Africa disregarding youth at its own peril
By Kizito Okechukwu
JOHANNESBURG - Sadly, the African continent has become somewhat infamous for ignoring and suppressing the voice of its people, particularly the young masses, which are hopelessly struggling to survive.
The recent heavy-handedness, as well as use of deadly force, to quell a protest in Nigeria, the continent’s second-largest economy and most populous country, was unacceptable and a blatant abuse of human rights. It left me both seething and gobsmacked. These lives lost were someone’s young brother, sister, mother, father or friend.
The many online videos circulating paint a gruesome graphic that will be etched forever in many minds across the globe.
Explanations from government officials were hollow and baseless, stating that the protests were about the special anti-robbery police unit, also citing that “the youth were being used by some subversive forces to create chaos”.
Dead wrong, quite literally. The protest was about unemployment, injustices, hunger, inequality and above all, lack of good, competent leadership - an endemic that is plaguing many African countries, which have semi-despotic, life-term seeking leaders. Add to that the Covid-19 economy-crippling pandemic, often mismanaged in many countries, has exacerbated the situation significantly.
In Nigeria, more than 70 percent of the population are young people under the age of 30. Almost 22 million Nigerians are unemployed out of a population of almost 200 million people and the numbers must be rising rapidly, again due to the Covid-19 impact.
Experts now estimate that this could easily be 30 million people, of which 25 million are youths. These situations are dire and make anyone with an empathetic heart scream loudly with frustration.
Many pundits and economists constantly punt Africa as a continent rich in potential, but opportunity cannot be realised for all without sound, strong leadership that harnesses the inclusive power of our youth, which is hungry to be empowered and contribute to the economy.
Unemployment is rife across Africa.
Out of 450 million young people, some 150 million are jobless.
In addition, 70 percent of businesses are in the informal market and measures must be put in place to support and sustain them. The private and public sector need to collaborate single-mindedly to do this, because when the cock crows, it comes home to roast both big and small businesses.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) wrote that Africa is demographically the world’s youngest continent. By 2030, one fifth of the global labour force - and nearly one third of the global youth labour force - will be from the continent. While 10 to 12 million youths enter the workforce each year, only 3 million formal jobs are created.
Indeed, the impact of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic will likely exacerbate this trend too. Notably, in the first month of the crisis, it has been estimated that the income of informal workers in the region dropped by 81 percent In Africa, 85.8 percent of employment, and 95 percent of youth employment, is informal. The International Labour Organisation defines informal employment as “employment without legal or social protection”.
This work is often characterised by low pay, erratic hours, uncertain employment status and hazardous working conditions.
The WEF piece also highlighted that while the primary responsibility for peace, security and development must rest with governments, we are witnessing a growing acceptance and enquiry into multi-track approaches to conflict prevention, whereby private sector efforts complement those of the public and civil society sectors.
An analysis of patterns across case studies suggests that companies can help establish or sustain peace, or mitigate conflict. Attempts have been made to develop a theoretical framework for measuring the effects of private sector activities on the development of peace and security.
The recent 12th annual Arab Youth survey also revealed that 40 percent of youth aged 18 to 24 across Middle East and North Africa intend to start their own business in the next five years.
The trend is a response to more young Arabs looking beyond traditional government and private sector jobs, as 23 percent prefer to work for themselves when thinking about their future career, compared to 16 percent last year.
It also stems from a lack of confidence in their governments’ ability to tackle unemployment according to the survey.
When all is said and done, and all numbers crunched, as the world’s youngest continent, we must remember that our youth will soon become our new leaders, both civil and private, and our economic game-changers of tomorrow.
So, investing in their futures now is paramount to ensure the rebirth and survival of a progressive and inclusive Africa.
Kizito Okechukwu is the co-chairperson of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (Gen) Africa.