- 1 The Ministry of Youth defines youth in Angola as 15-30 year-olds. However, for the purposes of this (...)
1This article discusses the ways in which youth1 in Angola was deeply affected by war, how they envisage their future, and how notions of modernity appear in their ideas of the future. It follows the line of previous analyses of Angolan youth that try “to move beyond a straightforward victim/perpetrator dichotomy, and to consider from their own testimonies their perspectives and views of their pasts as well as on their futures” (Parsons, 2004: 46).
2Youth analyses are often concurrent regarding the “struggling to survive against all odds” of young people in conflict contexts in Africa (WCRWC, 2001). The Angolan case is undoubtedly one in which at least one whole generation was affected by war and by insecurity, which poses many challenges to the future. Additionally, Angolan youth faces other types of vulnerability, which are shared by other African young people in the areas of education, employment and livelihoods, healthcare and basic nutrition. The causes of this vulnerability are political conflict, armed violence and the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which have affected youth largely over the past two decades (De Boeck; Honwana, 2005: 1). It is also related to significant demographic changes taking place in the continent, such as life expectancy rates, which strongly modify the labour market demand and supply figures (Blum, 2007: 231).
3However, despite all these difficulties, young people’s active role – both as subjects and as creators – in the transformation and leadership of their future is particularly important, especially in contexts of social and economic resilience. “Young people in Africa are actively participating in social, economic, and political developments and, in the process, constructing their own identities” and “demonstrated tremendous creativity in making a living for themselves in a climate of social instability and endemic conflict” (De Boeck and Honwana, 2005: 1-2). Bearers of such contradictory possibilities, young people in Africa are, according to De Boeck and Honwana (2005), simultaneously makers and breakers, and made and broken by society.
4The long-lasting war in Angola affected the majority of girls and boys, especially in the rural areas where “certain institutions that play a role in the initiation into adult roles, besides the family and the «traditional» initiation rites were seriously disrupted: school, church, and children and youth associations” (Honwana, 2005: 37). Honwana’s research, solely in the Moxico province, highlights rural consequences of the military conflict that conditioned the way children – today’s youth – were socialised and how their perceptions of the social reality were moulded. Nevertheless, urban youth, less directly affected by military incorporation, war violence, and disruption of traditional social values has faced many other types of insecurity, lack of social and economic perspectives and a constant climate of menace. Moreover, the majority of urban young people in Angola are rural migrants, having therefore accumulated, in many cases, both the stress of direct military conflict and the pressures of rapid urban changes.
- 2 See the discussion on Ferguson’s Expectations of Modernity, especially Nyamnjoh (2001) and other re (...)
5The wide scope of varied experiences of life during the war in Angola leads to a need to use the concept of modernity in a cautious way. Modernity itself, often related to urban experience, produces distinct social appropriations of the changes taking place. In Africa, it can influence life styles in very different ways, as proposed by James Ferguson (1999), who draws a clear portrait of the localist and cosmopolitan styles adopted followed mainly by younger generations. Localist lifestyles – a loyalty to the traditional rural way of life in rural contexts – and cosmopolitan styles – a desire for the removal of rural references and the integration of cosmopolitan ones, help explain how urban references are reshaped in contexts of modernization and how urban youth is exposed to them more often and profoundly. While this distinction may be analytically insufficient to explain the incorporation of modernity in rural contexts and the creative mixtures of localist and cosmopolitan styles, it allows us to identify references that guide the ways in which young people lead their lives and the main guidelines regarding modernity2.
