How Post-2015 Could Unleash the Mighty Potential of the Youth

Photo by Akuppa John Wigham on Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


Upon the inception of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in early 2000, the international community, including the civil society, embraced them with great expectations and a sigh of relief because the time to address major challenges confronting the world, especially Africa, had come. The agenda was given ten years at first to accomplish its goals, but was extended by five years in 2010 after a consensus that ten years is not enough. However, upon reaching 2015, policy makers and development specialists have started criticising the MDGs for having too narrow a concept of development and failing to prioritise socially, economically and ecologically sustainable goals. Notwithstanding their achievements, the MDGs made no specific mention of youth development, a mistake which must rectified in the post-2015 Development Agenda by proposing an effective framework that specifically addresses the youth bulge and youth empowerment.

An important objective of the post-2015 Development Agenda must be to reduce youth poverty. The youth constitute 68% of the world population[1], and are particularly vulnerable to acute poverty. The youth are endowed with the responsibility to sustain entire communities, which explains why the youth make up the greatest percentage in the informal sector. Since 2000, youth poverty has been on the rise, especially for countries that have been experiencing dire economic decay[2]. Long standing economic turmoil since independence has aggravated youth poverty which has subsequently led to lack of access to education and low levels of literacy, particularly for female youths in Africa (ibid).

To ensure an effective post-2015 Development Agenda, the United Nations (UN) Youth Agency must incorporate interventions consolidated by a substantive and progressive interpretation of accountability, transparency and the rule of law for all youth funding and programmes meant to reduce poverty. I recommend that governments that do not adhere to these rules of engagement must not get direct funding. In turn, the UN must employ its agencies to implement the agenda. Adequate mechanisms to monitor and evaluate spending must be put in place so as to curb youth poverty in Africa. For youth poverty reduction to be realised, programmes must not be limited by the 15 year window of the post-2015 agenda, but rather should be implemented with a view to long term sustainability. If youth poverty reduction is prioritized, we can expect improvements in infrastructure development, health and education. We can also anticipate that peace and security challenges in the world will be curbed, as poverty is a strong driver of conflict.

Youth unemployment and crime, violence and conflict

Youth violence in South Africa. Photo by Cliff on Flickr CC BY 2.0

Another critical need which the post-2015 Development Agenda must specifically prioritise is youth employment creation in the formal and informal sector. Analysing this challenge from the Arab spring to the havoc wreaked by Boko Haram in Nigeria, the post-2015 Development Agenda must re-consider massive employment creation. The youth resurgence has generated large numbers of unemployed and dissatisfied young people who are readily available and easily become recruits to rebel and terrorist causes. Crime is increasingly becoming an incentive for youths by sustaining and financing conflicts, ‘making insurgencies economically feasible and encouraging parties to secure assets that enable them to continue their ‘struggle,’ especially in Africa’[3].

Unemployed youths improvise by engaging in crime, drug abuse and joining terrorist movements to the peril of peace and security. Youths may rebel against a society that has demeaned and disregarded them both financially and socially. Terrorist groups take advantage of this by recruiting, training and deploying youths who are well educated but unemployed to fight against and topple their own governments for ‘failing’ to create sound employment policies and opportunities[4]. Furthermore, ‘many youths have testified that they join terrorist groups for financial expediency’[5] implying that to quell this phenomenon, governments all over the globe have to address youth unemployment, and this must be prioritised in the post-2015 Development Agenda so as to encourage greater levels of peace and human security.

For the post-2015 Development Agenda to be effective, the youth, along with civil society, have to be involved in both domestic policy formulation and implementation. Socio-economic development initiatives that do not promote youth participation carry a significant risk of deepening marginalisation, discrimination and injustice for youths, many of whom are already affected by poverty, war and other forms of instability

The post-2015 Development Agenda can also realize its transformative potential by harnessing the benefits that come with having large numbers of youth. Prioritising youth employment translates into economic growth, which in turn contributes to peace and human security. Employed youths may be less susceptible to the lure of destructive rebel and terrorist movements. Studies have shown that countries with a high percentage of youth are not necessarily predestined to experience instability and conflict[6]; many countries with high numbers of youth have not incurred violent conflict, and, in turn, protests can manifest themselves both where there are large and small youth cohorts. If carefully harnessed and given the right conditions, large youth cohorts may present the world with a significant resource to boost development, dubbed the ‘demographic dividend’ (ibid). Conflict must bring out positive energy for structural reform[7]. High youth cohorts can provide low cost and readily available labour that can be channeled into development[8]. Large youth cohorts can be used to drive economic, social and political development through civil society, entrepreneurship and government initiatives, helping to increase peace and human security, and make the goals of the post-2015 Development Agenda a success.


Tendaishe Tlou is a freelance researcher and writer specialising in human rights, youth development, peace and conflict issues. He is also in possession of a BSc (Honours) Degree in Peace and Governance with Bindura University of Science Education, and holds a post-graduate Applied Conflict Transformation Certificate with the ACTION Support Centre. He works with various NGOs and government ministries in Zimbabwe and South Africa, and writes and presents articles.


[1] United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (2014), Annual Report, New York.

[2] Raftopoplous,B(2009),Becoming Zimbabwe, Weaver Press, Harare.

[3] Williams, P.D (2011),War and Conflict in Africa, Polity Books, England.

[4] Aziz, A (1993), Terrorism: Patterns of Internationalization, Sage Publications, USA.

[5] United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (2014), Annual Report, New York.

[6] World Bank (2006),’The Role of Youths in Development,’ World Bank, New York.

[7] Lederach, J.P (1995), Building Peace: 2nd Edition, United States Institute for Peace, Washington.

[8] World Bank (2006),’The Role of Youths in Development,’ World Bank, New York.

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