The very essence of the African continent has such diverse nomenclature that its description has failed many, both in the developed and developing worlds. But of no doubt is the great promise that the continent holds in terms of its human capital.
There can never be a discussion of development of Africa in contemporary times without the mention of the strategic plan and futuristic promise made by African leaders for Africa at the Africa Union’s 50th Anniversary Solemn Declaration in South Africa in 2013.
In unison, the Agenda 2063 (which is an agreed strategic development framework for Africa with a guiding vision “to build an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven and managed by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena”) made important strides towards its realization.
A First 10-Year Implementation Plan was developed, agreed and adopted. As a continent with many collective development plans made and sometimes gathering dust on shelves, I consider this momentous for many reasons, some of which I will attempt to expatiate subsequently.
The Plan contains eight key aspirations but worthy of note and of relevance to the theme today are the 1st, 6th and 7th Aspirations. The 1st Aspiration states the long-standing collective dream of many African leaders of the 1950s/60s, “A prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development—Africa will by 2063 be a continent of shared prosperity, which finances and manages its own growth and transformation”.
Conversely, the Aspiration 6, clearly echoes the desires of many young and talented Africans – that the Agenda will produce “an Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children—By 2063, Africa will be a continent where all citizens will be actively involved in decision-making in all aspects of development, including social, economic, political and environmental.
Africa will be a continent where no child, woman or man will be left behind”. Indeed, this is a welcoming approach to development but allow me to add on to the goodwill the policy and political space has incrementally garnered. Do permit me to repeatedly echo the mantra of the Agenda 2063 – “The Africa We Want” all through my presentation today, I don’t own this phrase but I believe it resonates with the spirit with which I present today.
Another milestone worth mentioning at this forum is the decision of the African Union (AU) in overcoming intra-African trade challenges by the establishment of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) in 2012. I stand here as a proud daughter of the land to extend felicitations to all our African Heads of State, particularly our current president, H. E. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo for the realization of the AfCFTA and the presence of its headquarters in Accra, Ghana.
While this is a major feat and promises to deepen regional integration, African youth wait with bated breath on experiencing the full benefits of the Agreement in ensuing years. A tripling of the policy framework aimed at enhancing Africa’s Youth-Driven and Youth-Centred Development is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
With all three policy frameworks established, I wish to point out some of the commonalities embedded in them for our appreciation. The policy areas of converging interests for all the global and continental audience, include but not limited to incomes, jobs and decent work, women, girls and youth empowerment, health and nutrition, poverty reduction, education, science, technology and innovation, economic diversification, climate change and a host of others.
But what do these policies mean for the development of the youth of Africa? According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), of the 1.3 billion inhabitants on the African continent, 60 percent are young people under 25 years. And while the labour force is almost 500 million, an estimated 252 million are working as hard as they can but remain poor.
These statistics are not intended to alarm you but to expose the harsh realities of our continent for a healthy discussion. In the space of education or a means of preparation for skills acquisition, the ILO puts a rough estimate of 54.5 million young people in the category of those not in education, employment or training (NEET). Disturbingly, of the close to half a billion workforce for Africa, children who work account for 72 million representing almost half of all documented child labour cases globally (ILO, 2019).
Despite the challenges facing the African youth, the situation of our development is not as bleak, I must emphasize. The Development Centre of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has described Africa’s economic performance as better than Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) but lagging behind Emerging Asia.
Indeed, the African continent has been cited for being the repository of some of the fastest growing economies with such countries as Ghana, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Cote d’Ivoire and Tanzania mentioned (OECD, 2020). There are inherent opportunities and amazing potential in each of the member countries of the African Union and members of the AfCFTA.
To illustrate my point, I will use Ghana as a case study. According to the ILO, the estimated unemployment rate among the youth stood at 9.46 percent in 2020 but a projection of an approximate rate of 4.5 percent has been made for the total labour force (https://www.statista.com/statistics/812039/youth-unemployment-rate-in-ghana/) in 2020. While Ghana’s unemployment is considered average in relation to other Sub-Saharan African countries, it is above the worldwide unemployment rate.
Close to 50 percent of the country’s population is found in the services sector with a measly 28.46 percent in the agricultural sector and 22.19 percent in industry.
