How to realise the huge potential of the biggest youth generation in Africa?

Africa has the largest concentration of young people in the world. This could be a huge opportunity for the continent or a ticking demographic time bomb, it will depend on the action the African governments take. Will they implement sound policies and invest in fulfilling the potential of their huge human resource? Will they make tertiary education, vocational training, and skills development their priorities? Will they address their agriculture, food security, and healthcare problems? Will they create jobs and encourage entrepreneurship? Will they provide a peaceful and secure environment? 

Whether Africa is to seize, and not squander this historic opportunity will depend largely on whether governments are willing to partner with this new generation. The Sustainable Development Goals will not be achieved without the active engagement and contribution of youth in Africa. 

Youth inspire change. You have the talent, energy and ideals to prevent conflicts, defend human rights, secure peace and realise the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres

Currently, most decision makers in Africa are old. The average age of the ten oldest African heads of state is 78.5 (compared to 52 for leaders of G10 countries). They decisions they make will affect the climate, the economy, and societal attitudes that will impact young people for a long time to come. Young people have to take up spaces to effect change. Unemployment has noticeably increased during the pandemic and as much as there is an increasing need for funding, it is imperative that young people tap into their entrepreneurial abilities and start building again. 

That’s why I was so happy to be involved in the Youth SDG Summit, a high level political forum that brought young people from different parts of the world together to discuss issues that affect them. This, the second iteration of the event, started with global consultation roundtables focusing on; Diversity and Inclusion beyond Youth Tokenism, Environment, Road Safety & Mobility, Youth in Peace Building, Gender Inequality, Good Health, and Unemployment. 

At the same time I could not help but wonder if the summit showed an accurate representation of youth in Africa. It was a paid summit and internet connectivity was a prerequisite for participation, barring huge numbers of the world’s 1.3 billion young people. We have to tap the potential of all young people. The potential of young women in Africa, are  not being realised due to continuing prejudicial practices. Having worked with grassroots communities, I have encountered so many girls held back by stigmas, so many who have been forced to leave school to marry, so many who have suffered Female Genital Mutilation. 

I was happy to hear these issues being addressed in the roundtable discussions and also realised there are certain people who were ignorant with regards to these issues. The summit meant to raise issues and in terms of the issue of gender inequality, It was noted as an issue to be vigorously worked on. But we will never address these issues fully until the people in the room truly represent the people on the continent, and in the world. And if we don’t address them we will never realise the potential of our demographic dividend. 

Michelle Mutogo

Michelle Mutogo works as a consultant for Zimbabwe Women’s Resource Centre and Network. Her duties include; • Strategic Litigation• Leading on advocacy work for issues on inclusion (disability, youth and women)• Disability Training and Management• Parliamentary engagement• Policy analysis and drafting• Trainings on Gender Responsive budgeting to duty bearers• Conducting community dialogues with communities to identify gaps• Creating strategic alliances which will help further the mandate of the organisation• Article writing on legal issues affecting marginalised communities. Before this, she was a Legal Officer at Deaf Zimbabwe Trust. She was the point of contact for issues relating to women and Sexual and Gender based violence. She worked to promote the rights of persons with disabilities through public policy analysis, strategic litigation, provision of legal aid and advocacy. She has conducted court monitoring sessions in Zimbabwe to determine the levels of disability inclusiveness in the justice system and has gone on to engage the Judicial Services Commission with recommendations based on her findings. She ran a project funded by Amplify Change and Restless Development to enhance access to Sexual and Reproductive Health services and knowledge for young people with Disabilities in Zimbabwe.

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How to realise the huge potential of the biggest youth generation in Africa?

by Michelle Mutogo Reading time: 2 min