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The African Century: Why investing in Africa’s youth is critical

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Africa’s population will double by 2050. With this comes a huge opportunity for economic growth on an unprecedented scale for the continent and the rest of the world.

However, this potential will only be realised if world leaders step up to the challenge now to make sure that every young person in Africa is educated, employed and empowered.

Today ONE launches its new report “The African Century” that presents evidence on the risks and opportunities of this African youth bulge and calls for a new partnership with Africa which doubles investments in education, employment and empowerment.

Have you heard of the demographic dividend? It’s the accelerated economic growth that can result from a region’s working age population far outpacing the number of dependents (elderly or children). By 2050, half of all Africans will be under 25, leading to a significant potential dividend. But this growing young population needs to be educated, employed and empowered.

Children at Mwangaza Tumaini School in Mukuru, Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: Morgana Wingard/ONE.

This won’t be easy. Between 2015 and 2035, there will be 450 million new workers in need of jobs in Africa– that’s 22.5 million each year. If we continue business as usual: by 2020 the unemployed population in Africa will roughly equal the entire employed population of Germany. If we don’t prioritise education, workers won’t have the skills needed to get jobs, and the 51 million African girls currently out of school will never reach their full potential.Young people without opportunities, skills or hope will be vulnerable to extreme poverty, extreme climate and extreme ideology.

Luckily, there are key moments this year that give the world an opportunity to harness Africa’s potential. Next week, the G20, under Germany’s leadership, is hosting a ‘Partnership with Africa’ Conference (followed by the G20 Summit on 7–8 July) which will agree on partnership compacts with African countries. A few weeks later in the beginning of July, all African leaders will come together at the African Union Summit to determine steps for investing in youth. And finally at the end of the year, the European Union and Africa will host a summit to focus on youth in Africa.

What do leaders need to commit at these meetings? A doubling of development finance for Africa by 2020. This package should be targeted at the employment, education and empowerment of Africa’s young people:

Education: African leaders need to commit to a plan to get the 51 million out of school girls into school and learning. They need to make education work for every girl, breaking every barrier to learning, training every teacher, monitoring every outcome and connecting every classroom to the internet. To support this donor governments need to commit to double financing for education. The G20 should launch new mechanism to close the financing gap.

Keur Simbara, Senegal (February 17, 2017)

Employment: Leaders should work to provide employment for every young person. G20 countries should create incentives to increase private sector engagement in both fragile states and emerging economies. African leaders should increase investments in rural youth employment and in building affordable connectivity to harness the digital economy.

Empowerment: Every young person should be empowered to hold their leaders to account. G20 leaders should take concrete measures to significantly curb money laundering and illicit capital flight; open government budgets, publishing the beneficial owners of companies and trusts and the country-by country reports of multinational corporations. They should also launch a data-driven initiative to improve the targeting of a basic needs safety net and a legal and financial empowerment package.

Protesters at the Women’s March in Kenya. Photo Credit: Women’s March on Nairobi Facebook Page

This is an unprecedented moment for Africa and for us all. The generation that is Africa’s best hope is already being born. They deserve the chance to thrive and, with the right investment, partnerships, policies and leaders, help eradicate poverty and conflict forever.

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