By Lionel Tarumbwa

With 75% of its population under the age of 35, the African Union has to realise Africa’s demographic dividend may be more important to its future than its natural resources.

The second edition of the African Union’s Pan African Youth Forum is kicking off on Tuesday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The forum will be running under the theme Africa Unite for Youth: Bridging the Gap and Reaching African Youth.

The forum is aimed at leveraging and harnessing on the power of the continent’s growing youth population. It represents a paradigm shift in the AU as it moves towards broader recognition and support of the continent’s youth in order to harness their potential.

The forum brings together over 400 young people from across the continent to co-create solutions on the main problem areas that are hindering the youth from achieving their potential. Development partners, the private sector, institutions of higher learning and the civil societies will also be in attendance as part of the aim to have a broader engagement with all stakeholders.

The chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC) Moussa Faki Mahamat will officially launch the 1 million by 2021 Initiative, which targets direct investment in millions of African youth on the four key elements of employment, entrepreneurship, education and engagement (4Es).

Africa is expected to experience a demographic dividend as young people make up the bulk of Africa’s total population, with an estimated 75% of the continent’s population below the age of 35. The demographic dividend has been acknowledged by African leaders and decision-makers as a strategic basis for focusing and prioritising investments. Investments into Africa’s youth will contribute towards sustainable development, inclusive economic growth and to build an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa.

For African countries to capitalize on this demographic dividend, the future workforce must be educated, trained, and have adequate employment and innovation opportunities. Putting all the pieces in place will not be easy.

This will be achieved by building capacity for quality education and skills improvement, health and wellbeing, good governance, human rights and accountability, employment opportunities, leadership skills, empowerment and entrepreneurship. This is the basis for prioritising youth development by the AUC, as evidenced by the 2017 theme of the year: Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investments in Youth.

In data gathered by the Ibrahim Index of Africa Governance over a decade, there were reflections that African governments are in danger of squandering the continent’s demographic dividend by failing to create enough jobs.

Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese businessman whose foundation produces the index, said, “Our gross domestic product has grown by a considerable amount over the past 10 years, but we haven’t translated that into a sustainable economic opportunity.”

According to a report by Brookings on Increasing Employment Opportunities in Africa’s complex job market, even some of Africa’s largest economies such as Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa struggle with high unemployment. This is a challenge that may persist as more youth begin to enter the workforce if not more investments are made into education and skills creation. The report by Brookings noted that investments into “human capital” more generally will help African countries to fulfil their broader development missions.

The AU Commission launching the 1 million by 2021 Initiative demonstrates a focused commitment on young Africans. The main objective of the initiative is to concretely provide opportunities in the 4Es for millions of African youths by the year 2021.

Source The African Exponent

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