The theme for this year’s African Youth Day, “Harnessing the Demographic Dividends through Investments in Youth”, presupposes that the youth bulge could be a goldmine. How do we make it so? What kind of investments are we talking about, and who has the responsibility of investing in youth? These are practical questions we need to address in order to make sense of this year’s celebrations.
Several sources reveal that the major problem among youth is unemployment. The danger of having a jobless youth population is evident. A World Bank study shows that 40% of people involved in rebel movements are motivated by lack of economic opportunities. Any investment in youth must therefore put youth employment as a central focus.
A major way of achieving this is through smart investment in education. Most people agree that education is the key but for many African youth, it appears the locks have been changed. The educational system common across Africa today was designed by the colonial masters to serve the need of the colonial government. The aim was primarily to produce high-level ‘man’ power to take over the civil service and generally the administration of the country from the colonials.
The lack of groundbreaking innovation from the African continent is not a coincidence: it is a direct result of a system that does not encourage innovation and has become obsolete going forward. The gap between education and employment is the nursery for breeding unemployment in Africa.
Available data from an Africa YMCA (2017) research suggests that youth prospects are a future in technology, NGO, education, agriculture and health-related jobs. This is a clear signal of what the focus of our educational system should be. Also, education must constantly reflect an understanding of the trends to equip youth not only for today’s opportunities, but also for jobs of the future.
It is the responsibility of everyone to invest in youth. From civil society to business, academia, government, individuals and youth themselves everyone has an important role to play. Beyond education, government must make youth issues a top priority. Many African countries put education and youth low on the margins. This is a grave error that must be reversed with policies geared towards harnessing the potential of the huge youth population. In doing this, it is imperative to carry youth along in order to align such policies with what youth want in future for themselves.
Furthermore, businesses must liaise with government to develop employment-intensive investments which link infrastructure development with employment creation, poverty reduction and local economic and social development. The civil society, philanthropists and volunteers must also fulfil their importance in driving government policies and filling the many gaps that will definitely exist.
The youth themselves have an important role to play. Youth must help themselves by adopting a self-driven educational reform – one that combines the existing, albeit confused, modern system of education with autodidact (self-taught).
The onus for building and securing a great future for youth of today and tomorrow rests on all of us. Nobody is doing anyone a favour by investing in youth – it is the sensible thing to do. It is for our collective safety and prosperity.
Kunle Sobode, Nigeria YMCA youth volunteer