The Untapped Potential of Africa

Africa has a youthful population made up of enthusiastic and energetic young people who (where enough supportive policies and programmes are in place) could drive the social and economic prosperity of the continent. Despite decades-long efforts, the challenges of youth development – and hence, employment – are still rampant across Africa.

Sub-Saharan Africa today faces an unprecedented opportunity. According to previous researches, half of the population is under 25 years of age. Each year between 2015 and 2035, it is estimated that there will be half a million more 15-year-olds than the year before. In as much as this is an opportunity, it also comes with responsibility on the part of governments to ensure that young people get the platform and equal chance to explore their choices and to use their skills for personal and broader sense of development.

Youth have the potential to be great architectures for Africa’s development, provided that appropriate investments in health and human capital are made. However, if youth issues are not addressed, and if high rates of youth unemployment and under-employment persist, Africa’s development could be negatively affected.

It is also important to realize that African economies have been thriving more on informal economic activities than the formal industry and commerce. State and non-state actors should also channel their energies towards formal sector however, important as that may be, it is also necessary increase the productivity of the almost 80 percent of the workforce who will be in the informal sector—thereby addressing the underemployment associated with work in this sector.

The size of the youth bulge in Africa and the current structure of the economy (currently mainly supported by informal activities) mean that the majority of this generation’s workers will remain in the informal sector for the duration of their working lives.

With the Sustainable Development Goals that give the youth a leading role in development, it is thus important to invest in young people’s innovative ideas and localize them in solving the lived realities facing the continent. Evidently, Africa is one such continent rich in mineral and natural resources but stagnant as far as development is concerned. Many ask the same questions with no clear-cut answer as to how these resources can be used in a way that fully benefits the local people while at the same time increasing the continent’s influence on the international market.

The remedy towards maximizing the proceeds from agriculture, mining, tourism and many other natural resources flourishing across the continent is to first believe that it is possible. There is a need to support homegrown innovations and ideas that emerge from the hardworking young people across the continent. Secondly, it is key to foster transparency and accountability within public institutions driven by the realization that civic participation is key, particularly in emerging African democracies.

Employment woes and instability in countries like Zimbabwe, South Africa and Kenya are largely emanating from unfulfilled promises from the governments on employment creation and basic human entitlements like health, education and participation in governance. Such promises have threatened security and peace within and among nations and continued neglect of the welfare of youth particularly on employment are potentially regressive towards the achievement made so far in areas like regional and continental cooperation among states, hence the need to action.