Unconventional Youth

By David Takawira

Y'en A Marre


Y'en a Marre youth movement in Senegal.  Image via SeneNews.

We are the Game Changers

For beyond the observation that ‘young generations are individualistic and tend not to ask for bigger decision’, understanding youth would not be complete without interrogating the topography within which they engage and operate. While disagreeing with the observation, a working definition of youth and its generational connotation to society remains elusive, contextual and yet ‘youth’ as an ‘agent’ remain an unsung generation. And yet the case of Malala Yousafzai, Mohamed Bouazizi, Steve Espinosa, Rachel Weeks and the Y’en A Marre movement in Senegal epitomises a youthful generation that continuously questions and engages the status quo while offering life changing solutions to community challenges.

While many definitions have been proffered, UNESCO[1] provides a unique entry point. It identifies “youth” as a period of transition from the dependence of childhood to adulthood’s independence and awareness of our interdependence as members of a community[2].  The United Nations on the other hand, and for statistical consistency across regions, defines “youth”, as those persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years, while the African Youth Charter locates ‘’youths” as meaning, “every person between the ages of 15 and 35 years.[3]

The complexities of defining youth using age as a variable is that in some societies and in particular economies, unemployment has been so high that individuals as old as 36 or 40 are neither employed nor independent. Hence the ‘transition from the dependence of childhood to adulthood’ is impassable.  Dictatorial spaces and societies that are trapped in patriarchy or religious hegemony continue to shrink the space for youth innovation and participation. In such spaces, the older generation, outside engaging in fault-finding missions on youths, have not been providing an enabling environment and in many cases have claimed to be youths, occupied the ‘youth’ space while continuously changing it to suite their own goals. Absolom Sikhosana[4] is almost 60 years old and was the ZANU PF[5] Youth League President until recently - youths within the party have started demanding for leadership renewal. And yet even within suppressed spaces, courageous young people continue to demand for bigger reforms. 


It is with no doubt that young people can do better, organise better and harness their collective strength and demand more from their leaders both in repressive regimes and in open socities. In doing so and as with this observation, one may think that the biggest challenge to sustainable growth, democracy or a pro-youth society is the inability and unwillingness of a young generation to think and act unconventionally or demand for better economic, social and political decisions. The failure of a generation to recognise its strength, harness itself and propel a new dispensation as an agent of positive change is equally misleading.

Locating the Youth Generation

Youths do not occupy a vacuum, often branded as destructive, unruly, thugs, individualistic, conventional, loose missiles and unfocused. Young people occupy a strategic space in a vicious world system that continues to disregard the potential and value that is brought out by the youth exuberance. They are mercilessly tortured in wars that are not of their own making, turned into youth militia, raped and abused as in wars of Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and Liberia; unemployed and trapped in poverty, marred in political motivated violence in Kenya or Zimbabwe.

Born and raised in rich natural resource communities, recent natural resource discoveries in Angola, Mozambique, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, have prompted debate amongst youths who are eager to see the emergency of a developmental state that plans with an eye on the future generations. The contestation for transparency and accountability on both governments and private companies have seen youths activist such as Claris Madhuku, Sydney Chisi persecuted and threatened for asking too much while Eskinder Nega and Reeyot Alemu have been imprisoned for speaking out against a tyranny. Despite the persecution, young people continue to lead initiatives that seek to unlock value and solve community challenges.

In fact, the subsequent examples show not only youths as unique, energetic, unconventional and game changers in societies ridiculed with a sickness beyond one’s imagination. It is imperative to mention that, the youth generation is not only solving bigger problems in areas such as education, health and manufacturing that were never of their own making but are pioneers of innovation, creativity and they are creating jobs and reducing unemployment across their respective spaces. There are breaking the scientific barriers of invention and discovery in natural sciences, agriculture and business sectors.

Celebrating the Game Changers: Courageous People

Some presuppose that the ‘young generation’ knows the greediness, corruptness and failure to offer leadership by the older generation and yet do not do anything about it. And yet stories of Claris Madhuku, Sydney Chisi, Malala Yousafzai, Mohammed Bouazizi, Mark Elliot Zuckerberg, Fadel Barro, Aliou Sane and Denise Sow, Zach Sims and Ryan Bubinski, Nathan Sigworth, Steve Espinosa, Nyaradzo Mashayamombe, Rachel Weeks and many others go beyond individualism and conventional thinking. Their clarity of mind and fixity of purpose to the fight for better, more inclusive societies show a spirited desire to mobilise the current young generation to participate in local, national and global processes.

Aisha was aged 13 when she was mercilessly raped by a sitting Member of Parliament (MP) in Zimbabwe on her way home. She, like any other young people, had big dreams with the hope of becoming a medical doctor one day. Completing school was a priority; her parents had instilled the values of hard work and perseverance. Despite the entire trauma and pain of dreams shattered, Aisha did not give up, she courageously reported the MP to police and demanded justice and redress. The story of Aisha is not peculiar to Zimbabwe alone - recently a young Indian girl was ruthlessly gang raped in Delhi, while girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo fear for their health and lives from warlords. Their bravery has given birth to a new movement not only in India, DRC or Zimbabwe, but across the world where young women’s rights have not been respected. There are championing a social revolution and healing a social sickness their elders failed to deal with.

