On June 16, South Africa commemorates Youth Day, a day to honour the role played by South Africa’s young women and men in the pursuit of independence and social economic development. As we reflect on the gains of the past, we also celebrate the successes of South Africa’s young entrepreneurs and innovators - taking on new frontiers and staking their claim in the country’s socio-economic growth.
On the other hand, as we look for hope towards a brighter future, we need to also reflect on the high unemployment levels and education challenges faced by young adults. This is against a backdrop of 27,7% national unemployment rate of which youth unemployment consists 38,6% in the country (SA Stats).
This scenario is not unique to South Africa, as it resonates with the rest of the African continent in which about 200 million of its people are aged between 15 and 24. Africa has countries with the 10 youngest populations in the world and the youth populations continent-wide are set to double by 2050. Furthermore, approximately 66% of young people are unemployed. They are unable to find jobs within the job market due to a mismatch of skills and demand. Recognising the critical role of youths in shaping the continent’s future, the African Union theme for 2017 is Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investments in Youth.
However, without more deliberate and concerted efforts to address the challenges faced by youths today, such as unemployment and lack of meaningful economic opportunities which rank high, Africa faces the real risk of frustration from the youth leading to a spike in instability and civil conflicts. Youth Day should therefore remind us all to take action, and to take that action now, to put in place conditions for our youths to develop into skilled entrepreneurs and innovators, as well as provide meaningful employment and economic opportunities for them.
To this end, NEPAD Agency promotes policy and capacity development interventions such as support towards the development of National Action Plans on youth employment and skills development, enhancing the employability and entrepreneurial activity for young people. The interventions include promoting innovative approaches for employment orientated Technical Vocational Education Training (TVET) and promoting decent rural youth employment and entrepreneurship in agriculture and agribusiness.
On the bright side, Africa’s youthful population is one from which real dividends can be drawn, since they make up the much needed working-age population that is crucial for the continent’s economic growth. According to the World Bank, Africa’s youth demographic dividend can potentially generate 11-15% GDP growth between 2011 and 2030. What is more, if African countries were to take full advantage of this potential dividend and provide adequate education and jobs, up to $500bn a year could be added to its economies for 30 years.
As South Africa celebrates Youth Day, let us not forget that it was the events in 1976 that contributed to changing the socio-political landscape of the whole country. Oppression through inferior education and limited choices for youths was not acceptable then, and it is not acceptable now. It is up to us then to work together with youths today, in creating a brighter future for generations to come, even as we build ‘The Africa We Want’ in the African Union’s Agenda 2063. In making this appeal, I would like to echo the words of Nelson Mandela,
“To the youth of today, I also have a wish to make: Be the script writers of your destiny and feature yourselves as stars that showed the way towards a brighter future.”