6Social differences related to lifestyles and consumption become evident in an analysis of economic activities, family structures and organisation, religion, education and housing, among others (Dorier-Appril et al., 1998: 67, 73, 76). Other social indicators relevant to the analysis of modernity – more visible but also more difficult to define – refer to clothing and fashion, places where people eat, urban leisure and the transformation of gender relationships, among others. They can also be apprehended through an analysis of fashion, funeral rituals, sports, music, sexuality or marriage patterns (Mbembe and Nuttall, 2004: 348; 350-352; 365). In all these areas, the construction of new social and cultural references and practises shows how active the role of younger generations is, how they are able to contribute to the transformation of society. Integrating modernity in the analysis of youth is particularly important to understand Africa nowadays. Moreover, it allows moving forward from criticism of the way scholars in particular “continue to describe Africa as an object apart from the world, or as a failed and incomplete example of something else” (Mbembe and Nuttall, 2004: 348). Angolan youth is but another African example proving that modernity is not absent or even apart from its aspirations and references. As in Johannesburg (Mbembe and Nuttall, 2004: 365), the metropolitan existence here is displayed via “an enticing array of consumer labels and products, highways and luminous flows, store windows and huge advertising billboards, new architecture and, more generally, technophilia”. Modernity, as perceived by young people in Angola, includes these metropolitan, cosmopolitan and technological references, which are creatively combined with the results of prolonged wartime, lack of economic and education opportunities, at times strict traditional rules, producing new forms of sociability and cultural references. The consecutive mixtures, hybrid creations and negotiated transitions (Rodrigues, 2006: 63) are then what makes Angolan youth nowadays both passive inheritors of a hardship past and active agents in the construction of an Angolan modernity.
7The starting consideration in this article is that young people in Angola in general consider that they have missed opportunities due to the war. Additionally, young people’s perception of this situation calls for them to compensate for the years they have lost and, consequently, most of them accept the fact that this effort is very hard, harder than the efforts younger generations will have to face. Linked to these attitudes, modernity appears as a possibility, to both rural and urban youth. For Angolan young people, modernity is often linked to cosmopolitan references, to access to information and education. It emerges as an ideal opposed to the asphyxiation war and the threat of war have set for many years. This idea of modernity is supported by the desire to have access to conditions that allow integrating the modern world and the modern economy. The urban centres have more such manifestations of modernity and here is also where the majority of the Angolan population (and therefore, youth) is concentrated. Urban modes of living generate new forms of social and cultural interaction and young people, especially in urban areas, are eager to participate in this new culture, which is associated with access to information, entertainment, and services. The influence of youth returning from the diaspora is also particularly significant in the recent Angolan context. In rural areas, modernity slowly enters youngsters’ references, acquiring the same meaning, i.e. an opposite sense to war and insecurity.
8This article focuses then on two main ideas. One is that war and the threat of war have shaped the way young people lived their lives, producing different realities in urban and rural areas. The other is that peace has brought the opportunity for young men and women to try and compensate for the chances they have missed and that this notion is clearly grounded on the idea of accessing modernity. The information used here is based on indirect information obtained through fieldwork focusing on other themes (but where the ideas of youth are also included) and in an assessment of Angolan youth conducted in 2006 to inform the government and international agencies on the strategy for a national youth programme. The latter allowed collecting young people’s perceptions of their needs, aspirations and experiences of education and employment opportunities. Although other research included other provinces, the main youth assessment data was collected in Luanda, Huambo, Benguela and Cunene, therefore combining varied urban and rural examples. The focus on young people’s ideas and their own expression of what their needs and perspectives of the future are may help understand today’s Angolan situation and contribute to improving youth policy and action (Chant and Jones, 2005).
9As elsewhere in Africa, contact with modernity – in the above-mentioned cosmopolitan sense – is a long-lasting phenomenon in Angola. Colonialism itself forcibly led to the introduction of new economic and social models, combined with new rationalities regarding life styles and contact with the world culture. This has influenced several generations of urban dwellers and also, with less impact (but still significantly), the rural population: “Also in rural areas and young colonial cities like Huambo, Uíge or Cabinda, the constitution of African social strata more or less attached to the models of the Western culture takes place” (Neto, 1996: 120).
