The Youth Revolt: A New Frontier of Conflict
Youth issues have become more than a stress on fragile environments. The “youth upheaval” or “youth revolt” has become a form of conflict – with the potential to erupt in vulnerable countries around the world.
The direct effects of the youth war are evident in the Arab spring, an uprising that was sparked by two young men: Mohammad Bouazizi of Tunisia who inspired the Tunisian revolution after he set himself on fire to protest against unemployment and the state’s role, and Khalid Saed of Egypt who was killed by security forces while in custody in Alexandria, Egypt. The two were youth who refused to acquiesce to the state and demanded that their rights be respected. In doing so, they tapped into a common sentiment among millions of Arab youth of material deprivation, sense of helplessness, lack of potential and political alienation. Their deaths motivated an apathetic youthful generation to rebel and turned a system upside down where the youth led the political discourse and the older generation followed. This youth upheaval is the result of an ‘action oriented quick results generation’ impatient of waiting for change and taking matters into hand. What started in Tunis and Egypt has now engulfed most Arab nations and threatens the rest of the regional nations.
It is highly likely that the youth revolt will spread beyond the Arab world. Youth bulges are evident in nations that are currently identified as having high levels of violence. Young people in these nations constitute a significant percentage of the population ranging from a low of 29% of the population in Georgia and a high of 48% in the Maldives, with most nations youth population hovering around 30% and growing. The conditions that nurtured the Arab spring are festering and evident in violence prone nations as well as developed nations such as Spain, Greece and Italy and even the UK and the United States. With a youth population of 20%, the United States is low on the scale of developing countries, but high for developed countries.
The generational war can be attributed to a number of factors:
- The economic systems ration away resources from the youth to the established.
- Young people face severe economic and social exclusion due to skyrocketing cost of education, high unemployment, and lack of quality employment. Their access to affordable education, health care and social benefits at retirement are in doubt.
- Youth are being asked to foot the bill for their parent’s extravagance – to pay for wars they did not start, for collapsing economic systems they did not create, for national debt they did not incur and for supporting an advantaged older generation in retirement. At the same time, they are being denied the economic benefits, privileges and hope of their parent’s generation.
- Finally, youth will inherit political systems that are impotent and paralyzed, totally unable to resolve any crises.
The inclusion of youth is the most critical development challenge facing the world today. This presents nations with an opportunity to build a lasting foundation for prosperity by harnessing the full potential of its young population. A compelling and credible agenda for change between international actors, national governments, and civil society, that includes youth, can be created to facilitate change. The youth revolt should be viewed in a positive light and its effects directed productively. For reforms to have results, there needs to be a clear understanding of the necessary changes.
- Youth are an impatient, action-oriented, technologically-savvy generation. As a result, the pace and priority of reform will necessarily be different. Their energy and enthusiasm must be encouraged and channeled. Economic reform must be inclusive and equitable directed to the needs of the young.
- The rentier systems that encourage patronage and provide privileges to the political elite must be dismantled.
- Educational systems will need to be overhauled with a renewed vision of what constitutes a qualified graduate.
- National institutions must be strengthened and aid directed to these institutions.
- Credible youth programs must be established.
- Employment assistance must address not just unemployment, but also rising inequalities in the job market and encourage a sense of fairness.
- Aid also has to encourage dynamic private sectors that could produce the jobs and other employment opportunities required to absorb young populations. It is not enough to just create jobs. It is very often the experience of demeaning and monotonous employment with little prospect of promotion or skills development in exploitive conditions that drive people to participate in insurgencies, militias, armies, etc.
The youth revolts sweeping the Arab world will set the tone and serve as an example for other youth movements potentially with far reaching consequences. In the Arab world, establishment institutions such as national regimes and NGOS and civil society are being forced to reevaluate their positions and actions on issues as diverse as economic reform, the role of young people in politics, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is unlikely that the generational war will stop at the borders of the Arab world. It is likely to be a movement that inspires similar movements across the globe. To mitigate the possibility of youth revolts spreading, attention must be paid to the differential needs, circumstances, and experiences of the youth to create an environment conducive to economic development and a more hopeful future for this youth generation and future youth generations in the world.