[Column] Bob Koigi: Africa’s silver bullet is in its new tribe
In East Africa, a group of vanguard youthful innovators are transforming the region into a tech powerhouse through modern innovations that are not only providing homegrown solutions to some of the most biting problems but catapulting the region into international recognition.
To the West of the continent, in Ghana and Nigeria, young fashion designers are lifting the iconic West African fabric’s mojo as they create hundreds of jobs in an entrepreneurial pursuit that has delivered impressive pay offs.
It is a situation that has snowballed across Africa in what points to the potential of young people to drive the economic transformation of the continent with the entrepreneurship spirit spanning SME, real estate, financial services, agribusiness and technology.
With six out of every 10 Africans being under 25 years, Africa has the most youthful population world over currently standing at 230 million and expected to double by 2050. It is a phenomenon that analysts and experts have hailed as pivotal in driving the much needed economic growth and development of a continent that is betting on its human capital.
But the impressive numbers of the youthful African generation could also portend a danger for the continent whose economies have the highest number of unemployed youth globally.
According to the World Bank, up to 12 million African youth join the labour force annually despite the continent only creating 3.7 jobs each year.
With no jobs, poverty, a sense of disenfranchisement and frustration then drives majority of them to source for quick, alternative and sometimes dangerous sources of income including joining terror and rebel groups, and the unprecedented migration to Europe in search of better days. Africa Development Bank, the continent’s foremost development finance institution, estimates that 40 per cent of Africans who join rebel movements are motivated by lack of economic opportunities.
"Africa must stop being a museum of poverty. Its people are determined to reverse this trend. The future of young Africans is not in Europe, their destiny is not to end their lives in the Mediterranean Sea,” the bank’s president said in June while addressing journalists at the 53rd Annual Meetings of the Bank in Busan, Korea.
Experts agree insisting that the wealth of opportunities that Africa has should be channeled to its vibrant youth which would translate into employment opportunities for them while placing them at the driving seat of the continent’s transformation.
The youth who have risen to this call have become the epitome of the power the young people in transforming their societies.
Take for example Joseph Oroko and Gaita Kariuki who run a Kenyan agribusiness startup dubbed Selina Wamucii. It has moved over 3,000 smallholder horticulture farmers from food production for consumption to accessing over 17 global markets through technology based farming. The duo trains farmers on agriculture management and good farming practices that meet international standards before connecting them with international buyers. It is a venture that was birthed after the two experienced firsthand the problems their families went through in trying to access profitable markets. After graduating from university they made a resolve to address this gap.
27 year old Nthabiseng Mosia from South Africa has positioned his Easy Solar Company to address the plight of tens of thousands of South Africans who are not connected to the national grid by availing solar powered devices through a rent-to-own model that has reached over 40,000 people since it began operations in 2016.
Njii Collins an 18 year old self-taught Cameroonian coding champion last year beat 1300 participants drawn from 62 countries to win the Google coding contest, becoming the first African to win the prestigious feat despite working on the coding challenge at a time when his country was experiencing political turmoil following a crackdown by government on dissident voices that saw schools in the South, where he comes from, closed and internet blocked for months.
Cognizant of the urgent need to tap into this young constituency and address the twin problems of migration and unemployment, governments, private sector and development institutions have rolled out a host of initiatives that are geared towards shifting the youth from job seekers to job creators through entrepreneurship.
Africa Development Bank, through its high five agenda, has been running the largest venture aimed at addressing youth unemployment in the continent. Founded on the principles of investment, integration and innovation, the strategy targets to benefit 50 million youths in ten years with skills that will empower them to get decent jobs while creating more than 25 million jobs. Since its inception in 2016, it has already spent $400 million in public and private initiatives in Rwanda, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Kenya among other African countries.
“While Africa’s economic growth is positive, there is an urgent need to promote inclusive economic transformation and jobs-induced growth to improve the quality of life for all Africans. If properly harnessed, the increase in young population could support increased productivity and stronger, more inclusive economic growth across the continent,” read a section of the report by the bank titled Jobs for Youth in Africa: Strategy for creating 25 million jobs and equipping 50 million youth 2016-2025.
Experts while lauding this initiative insist that it needs a holistic approach that enlists the support of especially governments to create a conducive environment for the would-be entrepreneurs.
With almost every African country having an economic blueprint that guides the next phase of their economic development and attaining mid-level economic status, and with the continent’s flagship agenda on economic transformation now on course, the pace of implementation is primarily hinged how the continent enlists its young people to drive that agenda. With an estimated population of 452 million by 2050, the young people of Africa will continue shaping the face of the continent.
Multiple award winning Kenyan journalist Bob Koigi is the Chief Editor of East Africa at Africa Business Communities