frica’s population is young and growing at twice the pace of other continents. A youth bulge presents a series of development policy opportunities and challenges. In this context, simplistic linkages between the youth bulge, high unemployment, and fragility have gained traction and given rise to a youth policy agenda that targets urban male youth as the problem and emphasizes formal sector development as the solution. This paper questions some of the core assumptions that underpin mainstream perceptions of the linkages between youth, employment, and fragility in West Africa, and presents an alternative analysis. The study will use the language of livelihoods to reflect on youth employment experiences, as livelihoods take into account the capabilities, assets (including both material and social resources), and activities required for a means of living beyond traditional ideas of employment, and thus enable a deeper, more sophisticated understanding of the realities of many young West Africans. The paper argues that a nuanced understanding of specific groups of young people and their livelihood activities in their specific social, cultural, political, and economic context is necessary to understand how young peoples’ lives intersect with fragility dynamics. The paper aims to highlight that the relationship between youth, unemployment, underemployment, livelihoods, and fragility is far more complex than is often recognized and should not be exaggerated or taken out of context.
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