10Because of the 27-year conflict, almost two generations of youth in Angola have missed important opportunities to enter adulthood successfully. The war caused long-term disruptions to the social systems and infrastructure that typically supported youth. Among these, education was definitely the most affected sector. Moreover, the war produced a context of insecurity that caused youth to avoid combat by migrating, especially to urban areas, or pulled them into it as soldiers or servants for adult combatants. Therefore, young people in Angola should be addressed differently, depending on their life pathways and their particular life stories, paying special attention to the divergent experiences of child combatants and the necessary conflict-specific approach:
In the post-war period different needs apply to those who were forcibly recruited and those who volunteered; those who fought with the support of, and in defence of, their communities, and those who were part of forces that terrorised civilians; those who are demobilised to their home communities and those in refugee camps; and there are differences between the needs of girls and boys (Maxted, 2003: 69, 77).
11According to Parsons (2004), feelings of Unita child-soldiers were of frustration with the situation in which they found themselves living, a growing dissatisfaction with traditional ways of life, and bitterness against the government. “After a highly structured life in the military, where ultimately someone else was always in charge and therefore also responsible, young (male) demobilising soldiers frequently speak with a sense of nervousness about the future” (Parsons, 2004: 55;60). The same applies to girls, who mention the hardship of domestic and agricultural work, which not only constrained their access to at least some specialised training they could use in peacetime (except for those that had access to teaching or nursing training) but also worsened gender inequality.
12The most important distinction in post-war Angola is still the one between rural and urban contexts, despite the existence of problems affecting youth in both contexts: “economically, few options open to them; almost complete lack of educational and professional opportunities” (Parsons, 2004: 57). Additionally, the war legacy has left an estimated one million orphans and has forced many young people into roles they are not ready to take, i.e. that of provider and head of household. In the early 2000s, an estimated four million households in Angola were headed by young people aged 16 to 20 (INE, 2001).
13The rural context is where the war played out, having a devastating effect on physical and social infrastructure, particularly in terms of education and health. Equally, it disrupted the agro-economy that was the foundation of subsistence and the dominant cultural mode of life for a majority of rural Angolans. Left with few life choices, it is hardly surprising that large numbers of rural youth continue to migrate into urban areas. In the urban coastal areas, the impact of the war was less direct. Still, rapid urbanization has caused a shock to cities, as young Angolans fleeing danger and seeking to sustain themselves could not be absorbed into urban economies. As a result, employment was and continues to be scarce, as the demand for labour cannot keep pace with support. In addition, urban migration has placed intense pressure on social infrastructure, especially schools and housing, and precipitated the mushrooming of urban slums. Urban poverty continues to place great stress on migrant families and their children. Consequently, many young people have adapted by seeking refuge on Angola’s urban streets, engaging in all sorts of economic – often illegal and dangerous – activities and have had to postpone education and take on greater responsibilities within their families. The particular case of displaced Angolan youth and the combination of multiple activities as coping strategies is described by Eyber and Ager (2003).
14The Angolan population is very young. War has had an impact on the composition of the population, pushing many young people to head households, changing the terms of adulthood and seniority, among others, which surely need to be deeper analyzed. In 2001, 19 percent of the population was aged 14-24 and 60 percent were less than 20 years old (INE, 2001). Estimates for 2005 (Ignatowski; Rodrigues and Balestino, 2006) point to 26 percent of the population aged 15-29. In the 15 to 24 year-old cohort, females outnumber males. Young women make up 22.5 percent of the total female population, while young men, only 20.7 percent of the male population (INE, 2001). This gender imbalance is also a legacy of the war. However, the age groups defined by these statistics are not necessarily the most appropriate for addressing youth issues in Angola. One of the main difficulties is that they leave behind those who up until today were not able to acquire the skills and autonomy that could allow them to enter adulthood. The situation can be considered a Sub-Saharan phenomenon as “the extended [that is, up until 30 or 35 years of age] age of youth tends to reflect the length of time needed to acquire the social capital or the human networks, needed to function as an effective adult” (Blum, 2007: 231). In the case of the Sub-Saharan countries, this directly relates to the late age at which education is completed, the changing age of family formation, unemployment, and the economic costs of achieving adult status. In Angola, additional housing difficulties in the urban centres, dependence on family networks and general insufficiencies regarding information, pose great challenges to young people’s autonomy, adulthood and social capital formation. Sparse existing support programmes have not been able to deal with all age groups directly affected by war. One of them is the government demobilisation and reintegration programme that could not include today’s young people because in 2002 they were considered children and cannot integrate them today because they were never considered demobilised.
