The Financial Times African Summit brought together Mo Ibrahim and Monica Ferro, who engaged in an energetic debate on the topic: This house believes Africa's young growing population is a demographic dividend. The event, which took place on Monday, 16 October, focussed on the critical issue of Africa's youthful population and its potential impact. Monica Ferro opened the discussion by underscoring the significance of the demographic dividend. She emphasised that this dividend can be realised through strategic investments in policies that secure the future of Africa's young population. Ensuring access to quality education, decent employment, and upholding human rights for every child is vital. She noted that countries with a working-age population that enjoys good health, quality education, and lower numbers of dependents have the potential for significant economic growth – often called the demographic dividend.
However, Mo Ibrahim challenged this perspective by highlighting the staggering unemployment rate among Africa's youth, which stands at over 26% and is expected to rise further. We need to generate 18 million jobs a year. He posed a crucial question:
What will the young people do if there are no jobs and, consequently, no hope for their future?
Citing the African Youth Survey 2022, where around 50% of the youth expressed a desire to migrate, Mo stressed the urgent need for job creation. He also addressed the high birth rates in Africa, which outpace economic growth. He questioned the wisdom of having more children when resources are limited, leading to the reliance on foreign aid for a significant portion of national budgets. Mo asserted that it's essential to address young people's lack of education, job opportunities, and social safety nets.
If there are no proper jobs or training for our young people, what we are going to have is mayhem. Nothing is worse than frustrated young people, without jobs and most importantly without hope.
He also said that another issue is the lack of access to power for 600 million Africans, which limits their options and potentially leads to higher birth rates due to a lack of alternatives. Mo's ultimate recommendation was a focus on family planning as a solution to address Africa's instability and population challenges. He argued that smaller families, well-educated children, and family planning initiatives are essential for a brighter future on the continent.
The Financial Times African Summit debate shed light on the complex and pressing issues surrounding Africa's demographic dividend. While Monica Ferro emphasised the potential for economic growth with the right policies, Mo Ibrahim underscored the critical need for job creation, education, and family planning to ensure Africa's more stable and prosperous future. These discussions are pivotal in shaping strategies for Africa's evolving demographics and economic and social prospects.