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Cape Town, South Africa

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The shift toward younger populations is a global phenomenon, but nowhere is the phenomenon—and the accompanying youth bulge—more pronounced or has the growth been faster than in Sub-Saharan Africa. Recognizing this reality along with the role that youth played in shaping the Arab Spring, the African Union has made youth empowerment a top priority in its planning.

With countries across Sub-Saharan Africa facing crises in their justice systems, security sectors, and economies, young people offer both the greatest opportunity and the greatest challenge to development and security. Youth can drive economic growth and can serve as a force for innovation. They can offer support for governance and for political reforms. At the same time, an unsettled youth population can be a destabilizing force in light of increased unemployment levels, increased urbanization, and the potential to challenge state authority.

This three-day, invitation-only, roundtable symposium examined the particular issues that relate to youth and the rule of law by bringing together thought leaders and stakeholders from within the U.S. Government, regional governments, multilateral organizations, NGOs, academia, and the private sector to focus on the specific nexus between youth and the rule of law in Sub-Saharan Africa. The symposium organized participants into three thematic Working Groups: (a) Youth and Justice, (b) Youth and the Security Sector, and (c) Youth and the Economy. Working Group A examined such issues as access to justice for youth and rights-based education. Working Group B looked at issues like policing and corrections, as well as youth engagement with security sector institutions. Working Group C discussed economic opportunity for youth and the role of corruption, among other topics. Within its area of focus, each Working Group considered ways in which youth can present opportunities and challenges for rule of law programs, as well as ways in which that area of focus interacts with those of the other two Working Groups.

At the end of the symposium, each Working Group presented to the plenary a set of recommendations addressed to governments in the region, international donors including U.S. Government agencies, multilateral organizations, and civil society organizations inside and outside the region. The recommendations considered ways that rule of law programming can be shifted in light of the challenges and opportunities identified during the Working Group discussions. Those recommendations were compiled in a symposium Final Report.

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