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The book explores youth citizenship in the African cities of Accra, Ghana; Kampala, Uganda; and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. As a significant portion of African populations, youth understand citizenship to be distinct, localized, and dynamic. Rapid urbanization – with its accompanying challenges of overcrowding, insufficient infrastructure, and unemployment – conditions youth citizenship actions and identities. Defined as people eighteen to thirty-five years old, youth reflect a citizenship shaped by neoliberal economic policies that constrain economic opportunities and a neoliberal discourse that fosters themes of responsibility and individualism. Youth citizenship manifests in contexts of political uncertainty, with democratic transitions in many countries stalled and elders often seeking to mobilize – and potentially control – youth public engagement. Despite such challenges, youth in this study chose to act through a variety of public and private means to secure their belonging and assert their rights and responsibilities in the community and the country. As agents, youth negotiate citizenship in light of their various religious, gender, and economic identities through a variety of daily experiences and relationships in the community and their interactions with the state.
As a contested concept, “youth” is a chronological category and a socially constructed identity. African youth share socioeconomic and political constraints that delay adulthood markers and impact their views of citizenship. The meaning of “youth” is relational, set against assumptions about adulthood obligations, ties to elders, and youth’s own actions. Although youth is a liminal stage, youth are not passive; they improvise and engage their communities and countries through everyday citizenship. Recognizing how political life is abundant, everyday citizenship as a concept examines daily words and deeds of ordinary people who then shape identity and belonging in relation to others and the state. As a guiding principle distinguishable from nationalism (with its geographic component), civil society (with its organizational element), and social capital (with its roots in reciprocities), everyday citizenship pushes beyond rigid liberal and communal classifications to recognize how citizen identities and activities occur at multiple scales and sites, and through public and private practices. We examine various patterns of everyday citizenship in Ghana, Tanzania, and Uganda – countries representative of anglophone Africa but distinct in their regime types. The book’s multi-method, inductive approach uses Afrobarometer survey data, focus group discussions, interviews, and case studies to undergird its findings.
A subset of youth respondents in the study express how disappointment, frustration, and anger color everyday citizenship. They report how unmet promises, corruption, repression, and exclusive politics undermine their sense of citizen belonging and amplify tensions with elders. Such frustration may lead youth to contest citizenship in alternative ways, though most do not choose these paths. A small number exit, as indicated in Afrobarometer data and by our respondents. Some actively contest citizenship through the exclusion of others along ethnic or religious lines – patterns manifest among Ghanaian and Ugandan respondents and evident in survey data. Although some could choose to follow leaders who claim to speak for the people, comparisons of youth support for such populism in Tanzania and Uganda, on the one hand, with their support for the Economic Freedom Fighters in South Africa, on the other, provide inconclusive evidence that youth embrace illiberal populism. A subset channels anger into local and national mobilization, illustrating youth citizens as agents.
The chapter analyzes how frequent- and infrequent-churchgoing youth understand their citizenship identities and obligations at the local and national levels. Both frequent and infrequent churchgoers highlight communal aspects of citizenship, but frequent churchgoers stress citizenship as faith-inspired actions such as prayer and reciprocal ties in church communities. Frequent churchgoers view citizenship as acts that build the nation, though this citizen goal often has a distinctly Christian tenor. Frequent churchgoers use more legalistic language than infrequent churchgoers and display more political efficacy. Afrobarometer findings confirm that more religious involvement relates to higher political activism, but our respondents illustrate that youth agents at times contest religious leaders’ political messaging and question those leaders’ integrity. Case studies from a renewalist church in Ghana and a mainline Protestant South African leadership program illustrate how youth adapt political messaging as they craft their own citizen identities.
Making up 65 percent of Africa's population, young people between the ages of 18 and 35 play a key role in politics, yet they live in an environment of rapid urbanization, high unemployment rates and poor state services. Drawing from extensive fieldwork in Ghana, Uganda and Tanzania, this book investigates how Africa's urban youth cultivate a sense of citizenship in this challenging environment, and what it means to them to be a 'good citizen'. In interviews and focus group discussions, African youth, activists, and community leaders vividly explain how income, religion, and gender intertwine with their sense of citizenship and belonging. Though Africa's urban youth face economic and political marginalization as well as generational tensions, they craft a creative citizenship identity that is rooted in their relationships and obligations both to each other and the state. Privileging above all the voice and agency of Africa's young people, this is a vital, systematic examination of youth and youth citizenship in urban environments across Africa.
Citizenship-from-below constitutes one element of youth everyday citizenship. When asked the meaning of good citizenship, youth report emotional closeness, joy, and gratitude as key localized components, as well as moral character and concern over preserving one’s reputation. They particularly emphasize that citizenship manifests in local volunteering to help others and collective problem solving, and they often connect these acts to a broader commitment to building the nation. We juxtapose these youth perspectives with Afrobarometer data on reported attendance at community meetings and membership in a community or volunteer group to find that, although youth engage in formalized ways less frequently than their elders, they are locally engaged. They continuously contest their citizenship, framing it as distinct from that of their elders and highlighting their particular local contributions (e.g., security provision and environmental protection). Despite urban environments that stress individuality and uncertainty, urban youth citizenship is highly relational and embedded in obligations that undergird belonging.
The chapter augments feminist analysis of patriarchy and women’s citizenship in Africa. Among respondents, men and women emphasize gender equality when discussing legalistic elements of citizenship, such as obeying the law. However, since much of everyday citizenship revolves around daily interactions, women’s expected roles as mothers and men’s constructed roles as protectors and providers are central to the ways that respondents view citizenship. Men and women highlight communal obligations, moral character, and building the nation when discussing citizenship, but these elements manifest differently across genders. Although Afrobarometer findings indicate more men attend local meetings, both men and women are active in local groups and stress legal obligations. Some youth push back against gendered citizenship, crafting new citizen identities rooted in lived experiences. Although surveys show fewer women than men engage in voting and protesting (except in Uganda), some respondents demonstrate micropatterns of contestation through support for women in political office. A case study of Ghanaian youth mobilizing against gender-based violence illustrates both challenges to gendered citizenship and affirmation of this identity.
The chapter examines everyday citizenship among youth respondents from the angle of their relationship to the state or as citizenship-from-above. Youth respondents initially defined citizenship in terms of legal obligations to the state. Afrobarometer findings that indicate high levels of support for obeying the law and paying taxes echo those responses, though respondents provide nuance to the Afrobarometer data. Legalistic views of citizenship are closely connected to the building and maintenance of strong relations at the local level and, for some, notions of morality. Few youth defined citizenship primarily in terms of voting, though Afrobarometer findings indicate large percentages do participate in elections. Even fewer youth respondents described citizenship as engagement in activities such as joining with others to advocate or protesting to hold governments accountable, a finding that aligns with the survey data. For these few youth, it is their everyday relationships with friends and neighbors and communal experiences of marginalization that motivate actions. Protest examples from South Africa and Uganda show that citizenship-from-above and citizenship-from-below blur and that everyday citizenship manifests in creative and agentic ways.