Recently, the world celebrated the annual International Youth Day with the theme “Transforming food systems: Youth innovation for human and planetary health”. According to the United Nations, the world’s population is expected to increase by 2 billion people in the next 30 years. It is estimated that by 2030, young Africans will make up 35% of the world’s youth population and 75% of those under age 35 living in Africa. With the projected rate at which the African youth population is growing, there is a need for policies that are centred on inclusive youth development as well as opportunities for their advancement.
The major challenges faced by African youths are centred on development and enabling the environment. In developed countries, systems have been designed to support education, business, technology, and innovation. Innovation is the key to building sustainable nations and, as the innovation evangelist John Kao frames it, innovation refers to the transformation of existing conditions into preferred ones. In these countries, the youth are the leaders of technology and innovation while their governments have created an enabling environment for the development of these technologies. These countries have strategically coordinated their policies towards scientific research, commercialization, technology, education, skills development, regulatory policies, and tax allowance in a fashion that spurs innovation, encourages business development, and drives economic growth.
Many economies including Chile, Ghana, Honduras, and the United Kingdom have established government agencies and organizations specifically responsible for innovation, and others have created tax allowances that allow for research and development as well as technology and innovation.
Unfortunately, we see the opposite in our climate. These processes, which are not rocket science to implement, are not replicated in most African countries. Even if they were rocket science, we could easily copy – no need to reinvent the wheel. Yet, our socio-political laziness and/or unwillingness to embrace change and development-geared practices continue to cripple the continent’s enormous potential, resulting in the following bedevilling challenges, to name a few.
1. Unemployment – The youth account for 60% of Africa’s unemployment. The youth who should be Africa’s future leaders are left to roam the streets, or worse, engage in vices just to meet basic needs because our governments have yet to take wholesome responsibility for creating cross-cutting enabling environments that would allow our young ones to thrive. This is very appalling, to say the least! African leaders met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 2009 to try to defuse the youth unemployment time-bomb and declared 2009–18 the “African Youth Decade.” They resolved to mobilize resources, including from the private sector, for youth development. So far, of the 38.1% estimated total working poor in sub-Saharan Africa, young people account for 23.5% and the young females tend to be at a greater disadvantage than the male. Even worse still, many employable young Africans cannot get decent employment hence they subscribe to lower living standards. In other words, in spite of the meeting and its consequent accord, Africa is yet to bid farewell to the protracted nightmare of unemployment, and by current indices, its end date doesn’t appear in sight.
2. Lack of Education – Knowledge is power, the old saying goes! The fastest way to get knowledge, to enlighten people, is through quality education. The lack of good education has been a serious challenge in Africa, and if this is not checked, it will snowball into ‘half-baked’ adults – if that isn’t the case already, that is. Many young Africans do not have access to formal education, and some who do are served with poor standards and contents that are nearly inapplicable in today’s dynamic world; but if youths are provided with sufficient education, training and jobs, then the growth in their numbers could be highly beneficial for development, an advantage for the continent and not a threat as it seems now.
3. Bad Governance and Youth Development Policies – Again, the principal role of a government is to create an enabling environment and develop policies that support growth. By promoting the political and economic participation of youths, our governments can begin to empower young people to have the confidence to shape their own more prosperous futures. Africa’s growing youth population comes with high energy, creativity and talents, which are also the key to the future if harnessed now.
The potentially important role of youth in Africa’s development cannot be overemphasized. The following are some key ways Africa can harness its youth-power towards increasing and sustainable development.
1. Industrialising Africa – With the advent of technology in its varied forms of expression like Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Big Data, etc., resulting in massive and advanced industrial strides around the world, the youths could be a source of labour inputs as well as human capital in production, which would improve total factor productivity in a region of the world where capital formation is limited.
2. Agents of Change – African youths should be encouraged to be involved in governance and expand civil society opportunities. The youths must be recognized as dynamic agents of change and as capable of finding diverse and creative responses to crises.
3. Entrepreneurial Development – Emerging youth entrepreneurship is a result of the realities of the menacing labour situation in many African cities. Inherently, humans always display resilience in the face of adversity, and the experience of poverty forces young people to find new ways of coping with their situation. Moreover, they regularly have an intimate understanding of the way things work on the ground, which no economist or development expert could rival. As such, with the strides, African youths have and are making, even beyond the shores of the continent and despite the daunting odds, it is obvious now more than ever that if governments could only ease the burden of doing business in our respective countries, there is no saying what our youths could make happen for our continent. But one thing is sure, they would soar!
In conclusion, Africa’s youthful population is only a threat because our governments have either not learned how to harness the salient opportunities the numbers present or are unwilling to act towards maximizing the opportunities. However, we look at it; Africa’s youths are a source of hope for positive change in Africa. As a matter of fact, optimizing and leveraging our youths is the only way Africa will develop!
Therefore, for Africa to compete favourably with its counterparts across the globe, it must do the following:
· Empower its people with technology, education, and entrepreneurship
· Enable its people to develop sustainable businesses and brands that can compete globally
· Build strong institutions with processes that ensure emergence of credible leaders