Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi said that youth unemployment is a ticking time bomb. Photo: Reuters

CAPE TOWN – Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi said that youth unemployment is a ticking time bomb, which is why his government focused on enabling youth to become part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution by providing training and education so that they become data scientists. 

Masisi was part of a panel discussion on youth at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town as Africa is the continent with the youngest population and the so-called demographic dividend could either be a blessing if managed properly or a curse if the reality of poor job prospects did not match the expectations of a demanding population. Of the world’s 20 youngest countries as measured by the average age of the population, 19 are in Africa. There are 200 million Africans aged between 15 and 24. This can be viewed as a huge resource and a massive potential market, but only if these young people can find a job in the rapidly changing digital economy.

That is why the Africa Growth Platform was launched this week to help start-up businesses access finance, advice and better regulatory conditions. Founding partners are Alibaba Group, A.T. Kearney, Dalberg Group, Export Trading Group, US African Development Foundation and Zenith Bank.

Nigeria's Obiageli (OBY) Ezekwesili, co-founder of Transparency International, said the problem of xenophobic violence between African communities in South Africa recently and other African countries could have a lasting negative effect on economies if not remedied as the TV pictures of violence may deter foreign tourists from visiting strife-torn countries.

"Our politicians need to be put in a room and told they have produced a miserable situation that is not worthy of the young people that hold them responsible for their fate,” she said. 

Ethiopia's President Sahlework Zewd said there is a huge mismatch between policies, commitments and actions on the ground

“We have an issue of leadership, governance, and this type of serious issue can’t be used for political expediency," she said.

“Eighty-two percent of our population lives in rural areas. There is a huge influx into the cities where we don’t have enough services, enough schools and so on,” she pointed out. 

That meant that young people lured by the bright lights could be frustrated as the reality of living in informal housing did not meet the expectations of the youth.

Several panelists raised the problem that Africans have to pay a far higher percentage of their income to access power and the Internet compared with the developed world. This  severely hampered the spread of the digital economy, as it frustrated the rise of digital literacy and entrepreneurship among the young generation, who should be leading the way. 

Using non-power sources for lighting and heating such as charcoal, kerosene (also called illuminating paraffin) and firewood costs poor African households the equivalent of $US10 per kilowatt hour (kWh), which is about 20 times the amount spent by high income households with a grid connection. The average cost for electricity per kWh in the US is 12 US cents, while in the UK it is 15 US cents. Some 600 000 African people, of which half are kids under five years old, die each year of household pollution caused by using solid biomass for cooking.

Botswana’s Masisi said improving access to power and the Internet was something richer countries had to address.

“They have a moral obligation and a responsibility to make sure we fix the prices, because if we don’t, migration will not stop, underdevelopment will not stop, inequality will not stop, human rights abuses will not stop, and, whether you call it xenophobia or black-on-black crime, will not stop,” he said. 

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