Young and old in sub-Saharan Africa: Who are the real democrats?

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Documents de travail
Chikwanha, Annie and Eldred Masunungure

The assumption of modernization theory has always been that the young would be among those at the forefront of movements for political liberalization. To what extent does this assumption hold true? Do the youth in Africa have a better understanding of – and are they more committed to – democracy than their more mature counterparts? Will the youth occupy the frontlines in defence of democracy, while the elderly acquiesce more willingly to the authoritarian impulses of leaders? This paper explores differences among these groups with respect to political attitudes and behaviours, evaluations of government performance, political participation and other factors that help us understand the orientation of diverse individuals toward their political systems. We devote special attention to the attitudes of African youth, and what they tell us about the vision younger Africans have of their political future, and their understanding of what “citizenship” means. The analysis reveals that differences between the two generations on political attitudes to democracy are minimal as both groups exhibit high levels of support for democracy. But major differences in political behaviour are particularly evident in voting and other forms of political participation, as well as in trust in key political institutions, where youth consistently lag behind their elders.