Leaders must create better opportunities for young people in Africa - or face a generation of regret

Ndeye Astou Fall, 22, works at a call centre in Senegal's capital Dakar, June 23, 2006. With some of the best telecommunications on the continent, plenty of cheap labour, strong historic links with France and relative political stability, Senegal is increasingly taking on Morocco and Tunisia in the battle for the French call centre outsourcing market.REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly (SENEGAL) - RTR1ES7A

Africa must create 12-14 million new jobs a year. Where will they come from? Image: REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

Jamie C. Drummond
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For all sentient citizens concerned about the state of the world, it is very good news that Germany, under the experienced leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel, will host the G20 in July 2017. It is especially good news that the chancellor has placed a renewed partnership with Africa on the agenda.

This statement sums up why: “This next generation of young people in Africa are getting so frustrated, they are joining with jihadists or jumping on boats.”

These powerful words were spoken, under Chatham House rules, by a senior African diplomat at a recent strategy session. While his statement was surely an exaggeration – most young people on the continent are working hard, trying to get an education, get a job , get ahead and look after their families - there is a truth underlying his statement born of two things: a growing frustration by Africa’s young people at their unresponsive governments and the resulting lack of opportunity, and also the stream of data on the demographic boom across much of the continent.

Africa’s population will more than double by 2050 to 2.5bn, and there will be 700 million more citizens across the continent by 2030. The continent must consistently create 12-14 million more decent jobs a year. Where will all the jobs come from?

If the international community doesn’t partner successfully with this generation of African leaders and citizens, people across African nations and in neighbouring regions will regret it profoundly – for generations to come.

In 2017 there are four moments when leaders will gather which could cement a new partnership between citizens and nations:

- The Italian G7 in Sicily, the nearest G7 to Africa ever
- The AU summit on the necessity of investing in Africa’s youth, in Malawi in July
- The G20 in Germany, in Hamburg in July
- The EU-AU summit in November in Cote D’Ivoire

The most important of these moments is the German G20 because of Chancellor Merkel’s global standing, and the critical mass of key nations who sit around that table. It can help ensure the other moments add up to more than just a lot of meetings. Plainly African leaders must lead. But many nations are really struggling today under what we call the “three extremes”: extreme poverty, extreme climate and extreme ideology. They need a better partnership from groupings like the G20, and they need it urgently.

We must now partner in delivering an empowerment package for Africa’s young people - to increase access to the social, political and economic opportunities denied to many today - covering access to education, health, electricity, connectivity, gender equality, finance and the ability to hold corrupt leaders who don’t deliver accountable.

In fact all the world’s young people require this right. And they also want the right to work. For that there must also be far better policies to attract more private investment into Africa, even into the most fragile setting on the continent, places such as Northeast Nigeria that desperately need a Marshall Plan for jobs. Increased aid is also an essential component – nations like Germany simply must reach the long promised 0.7% of GNI for aid, with more of that going to the least developed and fragile nations in regions like Africa. Germany has placed a Financial Transaction Tax on the agenda – and that’s a mean by which long held development financing promises can indeed be kept.

Now is not the time to step back, but step forward. Progress on this account is not a nice to have, something for global elites at Davos to chat about. It’s a moral, economic and national security imperative for us all.

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