The discussion on youths across the world can be promising as well as disturbing, depending on how we perceive the energy of young people. In some instances, the youth are active change agents for good; while in some other instances, they can be seen as a threat to economic development.
Particularly in Africa, the narratives about youth have generated mixed feelings. Some people consider the African youth as a “ticking time bomb” in the context of economic instabilities and marginalization.
There is no doubt that the African continent faces some challenges which can become worse in the future if necessary plans are not put in place. We can talk extensively about the high rate of unemployment among African youths, the crime rate, and youth unrest.
However, this is an unbalanced narrative about this group of people. We also have young people making the continent proud through their works and contributions to the global economy. Overall, we need to identify means of improving the quality of lives of the continent’s rapidly growing youth population.
It is high time policymakers and well-meaning individuals invested in the African youth. We need these kinds of investment if we are hoping to reap some demographic dividends in the nearest future. For the sake of prioritization of needs, this article identifies 4 critical areas where we all can bet some coins on the African youth. These include:
- Education:The government across Africa needs to invest heavily in education on the continent for us to enjoy the dividends of education in the nearest future. This investment in education involves improving the quality of education available, as well as improving the outcomes of education. This does not only refer to formal education within the four walls of a school but also vocational training and other forms of informal education. For those attending school, we need to ensure that they are learning and acquiring skills relevant to make them independent in the future. In recent times, people around the world have questioned how the formal education system prepares graduates for the needs of employers in the labour market. Hence, investing in the education sector would yield some economic benefits.
- Employment: One good way of harnessing the potentials of African youth is by providing them with meaningful employment opportunities. Over time, many people have linked a high rate of youth unemployment to some social vices. The argument is that the idle hand is the devil’s workshop. In a 2019 Ibrahim Forum Report, unemployment is considered the most important problem of the African youth. It was identified that this challenge among African youth is worsened by a lack of formal jobs and social safety nets. Similarly, a 2019 African Union Commission report identified 2 indicators with worsening trends on the continent. These include the rate of unemployment and the rate of youth not in education, employment, or training (NEET). We need to create employment opportunities for these youth in both the formal and informal sectors of the economy. According to a report by the Freedom Lab, the informal sector is a major job creator in Africa as 85.8% of employment on the continent is considered informal. We need higher efficiency in this sector as it continues to provide jobs for the growing youth population.
- Participation in Development: Young people must be involved in planning and implementing intervention programmes shaping their lives. We need to be committed to youth inclusive development if we are serious about youth transformation. In a policy brief by the African Union, inclusive youth development can be defined as “recognizing the inherent worth and dignity of young people and identifying, understanding, and actively removing barriers that exist for certain groups of young people”. Policymakers need to “plan with” the African youths and not “plan for them”. We need to listen to the voices of the African youth and understand that they are the most important stakeholders when discussing issues affecting their lives. Young people want to be heard. They want to participate in politics and be involved in policy formulation processes.
- Social Safety Nets: We need to put structures in place to cater to the needs of the African youth. As reported by the World Bank, “Social Safety Nets (SSNs) are critical to reducing poverty because they support inclusive growth and provide resources to the most vulnerable in society”. These include conditional or unconditional cash transfer, assistance to access essentials needs (food, healthcare, education), and school-to-work transition programmes. When these measures are available, they will help manage anxieties and reduce social vices among African youth.
In a nutshell, we need to stop portraying the youth as a threat that can destabilize the continent. But rather, we need to commit necessary resources to the development of African youth. By doing so, we are taking a bet on the future of these youth for them to serve as the much-needed change agents for the continent.
Written by: Anifat Ibrahim, Research Associate | Project Management Professional (PMP).