While experiencing a decline in economic growth due to the pandemic, entrepreneurship has seen an appreciable escalation. To give a hint of the untapped potential that exist on the continent data shows that in the face of rising unemployment in many parts of the continent, there is a corresponding and aggressive resistance through the African ingenuity – in 2020, South Africa recorded the lead on the continent in terms of countries favouring women entrepreneurship drive with 64.4 index points followed by Botswana with 62.4 and Ghana with 60.2 The index gives weighting to countries with high female-owned businesses and those that are making deliberate efforts to support women entrepreneurs.
I applaud the efforts of these countries and essentially the resilience of all hardworking entrepreneurs, particularly, women entrepreneurs, thriving in this unfortunate pandemic period while carrying the burden of family responsibilities and often discrimination – this also proves to me the ingenuity of the African. That while the terrain has been extremely difficult, young people have shown that they can face their fears and conquer.
“The Africa We Want”, is a mantra that every youth in Africa must chant incessantly. With the policy framework and corresponding steps taken toward the attainment of the various initiatives mentioned earlier, the youth of Africa, must own the vision as well. They must own the vision’s implementation with their choices and selflessness.
“I sit on the Foundation board of one of the biggest fruit processing companies in Ghana, and my heart aches when we are told that the fruit farms in Ghana that feed the factories have aged, that most of our farmers have become old and sick, unable to continue with their active passion. That the young men and women are no longer interested in agriculture. That they would rather sell, those productive farmlands are being turned into residential and commercial properties.
That as a processing company that employs more than three thousand, five hundred people in Ghana alone, they have to travel to countries in the sub-region to source for fruits for processing. “The Africa We Want”, is this how we can truly achieve the Africa we want by side-stepping active participation in agriculture?
This takes me to the dimension of how prepared we are as the youth to embrace the expected change for our continent. Just cited agriculture as an example in Ghana, how many young people in Africa have the attitude to start out their careers in a difficult and not immediately rewarding sector? The attitude we have to develop to embrace the opportunities proposed in the policy frameworks mentioned earlier is important to “The Africa We Want”.
Here, I wish to talk about the attitudes of young people of today. As former President Obama said, “Our work will not be easy. The challenges we face will require tough choices”, and hence to attain the heights we must as Africans and see the “The Africa We Want”, youth of the continent must ready themselves to transform the continent-wide and country-specific policies into workable solutions.
I am sure you may be wondering how this can be achieved. While I don’t have all the answers, I do know with certainty that education through both formal and non-formal means is key to escalating the pace of development to the levels we desire.
The youth of our dear continent must eschew the incrementally dangerous and unproductive get-rich attitude which has not only plunged many into the life of crime but into a slave mentality that only great destinies can be found away from the shores of the continent. “The Africa We Want” can only be built by young Africans willing to put their hands to the till and work hard. This requires preparation on all fronts and I can’t emphasize this enough.
Not long ago, I shared a personal experience on how I once begged to be employed as a receptionist and how years down the line, I have gained a doctoral level of education and many opportunities have been availed to me.
This social media post gained an impressive traction and seems to have motivated many young people but the question must be asked of how many young people are willing to be patient enough to go through the difficult and often uncomfortable route of poorly-paid internships, torturous hours of studying, grueling hours of coaching and sometimes, the disappointment of low appreciation of efforts? Still, are you willing to explore in the face of these challenges as young people? To be brave enough to chart paths not yet paved? To keep going in the face of the many “NOs” on the path?
The wells of excuses are running dry, youth of Africa – the continent, although not entirely developed has made incredible strides towards development, particularly in the advancement of technology which presents opportunities for innovation. Admittedly, starting out in any venture is not easy and requires the bravery of a warrior and also the appropriate mindset to set to achieve your personal goals.
On a personal level and as part of self- introspection, the youth of Africa must understand that the development of Africa depends on the African youth alone. There’s so much that you can do to support the growth of our dear continent and each youth must take their own first few steps and collectively, you would be moving as a purposeful herd.
There is great hope in the technological space for the youth of the continent, and this should stir up some excitement. In the Sub-Saharan African region alone, mobile phone ownership in 2021 is expected to reach half a billion with innovative digital services permeating the remotest of villages on the continent.
There are a number of partnerships that are happening on the continent in the space of technology for instance which can support development and preparedness of the youth on the continent. I can cite the Africa Technology and Innovation Partnerships (ATIP) worth over £32m located in Tanzania, Twitter’s location of its African hub in Ghana (https://www.africanews.com), tangible innovation being demonstrated in a cashless system and the e-mobility space in Rwanda, just to mention a few.
