Are Africa leaders at a cross road?
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DORINE Nininahazwe

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WHEN African leaders converge again for their next Summit on the 30th next January, they will hopefully be appending their signature on the document that will chart the path towards achieving the goals of the long drawn theme: “Harnessing the demographic dividend through investment in the youth.”

The theme had been on the table for the past year and had witnessed various dimensions with the youth themselves fighting hard to be in the driving seat. Yes they will be allowed to be in the driving seat, but they will also need a strong investment from their political leaders for an overall success.

The decisions that will be taken come January will be critical for the survival of Africa’s youth which make up a huge chunk of the continent’s population. Such decisions must avoid the route of imminent disaster.

Projections show that the continent’s youth population is set to double by the year 2050 by which time Africa’s population is estimated to reach 2.5 billion, with half being under the age of 25.

For the survival of, and to be fit into this society, the leaders should be projecting for the Africa of tomorrow and not to once again react to the problems of today.

The continent will be in need of 22.5 million new jobs to absorb the millions of young people that will be entering the Africa labour market every year. What this means is that the leaders should be committing themselves to talk about wealth creation and not managing poverty alleviation.

That, sadly, is what obtains today. Any strategic mistake in their decisions to invest in the youth between now and 2020 will spell another disaster for the continent.

The ONE campaign group has been strident in its campaign to the African leadership. With its more than eight million members worldwide ONE has been lobbying governments to spend more on education, health, agriculture, access to energy and job creation among other things with one basic aim, ‘end poverty.’

In Africa in particular, where 51 million out of the global 130 million girls are denied the basic right to education, ONE has been putting pressure on the governments to create the avenue for these girls not only to go to school but to also improve outcomes and generate fit-for-purpose skills.

As ONE put it: “Poverty is sexist – it hits girls and women hardest. But educate a girl from a poor community, and it can dramatically improve her health, wealth and potential.

She’s less likely to become a child bride, contract disease like HIV, or die young. And she could help lift her family and her entire community out of poverty.”

It is true that African leaders have the power to increase investments in education, employment and empowerment, and could make sure every girl gets the chance to go to school and learn. If this is done it will be an opportunity to transform the future of the entire continent.

But if they do nothing, even more girls will be left behind. Hardly anyone is arguing that African leaders are unaware of all these facets that could enhance development. What is perhaps absent is the collective efforts to make them happen.

It is crystal clear that a well-trained, skilled and technology-savvy workforce rank among the best route towards Africa’s economic and structural transformation. Without an education, no child or youth can reach their full potential or share in the best available economic opportunities.

So why not go now for the regional approach instead of wait until a new outcry begins when it may be too late? In the area of employment, African leaders must focus on how to create jobs for the massive number of unemployed youth on the continent.

Leaders must develop and effectively implement policies that promote and support start-ups, flexible labour markets, facilitate the development of labour-intensive sectors that can compete globally, and liberalise trade – all of which will lead to job growth driven by youth’s entrepreneurial energy. In addressing job creation they should also take a comprehensive look at training.

Focus should not just be within the four walls of a classroom but should be extended to vocational training! Trades – plumbing, auto mechanic, construction, photography, electrician – just to name a few.

With trades under a youth’s arm, he or she will never be out of pocket hence an economically strengthened force.

Empowerment: If each of the 54 African heads of state ensure that their governments make more investments in building knowledge, skills, infrastructure and networks that meet both employment and entrepreneurship needs, the African continent could rise in gross domestic product (GDP) worth $500 billion a year, equal to about one-third of sub-Saharan Africa’s current GDP, for the next 30 years.

African leaders have the wherewithal to do it now so why not embark on this journey which, though tempestuous, will not crash but land safely for the youth of tomorrow?

Dorine Nininahazwe is a representative of ONE AFRICA to the African Union

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