Africa’s youth, Africa’s future

Africa’s young people are its greatest resource.

Their energy and creativity have already led to inventions such as a portable automatic emergency ventilator developed to help to treat Covid-19 patients, and to clothing design that is showcased at international fashion shows. Who knows what other great things lie in their futures?

This Africa Day, we must pledge to do everything possible to empower them and ensure their futures are bright.

Africa is the only continent that has a growing youth population. In 2015, the United Nations (UN) reported there were 226-million people aged 15 to 24 living in Africa – 19% of the global youth population. By 2030, the UN projects that the number of youth in Africa will have increased by 42% and by 2055 there will be more than 400-million people in this age group in Africa.

If African countries take care of their young people, improving their access to quality education and healthcare, supporting their businesses with improved physical and digital infrastructure, and improving other government services, the continent can take advantage of having a working-age population that is larger than the non-working-age population.

One has only to look at Asia to see the benefits of this “demographic dividend”, although that continent’s older population is now starting to grow, along with fears of a concomitant slowdown in economic activity and a narrowing tax base, coupled with more people depending on the state for pensions and services.

Last year the 10th Annual Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture featured Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate, who urged the global community to “choose life for the people, choose life for the ecosystems, choose life for the planet. If we are united, if we work together, if we demand climate justice, we will be able to transform the world and make it a better place.”

It is our mission at the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation to showcase young, dynamic and ethical leaders like Nakate and so that they can lead – in their words and their example – the crucial debates that the world must have on the digital divide, equality in education, health, arts and culture, climate change and how to turn conflict to peace.

Young people are our future, whether we live in Cape Town or Stockholm, New York or Lagos. We need to help them help us make the world of tomorrow a place far cleaner, safer and more peaceful than the one we live in today.

Africa’s history of colonialism has meant that most of its resources have ended up enriching the developed world. This is true too of our continent’s best young minds. Africa needs our young people, with their energy and their ability, to imagine futures that are beyond our wildest dreams. Their empowerment is key.

The Covid-19 pandemic has underlined the development divide that still exists in the world, and has added impetus to our questioning of our current socio-economic models.

Humanity can, and must come up with new ways of organising society and of operating economies. For that we need the verve and imagination of our young people. Africa must work to give them full, planned opportunities to contribute in powerful and significant ways. Our future lies with our youth, and their committed leadership.