15Age group, strictly defined, is therefore not a helpful instrument for addressing particular situations of young people in post-war Angola. Today’s adults themselves were affected by war-related problems and difficulties throughout their entire youth. One important conclusion regarding youth in Angola is then that no young man or woman has lived totally during peacetime and, though at different degrees, war and insecurity have shaped their formation and conditioned their life possibilities. War pushed a large number of young men and women into the conflict as soldiers (or to serve the military). On the other hand, those who were able to escape from it had to migrate to the urban centres, which were generally spared. Still, this young urban population has either lived with the latent threat of war or suffered its impacts, such as the lack of sufficient infrastructure in the areas of education, health, housing, job opportunities. In both urban and rural cases – and also in hybrid cases – young people consider their access to opportunities that would allow them a better life today has been hindered.
16War produced impacts at different levels and those that concern youth more directly are in the areas of education and livelihoods. Educational opportunities have been among the most seriously compromised, as noted in other African contexts (WCRWC, 2001). Urban youth was left with few job opportunities and rural youth with disrupted agriculture and a land littered with mines. There was no major employment creation effort in the urban areas and there was no especial youth demobilization process in the rural ones. The number of orphans, youth-headed households, and disabled has grown and so has vulnerability to violence, HIV/Aids and psychological trauma. The displaced (deslocados) situation during the war and associated poverty (Eyber and Ager, 2003) affected youth in particular and still have their effects throughout the country.
- 3 Whenever an author/year reference is not inserted after quotation marks, reference is made to the f (...)
17Both Unita and the government “developed and enforced a sophisticated system of politicization of youth” (Parsons, 2004: 50). This was clearly stated by the young people interviewed in 2006. Many said that they no longer wanted to be mobilized to politics as the experience they had of it was very negative and hampered their access to all other sorts of (better) opportunities. In the interviews, most young people (except for those in political associations, for obvious reasons) revealed that one of the things to do to reverse the extreme former politicization was greater access to information and priority to other subjects considered more important globally, like the environment or social work. “Youth now needs rehabilitation of the mind, a mental de-mining”3.
18The critical area that the young people considered to have been affected most by the war was education. Almost all of those interviewed recognised that “to develop dreams, one needs education” and that was not possible throughout the war period. This perspective therefore guided their present ideas of improving their lives. “I want to study so I can take the right path”. Although young people had to engage in all sorts of activities in a context of unemployment and economic difficulties, education appeared in their discourses as the way out of hardship and as a possibility many still considered. “Although I have been transporting beer [across the border], I want to study and become a teacher”. “My dream is to study, become a lawyer and build a family”.
19The impacts of the war on young people affected employment too. The majority of those interviewed considered that they not only missed the opportunity to access education but also to acquire work skills that they could use today to achieve autonomy and enter adulthood in a more advantageous position. The situation in Angola today regarding employment is quite disappointing to young people as demand exceeds supply in the urban centres and, in the rural areas, farming activities have been seriously affected by the war and are only very slowly beginning to recover their importance. This widespread lack of opportunities conditions and postpones the autonomy of young men and women, keeping the majority dependent on their family networks: “I’m jobless. I’m part of a family of twenty children. I rely on my older brother and sister. My mother is unemployed. My father died. We rely on some land to generate income”. Moreover, unskilled and impoverished young people are forced to engage in any opportunity they may find and combine all sorts of activities as much as they can in order to cope with their own and their families’ needs. “Sometimes we have to take whatever opportunity appears, however dangerous, for instance, climbing electricity posts to make electrical connections”. “I have to combine all sorts of activities. I am a music composer, painter, plumber, electrician, and bricklayer”. In many cases, young men and women decide to move to urban areas or other places where existing economic opportunities attract them (for instance, near border posts or where there is construction work), with no family support or formal protection.
