Long-term prospects for young Africans

Article, 09.02.2018

Three young Malian women in brightly coloured clothing looking off into the distance.
Switzerland is committed to supporting young people in West Africa with a view to offering them prospects, particularly in terms of training and inclusion in decision-making. © SDC

In Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger, the SDC is placing increased emphasis on creating opportunities for young people and preventing violent extremism, and on the issues of migration and commodities. Building citizenship will be at the centre of its activities over the next few years. Chantal Nicod, head of the SDC's West Africa Division, explains the challenges.

Portrait of Chantal Nicod
Chantal Nicod, head of the SDC’s West Africa Division. © SDC

Switzerland has renewed its cooperation strategies in Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad for a period of four years. Where will the emphasis be placed? What is the common denominator of Switzerland's activities? 

Switzerland places a strong emphasis on young people, preventing violent extremism, commodities and migration. These themes will have to be taken into account in the three domains of action defined for the SDC's priority countries in the West African region, namely rural development and food security, education and governance. Building citizenship is a key component of development, as it enables individuals to exercise their rights and duties in a society. It helps communities to live together and constitutes an important basis for the prevention of conflict and violence. It is the common denominator of Switzerland's action in West Africa.

What does 'building citizenship' mean in concrete terms? 

Building citizenship means that the people of a country know their rights and duties, as well as the basic rules that enable society to function. This enables them to take an active part in national life and their country's political, economic and social development in a spirit of dialogue and peace.

Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad are regularly targets of terrorist attacks: how does Switzerland plan to continue its engagement in increasingly volatile and fragile contexts? 

The SDC's activities must be capable of continuously adapting to the circumstances on the ground, in three key ways. First, development cooperation and humanitarian aid must complement each other because it is often necessary to provide these two forms of aid at the same time. Projects adapted to the needs of the people they are intended to serve – for example projects that integrate migrant children in schools in host villages – are a case in point. Second, through the systematic use of conflict-sensitive programme management: how can we contribute to peace or the prevention of conflicts through our activities? One way to do this is to support local and national mechanisms for dialogue that help prevent and resolve conflicts constructively instead of through violence. Last, by exercising flexibility in our activities so as to ensure their effectiveness and guarantee the safety of our staff. For example, in regions where it is not possible for us to closely monitor programmes on the ground we have to find partners we can trust who are able to carry out and monitor the programmes.

These countries are experiencing rapid population growth and their young people lack prospects for the future. What's the SDC doing to tackle this problem?

In West African countries where the SDC is present, between 250,000 and 400,000 young people enter the job market every year without adequate training. Education – including basic education and vocational education and training – is essential, but it is not enough. Young people need to feel that they can make a difference to their world. Improving their access to decision-making bodies – both public (e.g. local government) and private (e.g. farmers' associations) – is therefore also important. But finding solutions appropriate to young people's reality is difficult. In the future, the SDC will broaden the scope of its partners to include youth associations and social movements, for example. And finally, we also want to explore the strong potential offered by culture to mobilise young people.