RECOGNITION OF THE STRATEGIC relevance of the youthful population in any nation, economy or continent is essential. This needs to elicit appropriate policy responses to make them relevant, useful, productive and hopeful. Denial of such responses has culminated in untoward
consequences in many cases in contemporary times. Although the level and nature of grievances often differ, when young people are frustrated by poverty, unemployment, hopelessness and lack of rights, they do not sit by passively. They act. And they wield even enormous
powers to do so now, more than any other time in recent history.
The consequences of their actions, however, can sometimes be far-reaching. Acting in the wrong direction, disenchanted youth can bring a nation on its knees. Unfolding events during and after the Arab Spring are all too familiar as the consequences of populations that are young, disgruntled and unemployed. Their influence is greater with the instrumentality of modern communication technology and its growing ubiquity and utility.
The Tiananmen Square official intemperance in 1989 might seem to have broken the youthful resolve then by the authorities, but thesubsequent social undercurrents, the attendant shifts in Chinese political economy, the subtle changes in country’s ideologies (with the evolving global outreach) and the effects on the consumer market, made up of mostly young people, have all proven that the youth cannot forever be suppressed, but should rather be consciously reckoned with. In China, the consumption of most FMCGs, especially electronics and ICT products, which has contributed to tremendous economic growth, is undoubtedly most prominent among the youthful populace.
The power of youth in leadership positions can be enormous. Therefore, putting the African youth in the forefront of the continent’s economic development is not debatable. Given the opportunities, African youth will transform the continent. The youth can establish the fact that they alone hold the key to the realisation of efforts to reposition Africa and make it the economic powerhouse of the world. The youth will define the present and the future economies, the market structures, the labour force, the technological development, innovations and wealth creation.
The openings for the youth to make a positive difference are many. African youth have proved their proficiency in Information and Communication Technology (ICT), for example, and such skills could be harnessed for positive development in the overall continental economy in an increasingly digital global economy. And despite the gradual but steady demographic shift from rural to urban, agriculture to services and illiterate to the literate, Africa’s economy still remains largely
agrarian. It is the engine of economic growth that must be oiled if Africa is to move forward economically. This will entail special attention on the rural economy which requires urgent revival, with a strong collaboration between the state and non-state actors.
One of our greatest global challenges, which involve feeding the world, is also our greatest opportunity. This also presents both a valuable window of demographic opportunity and a challenge. The key to meeting the world’s future food needs – and to fighting the hunger and
poverty that is concentrated in rural areas – is to create an environment that will encourage and enable young women and men to remain in their communities. Making ICT knowledge relevant to
agriculture is squarely within the domain of the youth in terms of programme development and application. This can contribute enormously to ‘reverse migration’ from the cities to the sub-urban countryside where agribusiness opportunities spring up.
The young people, without doubt, are at the cornerstone of any meaningful efforts to translate this into reality. This requires harnessing of the energy and skills of our young adults in the
production, processing and marketing of food for the teeming population. The youth will find opportunities as entrepreneurs, service providers and paid workers in agriculture, a sector that is gaining recognition as a beacon of hope for Africa’s presently beleaguered economy. The energy, enthusiasm and optimism of the youth, properly channelled, will help build a robust agro-economy that we most urgently need. Opportunities are, however, not limited to these
The young ones are needed as solution providers, incubators of ideas, promoters of innovations and implementers of positive change. As the economic outlook undergoes changes, so should the opportunities and means of unlocking existing potentials. Putting young rural people first is therefore not an option; it is an obligation. Over the years, the stories of development In Africa have remained similar. But now, the younger generation ought to be able to stand on the shoulder of the older generation and establish a new high.
The sheer force of numbers means that we urgently need to harness the power and creativity of young adults on every continent. We need them to produce, to process and market the food that will feed the world.
We also need the youth to play their part — as entrepreneurs, service providers and wage earners — in the development and economic growth of their communities, because at least 70 per cent of the world’s poor people still live in rural areas. And we need them to lend their weight and their will to the fight for good governance, financial inclusion and social progress at all levels.
Even, a club of rich nations is not left out in the quest for solutions to the youth’s perennial challenges of unemployment. In one May 2013 report of ministerial level meeting, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Council had it that “the global financial crisis has reinforced the message that more must be done to provide youth with the appropriate skills and help to get a better start in the labour market.”
The report opined that sharp increases in youth unemployment and underemployment “have built upon long-standing structural obstacles that are preventing many youth in both OECD and Key Partner countries from developing the skills they need and being able to use those skills effectively through a successful transition from school to the labour market.” It emphasised on tackling the current situation of high youth unemployment and underemployment as well as promoting better outcomes for youth in the longer run by equipping them with relevant skills and removing barriers to their employment.
The OECD report pointed out that “action is all the more urgent in the context of a hesitant economic recovery and weak job creation in many countries and at a time when governments face tight budgetary and financial constraints.” Individual youth will need all the support they could muster as launch pad for economic take-off. Investment in skill-building, capacity building, entrepreneurial mentoring, social safety nets and stable economy will therefore provide great prospects for the youth. The need to pay attention to the youth in government policies has gained growing recognition in recent times. This will, however, require providing infrastructural support and economic opportunities in agriculture and non-farm economy.
Going forward, African youth will require deliberate and targeted efforts in vocational training, apprenticeship and education to provide relevant knowledge and skills. None of these can be possible without requisite financial support, right mentoring and enabling socio-political environment. Investments are thus required to move up to higher level of interventions in the African youth. Securing their future is securing our future. And the time to act is now.