Disillusioned by poverty, inequality, power cuts, and dictatorial tendencies on the part of former Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, a group of young rappers and journalist among them Thiat, Fadel, Aliou, and Denise started a conversation that would led to the formation of Y’en A Marre, a youth led movement. Once a shining beacon of hope, Senegal was at a crossroads - a democracy on a ledge was saved by young Senegalese who refused “to settle for a highly streamlined” life. The ability of these youths to defy set stereotypes, tokenism, and norms within their Senegalese society reflects a yearning for change.

Malala Yousafzai, a 15 year old school student from the town of Mingora in the Swat District of Pakistan, was shot and left for dead because she demanded for young girls to get access to education[6]. It is conventional for girls not to go to school in Pakistan and yet Malala’s actions swept through the Swat District and reverberated across the world.  It acted as an anathema upon the local religious people and reignited a debate around the interpretation of the Koran and the role of girls and young women in societies across Pakistan. Malala’s clarity in demanding bigger decisions for young girls represents a new form of leadership. It is a reflection of a unique set of skills, the ability to offer leadership in closed societies. Her refusal to accept ‘set norms and values’ that deprive one’s ability to enjoy the right to education as any other child in the world echoes a desire for change in closed socities.

On the 4th of January 2011, Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi (26 years old) a Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire on 17 December 2010, in protest of the confiscation of his wares and the harassment and humiliation that he reported was inflicted on him by a municipal official and her aides.[7] For North African citizens and Tunisians in particular, this unconventional act of sacrifice transcended boundaries, redefined activism in countries that had suffered decades of oppression, a young voice had spoken, the demand was clear. Bouazizi represents many young people who seek equal opportunities but are refused because of oppressive systems that fail to recognise their potential and value to society. While others might view the act as selfish and self-defeating, it remains a biblical act, a unique symbol of freedom. And yet Bouazizi could have chosen the easy route.

Mark Elliot Zuckerberg a 26 year old young American computer programmer, Internet entrepreneur[8] and co-founder of Facebook has facilitated for greater connectedness and mass mobilisation towards social and economic justice.  Facebook, as a platform has not only created employment across the world, it has complimented efforts of young people in Senegal to rally against a dictator, send messages of hope to young girls in Pakistan and India, supported a good cause in Zimbabwe. As of September 2012, Facebook has over one billion active users,[6] more than half of them using Facebook on a mobile device[9], and yet this act of innovation and creativity is not individualistic nor conventional.

At 28, Nathan Sigworth continues to fight and offer a unique service to the challenges faced by many developing countries within the health sector. While the threat to life remains very high because of counterfeit drugs in developing countries, Nathan has created a company that helps in compacting fake drugs and in the process saving many lives. His courageous act to approach drug companies with PharmaSecure, a start-up that allows medication takers to communicate with owners for authenticity has transformed the health sector.

The aforementioned epitomise a young generation that has and continues to demand for bigger decisions, offer working frameworks and solutions not only to community challenges but to global demands. Youths have refused to be bullied into cynics or apologetic followers of dictatorship and conventional thinkers who fail to understand the clarion call for positive change.

Strengthening the movement towards Leadership

Offering Leadership occupies the centre of this youth generation. Not the type of leadership we have seen in the past decade - characterised with dictatorship, tokenism, bribes, corruption and nepotism. The true genius of this youth generation is best reflected in its ability to refuse leadership positions as tokenism for rising against tyranny in Senegal, inequality in India and Ethiopia, suppression in Tunisia and Egypt. The strength and resilience of youth across the world comes not from any showers of praise nor stereotyping but a reorientation of providing leadership and committing small generous acts of love and compassion.

Building strong networks of solidarity for youth by youth is critical to documenting and sharing challenges and success stories across the world. In doing so, the ‘observations’ are reduced significantly and more focus on strengthening and preparing youths for public office or community level leadership is enhanced.

Re-orienting Education - Pioneering Innovation: At the backbone of human growth is the quality of education one receives at very early stages of life. The current educational systems in many African countries fail to equip young people with the skills needed to survive in a fast changing world. It fails to prepare youths to be employers, to be employable, to create jobs and opportunities, to find solutions to community and global challenges.

Re-thinking the Informal Sector: Many young people are pioneering change in the informal sector, yet all indicators of economic growth are not inclusive of the sector. This rigidity is further reflected in recent statistics, of youth comprising 41%[10] of the world’s unemployed people. In doing so it fails to acknowledge the new youth movement of self-employment and innovation around the globe. It fails to accept the work of Annah Matsika a cross boarder trader in Zimbabwe or the street vendors in Tunisia.


David Takawira is a governance and leadership specialist by training with expertise in the areas of program and administrative management, democratisation processes, governance, public policy, capacity building and human rights. David is professionally located within a Norwegian Aid Agency (Nowegian People’s Aid- Zimbabwe) supporting development work, facilitating the interface between civil society needing resources and technical support to do their work in a range of governance, democracy building, youth empowerment and leadership development fields.


[1] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation

[3] Ibid

[4] Represents many who have protected and monopolised the space across the world

[5]  Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front

[6] Ellick, Adam B. and Ashraf, Irfan (2009). Class Dismissed (documentary). The New York Times. Retrieved 11 October 2012.)

[7] Fahim, Kareem (21 January 2011). "Slap to a Man’s Pride Set Off Tumult in Tunisia". New York Times: p. 2. Retrieved 23 January 2011

[9] "Facebook Tops Billion-User Mark". The Wall Street Journal (Dow Jones). October 4, 2012. Retrieved October 4, 2012.

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+1 #1 https://www.easydisplay. 2014-05-18 09:31
Keep this going please, great job!