AFRICA has the fastest-growing economies in the world as well as the youngest population expected to double by 2055. This growth presents an opportunity to transform this youth boom into a catalyst for industrialising Africa or it can undermine the progress that has been made. The real question is, ‘What do we do with the youth and how to develop their capacity to unlock their potential to be positive agents of change and contribute towards job-creation?’
Harnessing this youth dividend is therefore pivotal for Africa’s development. It is crucial that the public and private sector in collaboration with the youth need to identify alternative pathways to sustainable livelihoods. This will address the current challenges faced by the youth such as unemployment, inequality, poverty and social unrest. There is a need to build inclusive societies that allow young people to enter the workforce, generate wealth and be of service by participating in political systems.
For the youth to be a driving force for industrialization adequate investments have to be made in education, health, employment and good governance. Unlocking and optimising this potential also entails structural economic transformation that includes youth participation in strategic sectors such as the energy, agriculture, information and communication technology. Therefore the formulation and implementation of industrial policies inclusive of affirmative procurement and local content policies is key. Moreover, Africa must continue to leverage solutions to have greater participation in the existing value continentally and globally across industries.
At the nexus of a dynamic youth population and rapidly growing digital economies lies an opportunity to take Africa forward. Rwanda is an example of an African economy that is taking advantage of digital solutions to improve Africans lives e.g. using drones to deliver medicine. In addition, Africa has developed the most prolific mobile payment systems in the world, which presents a myriad of opportunities.
These innovative developments confirm that African countries have a unique environment and opportunity to transform their youth boom into broad-based poverty reduction, which can be achieved by investing heavily into skills and human capital. There is an urgent need to improve and support technical and vocational education that will empower youth to go after the jobs of the future.
Furthermore, there are limited opportunities in formal employment and therefore the culture of entrepreneurship has to be fostered and the necessary support such as creating market access, and providing access to funding should be prioritised. It is pivotal that forward-looking strategies are formulated to create production jobs and build globally relevant skills bases to drive African economies.
The reality is that Africa is demonstrating tremendous promise – the youth dividend has the potential to unlock shared prosperity and fulfil the continent’s vision articulated in the African Union’s Agenda 2063 ‘The Africa We Want’. The continent needs sustainable skills, solutions and infrastructure to leapfrog into the mid-21st century and the youth are more than capable to drive industrialisation towards Africa’s renewal.
*Selma Shimutwikeni is the Managing Director/Co-Founder of RichAfrica Consultancy in Windhoek, Namibia. Selma is an expert in natural resources law and policy, Selma advises leaders across the public and private sectors on inclusive business strategies, economic development and investment in oil, gas and mining sectors.