluation Department. Oxford Policy Management. Available at: NORWAY_A_FrameworkforAnalysingParticipationDevelopment.pdf. (Accessed 8 June 2017).
Parlamento Juvenil s/d. Manifesto Eleitoral da Juventude, Eleições de 2009. Available at: ‑544‑130.pdf?110526101031. (Accessed 8 June 2017).
Shenga, Carlos (2009). Resolvendo os Problemas da Juventude Moçambicana. (Policy Brief of CPGD Nº 1). Available at: ‑briefresolvendo preocupa%C3%A7%C3%B5es‑da‑juventudemo%C3%A7ambicana (Accessed 27 May 2017).

 

About the author(s)

Alcides André de Amaralwas born in Quelimane in Mozambique. He studied at Eduardo Mondlane University and attained a degree in Sociology. He contributes to socio‑political debates in Mozambique through his writings in public media. His areas of interest include power relations, gender, human rights and culture.

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