By Martins Itua
CONCERNED and interested observers know that the population of unemployed youths on the African continent constitutes a major threat to future peace and stability in the region.
On one side, the teeming youth population can be a blessing if properly harnessed and if we are able to create opportunities where our young people can be gainfully employed and aspire to fulfil their dreams. On the other hand, the fact that millions of young people are unemployed, untapped, untrained and often-times go to bed hungry, leave them vulnerable. It also creates a situation where Africa is sitting on a nuclear time bomb.
While population in many other parts of the world, such as the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Spain, etc. are on the decline, Africa’s population, which currently stands at about 1.2 billion, is projected by the United Nations to experience a slight acceleration and is expected to grow annually by at least 42 million people with total population doubling to 2.4 billion by 2050. For people who would like to think that these figures are exaggerated, the population of Africa was only about 477 million in 1980.
My main interest here is to draw our attention to both sides of the argument. The population explosion, if properly channelled, can become a vehicle for economic development and social transformation. However, if mismanaged and unplanned for, it would inevitably lead to violence, wars and conflict in the region. Clearly, it means that we must invest in social infrastructure and create opportunities so that our young people can legitimately pursue their aspirations and fulfil their potentials.
Recently, the African Development Bank (AfDB) launched an initiative intended to create 25 million jobs for young people over the next 10 years. The Tony Elumelu Foundation is on the third phase of its US$100 million 10-year programme to train, mentor and fund 10 000 African entrepreneurs, covering the entire African continent. I recognise and appreciate the AfDB president Akinwumi Adesina and Tony Elumelu for taking these noble initiatives to set the pace for youth empowerment in Africa. But it is clear that a lot more needs to be done by individuals, corporate organisations and governments of the respective African countries on the continent.
First, we must invest in facilities that ensure that primary/secondary school attendance is compulsory for all young people. Apart from ensuring that everyone has, at least, a basic education, this also ensures that our young people do not become the recruitment ground for terror organisations that prey on the young, illiterate and poor. It is clear that the sustained challenges posed by Boko Haram in Nigeria, is because many of the people who are recruited do not even have a basic education.
Secondly, we must invest in vocational training and provision of internships for young people. This will help provide the human capital needed for the continent. People who do not want to attend tertiary institutions must have the opportunity to attend good vocational schools where they can learn how to become qualified artisans. It is also important that we ensure that people who attend vocational schools go through internships and become certified professionals in their chosen fields.
Thirdly, African countries must invest in conventional and alternative energy as nothing meaningful can be achieved without energy. This also drives down the cost of doing business. It goes without saying that the energy crisis in most parts of Africa is the main reason why businesses do not thrive. It is impossible to operate a simple barbing salon and be profitable when you have to run it on generators. Nigeria, Africa’s biggest country, cannot continue to totter around 4 000MW of electricity. It must deal with its energy crisis once and for all for businesses to thrive. The future of the African continent largely depends on how well we are able to tackle the energy crisis, encourage investments in renewable energy and considerably reduce the cost of doing business in Africa.
Fourthly, we must support and encourage youth entrepreneurship programmes across the continent for youths with brilliant ideas and require seed capital for their business start-ups. African governments must collaborate with initiatives such as Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP), AfDB, YOWIZ and design programmes that support youth enterprise. We must channel youth energies in the right direction through providing means for them to achieve their potentials on the continent. However, we can pretend that all is well and refuse to plan for the future, thereby making Africa a breeding ground for terrorist organisations, religious extremism and radicalisation. Extremist organisations prey on hungry, illiterate and jobless youths and only need to tell them about going to heaven if they die fighting for God. It is easy to convince a man who is hungry and has nothing for which to live. An Africa of 2.4 billion is easily combustible without the requisite social infrastructures and the right environment for people to thrive, grow and conduct their businesses.
Indeed, the choice is Africa’s. The population explosion can be properly channelled into a vehicle for economic development and social transformation or it can become a catalyst for war, conflict and criminality. The time to start is now so that we can save ourselves from the consequences of an angry youth population. There ought to be an urgent and extraordinary summit of the AU where they invite Tony Elumelu and the AfDB president, among others, to advise and design a youth strategy that will be adopted by all countries in Africa. -zambia24.com
*Martins Itua is Chief Executive Officer of Youth and Women Initiative Zambia
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