From the editor

| April 5, 2011 | 0 Comments

It still seems hardly possible that, a few weeks ago, a group of largely middle-class, educated, politicised, and internet-savvy youth were able to mobilise the general Egyptian population to achieve, within a period of days, the overthrow of Mubarak’s 30-year old regime.

While many observers initially marked the immolation of a young Tunisian man, Mohamed Bouazizi, as the catalyst for the political upheaval that spread like wildfire from northwest Africa to the Middle East; more recently, social commentators have pointed to greater patterns at work in this significant historical moment. From Algeria to Yemen, say analysts, there are ‘youth bulges’; large populations of young people without jobs. In Yemen, for example, half the population of 23 million people is under the age of 15. Youth unemployment stands at over 50 percent and the population is set to double by 2030. And, while university enrolment has steadily increased across the Pan-Arabic region, indications are that the quality of higher education has declined, leaving many young people with high expectations but few marketable skills.

However, says Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research and Development in London, the unrest “is a manifestation of an even deeper convergence of fundamental structural crises, which are truly global in  scale.” These crises, says Ahmed, include rocketing fuel and food prices, caused largely by declining global food supply chains, the result in turn of increasingly erratic weather patterns and natural disasters. He concludes that “Due to such vulnerabilities, Egypt, like many Middle East and north African (MENA) countries, now lies on the fault lines of the convergence of global ecological, energy and economic crises – and thus, on the frontlines of deepening global system failure.”

Other manifestations of the crises were felt in London and other UK cities at the end of 2010. Students protested against university fee hikes, a problem that goes back to the government decision, say many, to cut teaching grants drastically. UK universities will have to charge, on average, fees of around £7,500 to make up for funding lost to research and capital, putting a tertiary education – and access to certain qualifications – out of the reach of thousands of young British people. And tremors can be felt right now in Wisconsin. Reports YesMagazine, “Across the country, the poor and middle class suffered from the economic collapse. But now, inspired by people-power movements around the world, in Wisconsin, public employees and their supporters are drawing the line at Governor Scott Walker’s plan to eliminate collective bargaining and unilaterally cut benefits. School teachers, university students and others descended on the capital in the tens of thousands to weigh in against the bill and protests against similar anti-union measures are ramping up in other states.”

Here at home, Loane Sharpe, an economist at Adcorp points out “If what Stats SA tells us is correct, then 74 percent of youth under the age of 35 are unemployed. Only nine percent of matriculants will find work within a year of leaving school. It is not hard to extrapolate from the official statistics a situation of mass disgruntlement and popular resentment, leading down a road to nowhere.” For now, says researcher Heinrich Böhmke, it is our procedural rights and freedoms as South Africans that save us. But, if we do not use the opportunities presented by these crises to push for fundamental structural change in our education and our socio-economic systems, then the ‘contagion’ will engulf us all.

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Category: Autumn 2011

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