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Hoping for an African Renaissance

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. All data in this blog are taken from 2019 Ibrahim Forum Report.

Around 60% of Africa’s population is currently under 25. As the largest cohort in history, young Africans will determine the future of Africa. In fact, by 2100, Africa’s youth population could be equivalent to twice Europe’s total population. However, despite an increase in population, young Africans continue to struggle to access socio-economic opportunities.

Young Africans are also grappling with a widening gap between education and employers’ demands, leaving them unprepared and without the foundational skills for the future labour force. This has contributed to almost 16 million young Africans facing unemployment across the continent. The majority of African youth have been forced to create their own jobs through self-employment. Informal and vulnerable employment is the standard condition among most African youth, rather than the exception.

Young African women feel the sting and burden of unemployment even more sharply than young men and end up taking on jobs that often leave them in vulnerable forms of employment. Young Africans have no other choice but to turn to informal jobs for their survival and livelihood, finding themselves in the unrewarding reality of moving from one small job to another. When young people do indeed find work, it is often in places that do not pay reasonable wages or develop skills. The situations are even worse for youth living in rural Africa. In rural areas, youth experience higher levels of unemployment and underemployment due to fewer opportunities.

The inability to find stable employment and economic opportunities forces a number of young Africans to consider emigration. This is compounded by the fact that more than 40% of young Africans consider their current living situation to be very bad or fairly bad. Young people express mixed feelings of disengagement, disempowerment and discouragement.

It is essential that youth employment, skills and socio-economic opportunities are at the centre of all government economic plans, policies and priorities. Current initiatives by most governments focus on the development of isolated projects and programmes that specifically target youth, but such activities account for a minimal percentage of government budgets and do not address decision-making and the different outcomes and impact of such decisions on the lives of young Africans. These approaches fail to address the glaring gap between policy commitments and actual investments in addressing youth unemployment, vulnerable informal jobs, the absence of foundational skills and other socio-economic challenges affecting young Africans. Success cannot be achieved through fragmented and isolated approaches.

While there are many gloomy statistics about African youth, there is immense opportunity to harness the potential that exists. African governments must link long-term fiscal policy to address the looming African youth bulge. African governments should also foster private sector participation. Public-private engagements are essential to bridging the gap between the labour market and the education and development skills of young Africans.

Agriculture is key

As the newly released 2019 Ibrahim Forum Report highlights, agriculture is a key employer: currently the farming sector accounts for up to 60% of African jobs and roughly a third of the continent’s GDP. Here the continent has an opportunity to leapfrog, using new technologies in agriculture which can be a great beneficiary to the innovation we see from many young Africans – like we experienced in my home country, Kenya, with the transformation of financial services in mobile banking through M-Pesa. Here we have the possibility for an African renaissance.

It is also imperative to begin interrogating the attitudes, beliefs and perceptions of young Africans in order to begin effectively including and engaging with them. Young Africans aren’t a monolith and have different needs and wants. This cuts across gender and demography. There is no silver bullet or magic pill that will resolve the many underlying issues facing young Africans. There is however an opportunity to begin addressing the systematic and structural challenges facing youth across the continent at the upcoming Ibrahim Governance Weekend and the Now Generation Forum.

The Foundation will hold its flagship annual event, the Ibrahim Governance Weekend (IGW) from 5-7 April 2019, in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

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