The Cost of Youth Engagement in Africa
While the world’s attention focused on the horrific events unfolding in Paris last month, many of us in Africa were sadly reminded of other terrorist attacks and unfortunate incidents that have taken place here in the course of this year. From the Al-Shabaab militia killing 147 university students in Kenya, to South Africa’s xenophobic attacks that left several dead in its wake, and in parts of West and North Africa, we saw hundreds of people risking their lives–some losing theirs–while migrating across the Mediterranean to find greener pastures in Europe.
With no question on the illegality of the three incidents, we must draw similarities between those involved, and their motives:
• Their age – most of them are under 35. Africa has the youngest population in the world today, with those between 15 and 24 expected to double to 400 million by 2045.
• This cross section of Africa’s youth displayed some negative consequences of their contention with unemployment and lack of systemic support to lift them out of poverty. We have learned that a key attraction for young people to militant groups is the promise of quick financial gain, and a sense of belonging.
• The lack of quality education and skills, which would be key to opening up any kind of gainful prospects for these youth.
While people are drawn to terrorist or violent causes for many and complex reasons, similar factors cause others to emigrate. A major one is having few alternatives to getting out of unemployment and poverty and to tackle this, one particular issue needs urgent address:
What is being done to engage Africa’s youth to ensure that they are adequately educated with skills relevant to emerging work streams?
In May 2013 we launched Digital Jobs Africa, through which we are linking Africa’s youth to employment opportunities in the ICT sector in partnership with private sector, government, civil society and the development community. The African youth bulge currently represents a challenge as it grows faster than the employment opportunities that are being generated. It can however be a great opportunity for the continent, but to reap the benefits of the demographic dividend, there will be need for significant and consistent efforts to train and provide relevant support structures to the youth. Any outcome of the initiative is a shared responsibility, and a return on investment is a shared reaping of the benefits.
To complement these efforts, African governments can rewrite youth related policies, to include their voice in singling out what investments they themselves need to be productively engaged. It is time to review Africa’s education curricula to address its inadequacies vis a vis current and future needs. Millions graduate annually from courses that are irrelevant to emerging sectors, and so with mismatched qualifications. Linking skills to employer needs is critical, and will mean saving the investment made on products that will not yield a return, and reinvesting where there are gaps.
Current trends of innovations sprouting from Africa present an opportunity to encourage entrepreneurship, where youth can take each other on board. A new frontier is through online work; African countries are only just starting to enter this market, its engagement is currently at about 100,000 workers registered on the Elance platform. While this opportunity is currently estimated at $4.5b with 48 million workers globally, it is expected to grow to $15b by 2025. Africa’s youth can take their share if the barriers to access–e.g. reliable and affordable internet connectivity etc.–are addressed.
The private sector can adopt impact sourcing, and so derive tangible business value, as well as social impact. Philanthropies such as ours can provide risk capital to create innovative partnerships like those under Digital Jobs Africa, where each party brings in a distinct strength yet work together to leverage their value chains to create employment opportunities.
Young people should bring countries optimism and hope for the future.
Lack of supporting structures for building their capacity will only lead to bigger challenges if not looked into now. Together, we can work for a win-win situation, where Africa’s growing youth population becomes better positioned to be the workforce in coming years, and would also reduce unnecessary deaths and losses in incidents similar to the three.