Monday, August 12th, is International Youth Day. In Mali, the event occurs in a context where more and more challenges continue to obscure the future of its youth despite the struggles of various affiliated associations, as well as measures taken by state authorities to support young people. These challenges include, first and foremost, education, which evidently plays a central role in the life of any young person.
In the minority category of influential young Malian activists and other enlightened leaders, many end up being very often manipulated or corrupted by politicians in the run-up to elections. This recurrent situation has generally led young people in Mali to be perceived only as electoral cattle, given the high numbers of those who are unemployed and illiterate.
According to the latest release from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (Minusma), about the country’s educational situation, only 6% of Malians manage to finish university and there is a national literacy rate of 25%.
"For decades, the crises that have rocked the Malian schools, some more dramatic than others, have seriously impinged on the right to education and have shaken the future of several generations of young Malians," Seddiki Diabaté, a retired teacher and former technical adviser at the Malian Ministry of Education, told 7Dnews.
He continued, "Some of these crises that have profoundly affected the quality of education in Mali arose from the fact that school has become a space of political demands through the instrumentalisation by political parties of educational actors, especially union leaders of both teachers and students’ corporations."
Moreover, there is still a high dropout rate in many parts of the country. According to Unicef, about two million Malian children between the ages of five and 17 do not attend school due to insecurity, poverty, child labour, early marriages and a lack of quality schooling near homes.
Between poor access to education, low quality jobs and inactivity, Malian youth is trapped and its march towards social progress is hindered, with illiteracy and poverty the most burning issues. On February 9th, 2019, the Platform of the Malian Youth Associations held a huge protest against the government’s decision to extend the age of retirement from 55 to 65 years. According to the chairperson of the platform, Cheick Oumar Bathily, based on the appalling scale of youth unemployment in Mali, this policy will further reduce young people's socio-professional chances and will be a severe blow to the promotion of youth employment.
Speaking to 7Dnews, Souleymane Satigui Sidibé, Chairperson of Mali’s National Youth Council, said that Malian youth represents about 15 million and is the most numerically significant demographic part of a national population of about 20 million.
"Instead of this numerical superiority serving as a spiral force for Malian youth, the young, on the contrary, are still those the most hit by the worst social problems," said the young leader.
The glaring lack of economic and social prospects in the country forces thousands of young Malians every year to take the path of illegal migration in search of a good life, often in extremely dangerous conditions, with many of them dying in the Mediterranean Sea.
All policies jointly conducted for several years by the Ministry of Malians Abroad and African Integration and its technical partners, including the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and USAID, still fail to deter young people and reduce the flow of illegal immigration. In total, the bodies of 113 Malians were identified among the 2,260 migrants who died in the Mediterranean in 2018, according to a report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
In addition, since the jihadist invasion in Mali in 2012, a considerable number of young Malians have abandoned their families to join armed jihadist groups. Following various studies conducted by UN organisations, including UNDP, UNESCO and UNICEF, the main reasons put forward are related to the educational and economic crisis in areas of Mali, where young people are the most vulnerable victims.
"Only education and the reduction of social inequalities can effectively combat illegal migration and religious radicalism, which are ruining the future of Malian youth. However, as long as the national ruling system does not open up real prospects for sustainable development for young people, no other policy can slow down its momentum towards the quest for its own survival," said Souleymane Satigui Sidibé.
After his re-election for a second term, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta officially placed Malian youth at the heart of his priorities. "I want to make youth the great cause of my new mandate. I will devote most of my efforts to its development by endowing it with the means necessary for its training, emancipation and success," pledged President Keïta during his inauguration in August 2018.
In the meantime, the road remains long and thorny for a Malian youth aspiring to brighter horizons.