There have been tremendous strides made in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education, unfortunately not synergistically across the continent but to see the Africa we want which is youth-centred, greater efforts must be made in this stead. For policy-makers participating in this conference, I wish to ask what our respective governments are doing to engage the 54.5 million young people in the category of those not in education, employment or training (NEET) on the continent. To achieve the Agenda 2063 and the
“The Africa We Want”, none of our youth can be left behind. I know there are discussions among key national representatives on the rebranding and modernization of TVET, I pray we hasten our efforts in this stead in order to prepare the youth of Africa for “The Africa We Want”. Time and tide, they say waits for no man and as we crawl in our development efforts, the rest of the world seems to be accelerating in development of their youth.
“The Africa We Want” and so seek for the youth is one also about leadership. A youth-centred development for Africa demands that’s our leaders not only focus on trade integration but focus on environmental governance and climate change issues – illegal mining in Ghana (galamsey) for gold, the work of ‘Zama Zamas” in South Africa for coal, using children to mine Coltan in Democratic Republic of Congo and others.
The youth-centred Africa and the Africa we want demands that leaders of Africa make laws and become compliant as well. That leaders of Africa will lead the way in acknowledging that they cannot leave any legacy for the youth of this continent if they continue to allow the continuous rape of our land.
The youth-centred African development would not be complete without a mention of partnerships and the ethnocentricity that are glaringly and sometimes subtly present in our various countries. These divisive arrangements cannot support in-country development and I daresay, maybe destructive to the cohesive African development agenda we pursue.
I recently visited Rwanda, a beautiful country which is focused on its development as one people and without a hint of ethnocentrism and I was encouraged. But one could conveniently say this is possible because of the historical antecedence of the horrific and unforgettable genocide that occurred in that country.
From their narrative, the genocide did not start suddenly, there were always subtle preconditions to it and one simple event gave way to the unfortunate killings where many youth were used to commit these crimes. But this path of working together as a country without divisions should not come to the rest of the continent at the heels of atrocities, our governments can learn from the bad example of our neighbors.
Then there are the other African countries which operate within democratic dispensations where equal opportunities are promised citizenry yet in actuality, very few enjoy the benefits and fruits of the land. Research on sixteen countries shows that the electorate of Africa focus predominantly on two key things to vote (Bratton, Bhavnani & Chen, 2012). Can you guess? Mind you majority of the population of Africa is youthful and the two focal points for voting are ethnicity and economic benefits to be gained should their preferred candidates win.
These partisan considerations for selecting the leaders of African states cannot support, in the long term, a youth-centred Africa and the Africa we want. The future of the Africa we want should be one that is premised on grooming, training and building character of the youth of today for leaders of tomorrow in unison. Imagine a young entrepreneur being refused support because there’s a perception that that young person does not belong to the reigning political party. This happened to me – I share this experience sadly but with great resolute not to repeat same to another. A few years ago, as an entrepreneurial youth with a passion for agriculture, I accessed a government financial support to start a pineapple farm.
I had access to 10 acres of land but lacked the funds to start. When a government 0% fund was advertised, I applied and got support for 5 acres. The support was gained under one government of a different political party and when I was successful in utilizing the funds in cultivating 5 acres, I repaid the loan in hopes of getting further support for the entire 10 acres. With a change in government, my attempt to reapply was blocked.
I later gathered from one of the decision-making team members that, a decision had been made that due to the perception that all beneficiaries of that government fund were part of the opposition party, our applications could not be considered favorably. I could not express my fury enough, all attempts to seek any form of formal explanations via email and telephone calls got no response.
This decision-making team had not visited my farm to see how successful it was, they had not asked to see the long-term agreement I had with an off-taker for my produce, and they had not considered the fact that I had the skills to manage an enterprise, they did not care for my short-long term strategy. No they did not. They cared about my alleged political coloring which in their estimation disqualified me.
Right at that point, my enthusiasm to make agriculture sexy and attractive to my fellow youth was quenched. How fair was this to me, a fellow Ghanaian with same entitlements as all others? But critically, if it is in my nature to avenge myself by perpetuating a similar offense in the name of partisanship, where would the development of my country be? And where will we be headed if we are put in responsible national positions but make decisions based on partisanship?
