The role of Tunisian youth in the revolution was fundamental because they have been the most affected and marginalized by the previous regime’s inability to live up to their demands. The uprising itself is known as a “youth uprising” and the post-revolutionary state has adopted this language only as a defense of the revolution. However, following Tunisia’s first freely elected parliament in place, many of the problems facing Tunisia’s youth remain - namely jobs and opportunities for Tunisia’s highly educated and most important demographic, as over 51% of the population is under 30. In fact, following the revolution, Tunisia’s overall unemployment rate spiked by 6%, up from 13% to 19%. For highly skilled youth, aged 15-29, the unemployment rate exceeds 44 %.
There is a growing frustration among youth that the current leadership is not listening to their aspirations but viewing them only as numbers at the voting box. Issues such as drafting a constitution and establishing a democracy have taken precedence over social-equality demands. This is why we need to look at the different indicators that play a major role in advancing youth agendas to understand the failure of fulfilling the goals of the revolution led by young people.
In respect to youth legislation, the Ministry of Youth, Sports, Women and Families is responsible for the implementation of youth policies. Services to young people are delivered through centralized administrative units and a network of youth centers. Amongst its many responsibilities, the ministry focuses mainly on the sport sector while youth centers focus on the cultural programs for youth. There is an issue of decentralization and a lack of coordination of services across the agencies to effectively address youth issues, leading instead to fragmented coverage, ambiguity and overlap in roles.
Tunisia had the Higher Youth Council, which was a government forum of consultation on youth issues, totally aligned with the ruling political party Rassemblement Constitutionnel Democratique (RCD), whose regime was toppled in 2011. Now, we do not really have a National Youth Council or national youth organization, besides a few attempts by civil society to organize programs such as the Youth Parliament and Model UN. This decreases our representation in Africa. The association of youth work with political parties, such as the former regime in Tunisia, is a major problem in Africa, which detract institutionalized bodies from youth work activities. Youth workers should recognize the importance of being independent actors, serving youth and not the state.
In regards to youth participation, especially in politics, young Tunisians have been excluded from its political process. The date, 23 October 2011, marked the first transparent elections, registering only 17% of youth participation (18 to 25-year olds) and electing only 10% of young people out of the 217 deputies. Tunisian youth have been active participants in the campaign period, both as members of political parties, and in drafting the constitution, frequently protesting for the inclusion of youth rights within the new constitution. Nevertheless, the numbers of youth actually entering the system is still marginal.
To some extend, the Tunisian government offers a range of services as employment, training opportunities, civic participation, and recreational activities. However, there is not enough concrete involvement and political inclusion of young people to get them to leadership positions. The tremendous increase in the number of civil society organizations (CSOs) that are youth-led and youth targeting, alone, will not take youth to decision-making positions if they remain only to be used as volunteers, campaigners and voters.
Politics is still restricted to elite circles and political parties are outmoded. Again, there is no political will to engage youth. Recent registration for the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in October and November, shows that young people’s motivation has decreased since the revolution because of deception and exclusion.
Looking to the future, Tunisian and African bureaucrats in general have to act upon the understanding that:
1. Young people are the resource not the problem: young people are always associated with problems, mainly unemployment. However, youth are an immersive resource for every nation’s development. We will not move forward until our leaders change their problem-oriented approach.
2. Young people should be part of the process not the result: The absolute majority of Tunisians either have never heard or known about the African Youth Charter or, if known, haven’t read it. This is partly because they have not been part of the process of its drafting and consultation.
3. There is tension between the will and the expectations of young people, and the will expressed in policies designed to target their needs. It is more accurate in Tunisia’s case, to speak of plural strategies concerning youth rather than a single youth policy.