The Youth – Africa’s Most Valuable Resource For Economic Transformation

With over 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa has the largest population of young people in the world, with current trends indicating a doubling of the numbers by 2045. As the world commemorates International Youth Day this week, with the theme “Safe Spaces for Youth”, the African Development Bank reiterates its commitment to an inclusive and youth-focused economic transformation agenda for the continent.

The perilous path to the North undertaken by thousands of Africans each year evokes indignation around the world. Equally damaging is the silent exodus of its young professionals to the West in search of the ‘better life’. Both classes of emigres are fleeing from poverty. Invariably, Africa is exporting its future in droves.

The African Development Bank is particularly helping reverse this trend. At stake is the future of the continent’s agricultural and industrial economy and Africa’s place in the emerging Fourth Industrial Revolution. A combination of factors including migration and poor economic choices, have resulted in Africa’s efforts to industrialize standing still over the last decade. The Bank is however on course to stopping the exodus of its most valuable resource.

To make agriculture more attractive to young people, it has since 2016 invested over $800 million in supporting young entrepreneurs in agriculture in more than15 countries. It will also galvanize over $1.5 billion annually over the next 10 years, to support young agriculture entrepreneurs (or agripreneurs). As a way of accelerating Africa’s industrialization, the Bank is promoting special economic zones (SEZs) across the continent to attract investments for industrialization – zones that will need hordes of young workers to thrive.

These plans reflect the Bank’s bullish view of the continent’s capacity to resolve its issues. In a similar vein, in November it will launch the Africa Investment Forum, a marketplace for investors interested in Africa. The forum, scheduled from 7-8 November in Johannesburg, South Africa, will showcase bankable projects, attract financing and provide platforms for investing across multiple countries.

“Africa must stop being a museum of poverty. Its people are determined to reverse this trend. The future of young Africans is not in Europe, their destiny is not to end their lives in the Mediterranean Sea,” Bank President Akinwunmi Adesina told reporters during the 53rd Annual Meetings of the Bank in Busan, Korea in June.

In some respects, the East Asian nation was an ideal location to discuss Africa’s industrialization and trade ambitions. Once in the league of the world’s poorest nations, Korea is now the 11th largest economy in the world due to sustained investment in education, healthcare and smart infrastructure. What does this mean for Africa’s industrialization drive?

Already, youth account for 60 percent of all unemployed Africans. To transform their economies, African countries will require knowledge-driven institutions and the assets of a well-educated and trained youths. Even as the African Development Bank pegs Africa’s infrastructure gap to be anywhere between $130 and 170 billion per year, proactive planning will be required to ensure that a significant share of these monies go towards soft infrastructure, namely, healthcare and human capital.

Attracting capital to programs and projects will always be equally as important as galvanizing Africa’s youth for positive engagement and value contributions to their societies.  Africa’s youth therefore remain at the heart of the Bank’s development financing efforts.

Africa’s youth at the center of the Bank’s development finance programs

The African Development Bank is working swiftly to reduce the skills mismatches in the labor market. Over the last 15 years, the Bank group’s education projects has invested over $1.64 billion in programs benefiting 6 million African youth and women, equipping them with the right skills for the jobs of the future in the ICT and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) industries.

The Bank, Africa’s foremost development finance institution, continues to make progress in the implementation of its youth strategy, which is anchored on three key pillars: innovation, integration and investment. Its Jobs for Youth in Africa Strategy aims to create 25 million jobs and benefit 50 million youth over the next 10 years by equipping them with the right skills to get decent and meaningful jobs. It is currently the largest effort going on for youth employment in Africa today. From 2016 to date, the Bank has invested over $400 million in both public and private operations to promote jobs for the youth in Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and other countries on the continent.

In 2017, President Adesina created the Presidential Youth Advisory Group to provide strategic guidance to the Bank on the implementation of its Jobs for Youth in Africa Strategy. The nine-member think tank is chaired by Ashish Thakkar, 37, founder and chairman of Mara Group, an investment firm with operations in over 20 African countries. A serial entrepreneur, Thakkar is also the author of The Lion Awakes: Adventures in Africa’s Economic Miracle.

Working with Facebook, Microsoft and the Rockfeller Foundation, the Bank in February 2018 embarked on a plan to launch 130 Centers of Excellence across Africa as part of its Coding for Employment Program. These centers will address the mismatch between skills of Africa’s youth and the hiring needs of employers.

The Bank’s Youth Entrepreneurship and Innovation Multi-Donor Trust Fund will serve as a financial and operational instrument for its Jobs for Youth in Africa Strategy, with initial support of US $4.4 million from the Governments of Denmark and Norway.

Another initiative of the Bank (announced in 2017) is the development of the Enabling Youth Employment (EYE) Index to measure youth employment outcomes and enabling policies at country levels across Africa. The scorecard will, using evidence-based research, provide decision-makers with policy recommendations to increase employment opportunities for youth.

In today’s borderless economy and global talent market, Africa’s demographic dividend leads must be enabled to sustain economic productivity and equitable social and industrial transformation. Steps in this direction would help Africa attain Agenda 2030, the new sustainable development goals adopted by countries in 2015 to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all.

Writing in the 2018 issue of African Prospects, a publication of the Bank, Professor Ruth Oniang’o, the 2017 Africa Food Prize Laureate and founder of Rural Outreach Program said the youth offer Africa its greatest opportunity to harness creativity and innovation, especially for the agriculture sector. “We must devise ways of getting Africa’s youths into gainful activities that should not only put food on their tables but also improve their well-being.…”

All youth deserve to succeed no matter where they are from.