Promise or peril? Africa’s 830 million young people by 2050 – The Star, Kenya

Last month, Spanish charity workers rescued 167
migrants arriving from Africa aboard a small boat.

2016 was the deadliest for migrants attempting to
cross the Mediterranean, with at least 3800 deaths recorded. Most know the dangers they face on the route,
yet still choose the possibility of death in overcrowded and unseaworthy
vessels over the hopelessness of life in areas they reside.

Consider this. Every 24 hours, nearly
33,000 youth across Africa join the search for employment
. About 60% will
be joining the army of the unemployed.

A report from the United Nations
High Commission for Refugees released this month claims that seven in ten of those heading for Europe are not
refugees fleeing war or persecution, but economic migrants in search of better lives.

12 August 2017, is International
Youth Day
.

Africa’s youth population is growing rapidly
and is expected to reach over 830 million by 2050. Whether this spells promise or peril depends on how
the continent manages its “youth bulge”.

According to the World Bank, 40% of people who join rebel movements are motivated by lack of economic opportunity. The UN Secretary
General Antonio Guterres noted, “The frustration generated in young people that have
no hope in the future is a major source of insecurity in today’s world. And it
is essential that when Governments plan their economic activities, when the
international community develops forms of cooperation, they put youth
employment, youth skills at the centre of all priorities…”

Some estimates indicate that more than half a million Africans
migrated to European Union countries between 2013 and 2016, adding to the millions flowing in from Syria, Iraq, Yemen,
Afghnistan and parts of Asia.

Many of Africa’s young people remain trapped in
poverty that is reflected in multiple dimensions, blighted by poor education, access to quality health care, malnutrition
and lack of job opportunities.

For many young people–and especially girls– the
lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services is depriving them of
their rights and the ability to make decisions about their bodies and plan
their families. This is adversely affecting
their education and employment opportunities.

According to UNDP’s Africa
Human Development Report for 2016, gender inequalities cost sub-Saharan Africa
US$ 95 billion annually in lost revenue. Women’s empowerment and gender equality needs to be at the top of
national development plans.

Between 10 and 12 million people join the African labour force each year, yet the continent creates only 3.7 million jobs
annually. Without urgent and sustained, the spectre of a migration
crisis looms that no wall, navy or coastguard can hope to stop.

“The
future of Africa’s youth does not lie in migration to Europe, but in
a prosperous Africa”, the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Akinwumi
Adesina,
has said.

Africa’s population is expected to reach around 2.3
billion by 2050. The accompanying increase in its working age population
creates a window of opportunity, which if properly harnessed, can translate
into higher growth and yield a demographic dividend.

In the wake of the Second World War, the
Marshall Plan helped to rebuild shattered European economies in the interests
of growth and stability. We need a plan of similar ambition that places youth
employment in Africa at the centre of development.

For example, one sector that Africa must
prioritise is agribusiness, whose potential is almost limitless. Makhtar
Diop, World Bank Vice President for Africa Region has said, “We cannot
overstate the importance of agriculture to Africa’s determination to maintain
and boost its high growth rates, create more jobs, significantly reduce
poverty….”. The World
Bank says African agriculture and agribusiness could be worth US $1
trillion by 2030
.

Agriculture can help people
overcome poor health and malnutrition. Given the
importance of agriculture for the livelihoods of the rural poor, agricultural
growth has the potential to greatly reduce poverty – a key contributor to poor
health and undernutrition
.

In the meantime, the aging demographic in many
Western and Asian Tiger economies means increasing demand for skilled labour
from regions with younger populations. It also means larger markets for
economies seeking to benefit from the growth of a rapidly expanding African
middle class. Consumer spending in Africa is
projected to reach US $1.4 trillion
in the
next three years and business-to-business spending to reach $3.5 trillion in
the next eight years.

Whether the future of Africa is promising or
perilous will depend on how the continent and the international community moves
from stated intent to urgent action and must give special priority
to those SDGs that will give the continent a competitive edge through its
youth.

The core SDGs
of ending poverty, ensuring healthy lives and ensuring inclusive and equitable
quality education all have particular resonance with the challenge of
empowering youth and making them effective economic citizens.

As we mark International Youth Day, there is
hope. Many young people in Africa are taking charge of their
futures. There is a rising tide of entrepreneurship sweeping across Africa
spanning technology, IT, innovation, small and medium enterprises. They are
creating jobs for themselves and their communities
.

The African
Development Bank is working on creating 25 million jobs
and equipping at least 50 million youth
to realize their full
economic potential by 2025.

The African Union established the theme for 2017
as “Harnessing
the Demographic Dividend Through Investments in Youth
.” This will determine Africa’s enormous promise to
realise its economic and social potential as well as reap a demographic
dividend
(video).

Honourable
Mr
John Dramani Mahama is the
former President of the Republic of Ghana, follow him on
twitter. Siddharth Chatterjee is the
UN Resident Coordinator to Kenya, follow him on
twitter.

Promise or peril? Africa’s 830 million young people by 2050 – The Star, Kenya