The role of youth took center stage at the ongoing World Economic Forum on Africa (WEF Africa) on Thursday amid calls for Africa to empower the young generation so as to move the continent forward.
For Africa to move forward, countries should empower young people and involve them in decision-making today, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma said at the opening session of the WEF Africa.
Integrating young people into the policy and decision-making processes today is essential to securing Africa’s future, the president told business, government and civil society leaders attending the meeting.
“It needs all of us to come together to ensure that we have very clear programs that give the youth a role to play, but they must also be empowered. The days are gone when you could say that only old people can lead. I don’t think we can create a gap between today and the future with regard to the participation of the youth. Youth participation must be visible and effective,” he said.
This means a focus on education, Zuma stressed, saying, “We should prepare people now. They should be employed and we should create opportunities for them.”
Ghana’s Vice President Kwesi Amissah-Arthur, who shared the stage with Zuma, agreed, saying that skills development is essential, especially to address the problem of youth unemployment and under-employment.
“The education system is throwing out people who can read but are not numerate or technically competent. We need support so we can develop enterprising youth,” Amissah-Arthur said.
Zuma echoed Amissah-Arthur’s view, saying, “Having skills will help empowered youth take us forward. We must create entrepreneurs out of them so that they themselves can create jobs.”
Africa has the largest labor force, mainly comprising youth. It is estimated that by 2040, Africa’s youth will make up 50 percent of the worlds young population, said Klaus Schwab, founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF), who was chairing the opening session.
In Africa, 18 million jobs are expected to be created on the continent annually to absorb the young people entering the labor market.
On the sidelines of the meeting, a youth empowerment initiative was launched, with 4.5 million US dollars contributed by the Coca Cola Africa Foundation.
The Youth Empowered for Success (YES!) is to reach 25,000 young Africans across six countries within three years.
The program will empower marginalized youth and will leverage technology and strategic partnerships to accelerate and scale the initiative to provide opportunities to many more youth across the continent, said Nathan Kalumbu, Chairman of the Coca Cola Africa Foundation.
Over 10-12 million young Africans are entering the workforce each year yet less than half this number of employment opportunities are currently available, according to the foundation.
“The Youth Empowered for Success initiative presents an exciting framework to help drive truly transformational change for young people in Africa,” said Kalumbu.
“The potential to connect young people with the right opportunities to build better lives while strengthening their communities is incredibly compelling,” he said.
Today 40 million African youth are out of work, and young Africans continue to enter the workforce at a faster rate than jobs are created, according to Neal Keny-Guyer, Chief Executive Officer of Mercy Corps, which partners with the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation.
“We are looking forward to helping even more young people in Africa find employment and build long-term financial stability for themselves and for their families,” Keny-Guyer said.
The program will address critical development and life skills for 18-35 year old unemployed and underemployed young Africans, and provide access to sustainable economic opportunities created through employment or entrepreneurship.
The WEF Africa meeting was bringing together African and global leaders from government, business and civil society to take stock of progress over the last 25 years, share insights on the present landscape and identify innovative approaches to accelerate inclusive growth while bringing about sustainable development in the future.
The meeting is under the theme “Then and Now: Re-imagining Africa’s Future.” Enditem