Last month, Spanish charity workers rescued 167 migrants arriving from Africa aboard a small boat.
2016 was the deadliest for migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean, with at least 3800 deaths recorded. Most know the dangers they face on the route, yet still choose the possibility of death in overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels over the hopelessness of life in areas they reside.
Consider this. Every 24 hours, nearly 33,000 youth across Africa join the search for employment. About 60% will be joining the army of the unemployed.
A report from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees released this month claims that seven in ten of those heading for Europe are not refugees fleeing war or persecution, but economic migrants in search of better lives.
12 August 2017, is International Youth Day.
Africa’s youth population is growing rapidly and is expected to reach over 830 million by 2050. Whether this spells promise or peril depends on how the continent manages its “youth bulge”.
According to the World Bank, 40% of people who join rebel movements are motivated by lack of economic opportunity. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres noted,
“The frustration generated in young people that have no hope in the future is a major source of insecurity in today’s world. And it is essential that when Governments plan their economic activities, when the international community develops forms of cooperation, they put youth employment, youth skills at the centre of all priorities…”
Some estimates indicate that more than half a million Africans migrated to European Union countries between 2013 and 2016, adding to the millions flowing in from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghnistan and parts of Asia.
Many of Africa’s young people remain trapped in poverty that is reflected in multiple dimensions, blighted by poor education, access to quality health care, malnutrition and lack of job opportunities.
For many young people–and especially girls– the lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services is depriving them of their rights and the ability to make decisions about their bodies and plan their families. This is adversely affecting their education and employment opportunities.
According to UNDP’s Africa Human Development Report for 2016, gender inequalities cost sub-Saharan Africa US$ 95 billion annually in lost revenue. Women’s empowerment and gender equality needs to be at the top of national development plans.
Between 10 and 12 million people join the African labour force each year, yet the continent creates only 3.7 million jobs annually. Without urgent and sustained, the spectre of a migration crisis looms that no wall, navy or coastguard can hope to stop.
Africa’s population is expected to reach around 2.3 billion by 2050. The accompanying increase in its working age population creates a window of opportunity, which if properly harnessed, can translate into higher growth and yield a demographic dividend.
In the wake of the Second World War, the Marshall Plan helped to rebuild shattered European economies in the interests of growth and stability. We need a plan of similar ambition that places youth employment in Africa at the centre of development.
For example, one sector that Africa must prioritise is agribusiness, whose potential is almost limitless. Makhtar Diop, World Bank Vice President for Africa Region has said,
“We cannot overstate the importance of agriculture to Africa’s determination to maintain and boost its high growth rates, create more jobs, significantly reduce poverty….”. The World Bank says African agriculture and agribusiness could be worth US $1 trillion by 2030.
Agriculture can help people overcome poor health and malnutrition. Given the importance of agriculture for the livelihoods of the rural poor, agricultural growth has the potential to greatly reduce poverty – a key contributor to poor health and under nutrition.
In the meantime, the aging demographic in many Western and Asian Tiger economies means increasing demand for skilled labour from regions with younger populations. It also means larger markets for economies seeking to benefit from the growth of a rapidly expanding African middle class. Consumer spending in Africa is projected to reach US $1.4 trillionin the next three years and business-to-business spending to reach $3.5 trillion in the next eight years.
Whether the future of Africa is promising or perilous will depend on how the continent and the international community moves from stated intent to urgent action and must give special priority to those SDGs that will give the continent a competitive edge through its youth.
The core SDGs of ending poverty, ensuring healthy lives and ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education all have particular resonance with the challenge of empowering youth and making them effective economic citizens.
As we mark International Youth Day, there is hope. Many young people in Africa are taking charge of their futures. There is a rising tide of entrepreneurship sweeping across Africa spanning technology, IT, innovation, small and medium enterprises. They are creating jobs for themselves and their communities.
The African Development Bank is working on creating 25 million jobs and equipping at least 50 million youth to realize their full economic potential by 2025.
The African Union established the theme for 2017 as “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend Through Investments in Youth.” This will determine Africa’s enormous promise to realise its economic and social potential as well as reap a demographic dividend (video).
Honourable Mr John Dramani Mahama is the former President of the Republic of Ghana, follow him on twitter. Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator to Kenya, follow him on twitter.