Essentially, let’s think about this, what would happen if all previous beneficiaries of that financial support carried this same shameful notion that partisanship should be the order of the day and would tow similar discriminatory lines in future decisions? We cannot develop as a country with such deep-seated divisions.
This is not an isolated case to Ghana where I come from. There are similar reported incidences in other African countries where divisions are based on religion, ethnicity, gender and others. I have already mentioned that to get the Africa we want to be youth-centred in our development, preparation is key. In this case, preparing the psyche of this generation to embrace a unified African block begins now and at the country level. The youth are quietly and not so quietly, observing current leaders.
My next and final submission on this issue of youth-centred Africa comes into the space of partnerships premised on the 17th Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To make Africa’s development youth-centred requires sustained partnerships. Development partners seeking to work with Africa sometimes attempt to use a one-size-fits-all approach for the continent and also for our individual countries.
I have often found it quite funny whenever people not from Africa have asked me if I am African and automatically gone ahead to assume Africa is one country. Even after explaining that I am Ghanaian, some would go on to ask if I know a certain individual by name, say “Osei Kwame”. While this is hilarious, it betrays the underlying issue of people not contextualizing and the sad ignorance of many, even in this 21st century.
There are more than 30 million Ghanaians and possibly fifty thousand of them could be Osei Kwame. In the same vein and for those who think any African you meet is from one country, no we are not and I don’t know Nyerere from Tanzania, neither do I eat from the same household as Abiola from Nigeria each day.
In a meeting sometime back in United Kingdom, a gentleman asked me on the sidelines how come I was able to speak so well and that he wondered if all Africans speak with such clarity of thought and finesse. I smiled and told him that, I was born and raised in Ghana, had had all my
basic to tertiary education in Ghana, and had further education in Europe. I was indeed calm while I schooled this gentleman on the millions of Africans who are equally educated, and doing amazing things on the continent. So back to my point for the purpose of this conference and partnerships for a youth-centred development for our dear continent, partners who wish to help us achieve this objective should understand these facts.
There are 56 African countries with homogeneities and differences that cannot be listed here. For this reason, there is need to contextualize the support to give our continent as a whole and our individual sovereign nations. Context is key to reason and discourse. While we seek to pursue a continental and global agenda for the youth, we must not forget that collectively we are great because we are better individually.
I wish to conclude here with a quotation by John C. Maxwell, one of my favorite authors. And I quote “Potential is one of the most wonderful words in any language. It looks forward with optimism. It is filled with hope. It promises success. It implies fulfillment. It hints at greatness. Potential is a word based on possibilities. Think about your potential as a human being and […] get excited…… – at least, I hope you do. […] I believe in your potential just as much as I believe in mine.
Do you have potential? Absolutely!”. Finally, despite the fact that in 2020, close to 40 million more people were plunged into extreme poverty, and the continent experienced its first recession in 25 years (AfDB, 2020), I still see great promise on the horizon and this promise can only be realized on the shoulders of the youth of Africa. My challenge to the youth is for the youth of Africa to rise up. Rise up with hard work, challenge yourselves, be willing to dirty your hands and above all, endure the long path to success, the Africa We Want.
- Report of the Director-General – 14th African Regional Meeting Abidjan, 3–6 December (2019), “Advancing Social Justice: Shaping the future of work in Africa”, International Labour Organization (ILO).
- Mevel, S., & Karingi, S. (2012, October). Deepening regional integration in Africa: A computable general equilibrium assessment of the establishment of a continental free trade area followed by a continental customs union. In 7th African Economic Conference, Kigali, Rwanda (Vol. 30).
- 2020 Policy Note On Africa – The Future of Production: The Case for Regional Integration (OECD)
- Ghana: Unemployment rate from 1999 to 2020 – (https://www.statista.com/statistics/808481/unemployment-rate-in-ghana/)
- Ghana: Distribution of employment by economic sector from 2010 to 2020 (https://www.statista.com/statistics/447530/employment-by-economic-sector-in-ghana/)
- Ghana: Share of economic sectors in the gross domestic product (GDP) from 2009 to 2019 (https://www.statista.com/statistics/447524/share-of-economic-sectors-in-the-gdp-in-ghana/)
- Ghana: Youth unemployment rate from 1999 to 2020 (https://www.statista.com/statistics/812039/youth-unemployment-rate-in-ghan