20Education and employment were mentioned as the top two needs for youth in the 2006 assessment. The percentage of times they were mentioned showed their absolute and relative importance for young men and women in the different contexts of the assessment: 42 percent for education and 27 percent for employment. Other opportunities that these young people mentioned carried a much lower overall weight. Health needs came in third (16 percent), followed by access to information (7 percent), sports (4 percent) and housing (2 percent). Education needs covered many areas like vocational training, literacy, schools and scholarships, among others, while employment included opportunities and support for first employment, bank loans, internships, etc. Access to information included access to the media (radio, newspapers, internet and television) and communication with other countries. These rankings partly show what is now at stake in Angolan youth’s perceptions of the future – assuring basic capacities and qualifications that allow them autonomy and the opportunity to enter adulthood with some type of capital and, at the same time, giving them access to the world, information and more knowledge.
21The way young people foresaw changing their future was to seek an opportunity in the modern world, absorbing modernity – perceived as education, information, technology – as quickly as they could and achieving the right conditions to better compete in the modern economy and society as fast as possible. Angolan young people are also contributors to this new, modern Angolan culture, creating new forms of social and cultural interaction. In the urban provinces where the war played out, young people are now eager to participate in this new culture, particularly as it relates to more access to information, entertainment and services. These are, for them, what modernity usually means, as opposed to their former condition in general. In rural areas, traditional gerontocratic power relations and gender imbalances within society still play an important role but some changes led by the younger ones are now perceptible.
22A very important point of discussion regarding modernity requires further attention, not only in social science analyses but also among development agents. One of the consequences of long lasting war situations is the aforementioned disruption of traditional youth integrative practises:
Youth [in Moxico and in Mozambique] were not only robbed of their childhoods but also denied the possibility of becoming responsible and morally grounded citizens. The absence of initiation practises created a lapse in the process of maturing into an adult person [...] The way forward lies in reinforcing indigenous norms and value systems for child protection based on local worldviews and meaning systems (Honwana, 2008: 145, 147).
- 4 Depending on the region, it can have different designations. Girls’initiation ritual that demands s (...)
23Nevertheless, young men and women recurrently question tradition, especially when certain types of rituals and practices are confronted with modernity and information becomes widespread. Youth associations, development agents and other important civil society organisations find it increasingly hard to deal with traditional rituals such as efiku4 or circumcision, as they expose young men and women to early age sexuality and pregnancy and to health associated risks, such as HIV-AIDS. Modernity, seen as opposed to war, to rural and urban confinement and to the weight of negative traditional practices, is increasingly appropriated by young people as a form of mitigation and opposition to the situations they had been living in up until the end of the war.
24In urban centres, new forms of social relations are emerging and the participation of youth in more varied social groups is widespread. Additionally, broader access to information and the influence of youth returning from the diaspora are contributing to important transformations in young people’s mentalities. Democracy, civic participation, gender equality, human rights and the environment are all issues that young urban people are aware of and currently discussing. On the other hand, youth is nowadays dealing with many negative aspects of the social and economic changes taking place in Angola. Large numbers of displaced families, youth-headed households and a significant number of orphans have contributed to a rise in new forms of social exclusion. So-called street children and street gangs in Luanda and other urban centres are a visible, challenging reality, along with prostitution.
25As in the interviews (and focus group interviews) with young people, education has been placed as first priority and the ideas for the future are also closely related to these crucial aspects of their lives. Young people in Angola want to compensate rapidly for their missed opportunities. They seek access to information, economic opportunities, and education. They develop a series of strategies to do so and, in the field of education, they seek formal and informal education – private schools, language training, computer schools – saying, “we have to learn more so that no one ever fools us again”. In fact, earlier assessments (in Matala, Lubango, in 2000 among displaced young people) showed that this is an area that is always a first priority for youth (Eyber and Ager, 2003). As reconstruction of the country becomes a reality and more schools are built and the number of private universities rises, young people tend to face the future they desire as a real possibility. However, increased difficulties in obtaining sufficient income, rising poverty levels and exclusion are jeopardizing the prospects of a large number of young Angolans.
