Africa has more people under the age of 20 than anywhere else in the world, and the continent’s population is growing fast. Its front-line countries, like Nigeria, where 54% of young people were out of work in 2012, face a debilitating unemployment crisis which is yet to be tackled effectively.
Unfortunately, it can sometimes appear that the people least troubled by the scale of the problem are those entrusted with solving it. Africa’s population is set to double to 2.4 billion by 2050, and at the moment, this is not something worth celebrating.
The scary reality is that, if the continent does not start to create jobs, this demographic bump will develop into a huge burden. We are faced with a generation of people unable to create a decent income, save money or earn a pension – a huge bottleneck for a continent already bursting at the seams with poverty.
It is therefore encouraging to see movement across the continent, with people and organizations understanding we can’t wait for governments to act. From the Tony Elumelu Foundation to the Mara Group, we are seeing an emphasis on entrepreneurship and job creation.
Elsewhere, Microsoft is providing young people with skills and jobs through projects like Aiki.ng, launched in conjunction with the Future Project. The Rockefeller Foundation is connecting young people with digital jobs both locally and across the world.
These might be drops in the ocean, but taken together, they provide models for governments struggling to deal with the problem. It also shows how the public and private sector can work together to modify behaviour and make things happen.
These efforts can prompt governments to act responsibly and sustainably to create real jobs that add real value to the lives of young people. One example is in Malawi, where a government programme is redistributing underutilized land so that locals can start new farms.
Initiatives like the #DoAgric campaign by ONE will ensure that Africa’s leaders make good on their promises to invest massively in agriculture, drive per capita output and growth in productivity, and strengthen the foundations of our agriculture by easing regulation, expanding policy and investing in technology.
But most importantly, it is the young people themselves that will make the biggest difference.
Africa’s young people need to understand that now, more than ever before, the future really is in their hands – and that they should give in to neither despair nor complacency. There is work to be done.
Yes, everyone is singing the praises of Africa as the world’s next frontier, but it wasn’t too long ago that is was being described as a basket case.
The positive interest in Africa is a huge opportunity. Nigeria, for example, has seen a boost in investment and optimistic media coverage simply because its economy was rebased. But the interest can wane. The world’s markets are self-centred and opportunities can shift to other parts of the globe.
The challenge is for the leaders of African countries to make the responsible decision to manage their economies sustainably, to ensure narrow political goals don’t close financial doors, and to build the potential of young people through education and support.
To ensure this happens, young Africans need to engage with the governance process. They need to pay attention to those who are leading them, and they need to keep government on its toes through sustained engagement.
Governance is still the most important tool for change in any society. Young Africans seeking to shape the future must ensure their governments expand jobs and opportunities, create an environment in which enterprise can thrive and where young people can channel their energies effectively, and then get out of their way.
Author: Chude Jideonwo is a development consultant, media entrepreneur and communications professional at Red Media Africa
Image: A youth who did not give his name arrives at the Service Dining Room canteen on a rainy winter day in Cape Town, South Africa, June 15, 2007. REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly