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. 


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

by Michelle Mutogo Reading time: 2 min