26Another area of concern is employment. Young people try to find economic opportunities in the informal economy, which is now the main alternative, and are very dynamic and active. Many young people are in the informal economy. Some devote themselves to selling or re-selling products (in markets or in the streets), others to recording and selling CDs, washing cars, doing make-up or hairdressing, carrying heavy items near the markets, giving private classes. At the same time, they seek information through new technologies, want to travel throughout the country, start creative activities and find new spaces for creative participation. Girls in rural areas all agree that they feel relieved that the war has ended and that they can now walk around freely, hang out with their friends, watch television and go to school. Angolan young people’s pace towards modernity as they see it is firm and they are very decided on this path. They realize at the same time that this is a very hard pace to keep up. “I have been working transporting beer across the border (Cunene) but I want to study and become a teacher”. They are all aware that their generation and the generation before them have a lot to recover from and the few opportunities they think they still have are in education, getting a better job.
27The Angolan youth situation, however, is not completely different from that of Sub-Saharan young people in general. International perspectives on African youth issues show that young African men and women face unemployment, a skills shortage (of about 133 million young African people, half are illiterate) and therefore vocational training tops youth needs in the continent (Wegner, 2008). In Angola, a large number of young people are currently searching for vocational training (more than the available places) and that is one of the reasons why the need for (effective) national employment centres is often mentioned.
28If education and employment are concrete, priority areas of concern for young people in Angola, several other manifestations of modernity and ways of accessing it through original and creative means are now visible in the country. One of them is undoubtedly music. Music has always played an important part in the history of social change in Angola, as a vehicle of nationalism building and dissemination in the colonial times (Moorman, 2009). Recent expressions clearly show the strength of music as a medium of communicating expectations, ideas of the future and ideals. There are all sorts of positive examples from all over the world and from Africa particularly of the role of music in social change processes. In Tanzania, the Bongo Flava hip-hop industry, in South Africa kwaito music and street style (Warah, 2006) and in Angola, surely Kuduro is at the top. The discotecas in the sanzalas (discos in small bush villages) show how far new musical manifestations – and the culture associated with them – have reached young people in the country. In fact, many other examples stem from or are related to music, such as fashion. Other tangible examples of modernity and how it is appropriated by youth in Angola can and should be further explored through an analysis of fashion, sports, music, sexuality or marriage patterns (Mbembe and Nuttal, 2004). Meaningful expressions of young women’s desires can give important clues to the ideas of modernity and the cosmopolitan references behind them. “We now can watch TV, see our favourite movies and music stars, how they dress and behave”.
29Youth is aware of the impacts that the war and its consequences had on them. The most critical areas are education and qualifications for entering adulthood. The perspectives they have nowadays are largely anchored in the idea of moving forward from the war and profiting from all the benefits of peace and modernity. This corroborates the notion that youth agency should be recognised, moving beyond the conceptions of children and youth as passive (Tillim and Badsha, 2003). Moreover, the reinforcement of this argument, both by the young men and women themselves and by those who are concerned with youth issues, may be helpful in focusing on community and social development, the role of youth in it and how it can positively affect youth. Post-war Angola’s challenges are directly and dangerously connected to the risk of continuing cycles of violence among Angolan youth (Wessells and Monteiro, 2006) and the elimination of these risks requires a social context approach, including the perspectives and desires of those who will be responsible for the future of the country. “The neglect of youth is short-sighted and counterproductive in peace building; a peace agreement’s endurance depends on whether the next generation accepts or rejects it, how they are socialised during the peace process, and their perceptions of what that peace has achieved” (Maxted, 2003: 69). The context for addressing youth problems and creating supportive spaces and conditions has not been fully created. Moreover, certain aspects related to young people’s expectations of the future and how they can be integrated into national youth policy still need to be further emphasised. Besides taking into account young men and women’s views of how they foresee the future, policy should also work from ongoing trends.