Youth and Economic Development in the 21st Century Africa
By: Ikechukwu D. Ikerionwu
Dept. of Peace & Conflict Studies, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, USA.
In the context of youth and economic development, leadership is a multi-layered phenomenon characterized by two main features: 1. The economic challenges facing African youth warrant responsible leadership by governments and international partners; 2. As leaders, youth can themselves play an important role in the promotion of economic development.
This paper seeks to address these aspects of leadership by exploring seven main issues of economic development that are central to the well-being of youth in Africa: education and training; employment and migration; entrepreneurship; access to information and communication technology; health and HIV/AIDS; environmental and sustainable livelihoods; and participation in economic decision-making. The paper looks in particular at how governments have responded, how international partners have supported efforts, and how youth themselves are taking the lead in addressing these issues.
The main message is clear: while African governments are increasingly putting youth concerns at the heart of the development agenda, a lot more remains to be done. Both governments and international partners should commit to fully engage young Africans in all aspects of their programmes and initiatives that target youth and economic development. Youth have repeatedly demonstrated a willingness and an ability to contribute to the development process from the identification of issues to implementation and monitoring. However, to reap full benefits of their contributions, youth participation in programmes such as NEPAD, MDGs and PRSs needs to be strengthened. As motivated and inspired citizens, young people are agents of change with the potential for taking a leading role in tackling Africa’s development challenges for themselves, their families and the society. The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow.
Education and Skills Training for African Youth
Young Africans need access to both decent formal education and opportunities to acquire a range of vocational and life skills to actively participate in all spheres of an increasingly knowledge-intensive society, today as young citizens and tomorrow as the continent’s future leaders. Unfortunately, young people in Africa struggle to acquire an education that provides them with the right set of skills and knowledge. As a result, the transition from school-to-work is a major challenge such that many young Africans end up either unemployed or underemployed in the informal sector with little protection and prospects.
Governments and international partners have made concerted efforts in recent years to improve this situation. In particular, to achieve the goal of universal primary education, many African countries have directed much effort and resources to improving primary school enrolment. The abolishing of school fees at the primary level has been a major driving force to achieve this goal. In Malawi, for example, free primary school education has considerably increased the youth literacy level.
Even while enrolments have been increasing, the quality of education in many African countries appears to be on the decline. Inadequate infrastructure and training facilities, poor and inappropriate curricula, and lack of well-trained and motivated teachers are among the main reasons explaining this decline. The Nigeria government is still having issues with the labour unions over the implementation of the N18,000 ($115.38) minimum wage.
Though access to primary education is a necessary first step and a fulfilment of a human right, it is also clear that it does not provide needed skills for a young African to compete in an increasingly competitive labour market. Moreover, at the country level, a critical mass of secondary and higher education graduates are required in order...
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