Take the high road and reap that de­mo­graphic div­i­dend

The East African - - OPIN­ION -

Africa to­day has its big­gest op­por­tu­nity to pull mil­lions of children out of poverty and po­si­tion its young peo­ple at the front­line of changes trans­form­ing the global econ­omy through the Fourth In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion.

A mod­el­ling ex­er­cise of Africa’s de­mo­graphic div­i­dend done by Unicef shows that the con­ti­nent can achieve an av­er­age per capita in­come growth rate of 5.2 per cent an­nu­ally if it in­vests in its children and ado­les­cents be­tween now and 2030.

To achieve this, African gov­ern­ments and their part­ners – the pri­vate sec­tor, UN agen­cies, non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions, donors, religious or­gan­i­sa­tions, youth and com­mu­ni­ties – will need to pull to­gether their po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and so­cial cap­i­tal to har­ness the po­ten­tial of the world’s youngest pop­u­la­tion.

There is grow­ing ev­i­dence that in­creased in­vest­ments should be fo­cused on skills and vo­ca­tional train­ing; sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion; em­pow­er­ment, most no­tably of girls; and in health.

We know that low­er­ing the youth un­em­ploy­ment rate to that of adults would trans­late into a 10 to 20 per cent in­crease in Africa’s GDP. In South Africa, an in­vest­ment of 2 per cent of GDP would cre­ate 925,000 new jobs for young peo­ple in two sec­tors of the econ­omy, while in Kenya, ac­cord­ing to the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum, youth-fo­cused in­vest­ments in ar­eas such as on­line tal­ent plat­forms could re­sult in more than half a mil­lion peo­ple earn­ing by 2025.

A fo­cus on girls will also be para­mount. In­deed, the World Bank has said each year of sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion for a girl cor­re­lates with as much as a 25 per cent in­crease in wages later in life. And ac­cord­ing to The Lancet, in­vest­ments in ado­les­cent health and well­be­ing bring a triple div­i­dend of ben­e­fits now, into fu­ture adult life, and for the next gen­er­a­tion of children.

The num­bers are star­tling. Com­bined, such in­vest­ments would help the con­ti­nent max­imise the ben­e­fits of Africa’s youth pop­u­la­tion as they tran­sit into the labour force and catal­yse a pe­riod of un­prece­dented eco­nomic and so­cial devel­op­ment. That scenario is the high road. The low road scenario paints a pic­ture that no­body wants to see: In­creased un­em­ploy­ment and un­der­em­ploy­ment, slug­gish eco­nomic growth, mi­gra­tion, in­sta­bil­ity with the po­ten­tial for more vi­o­lent con­flict and an ad­di­tion to the con­ti­nent’s eight mil­lion in­ter­nal refugees.

At cur­rent in­vest­ment lev­els and pat­terns, the path­way lead­ing to the de­mo­graphic div­i­dend seems slim. Unicef’s anal­y­sis of re­cent ex­pen­di­ture trends in­di­cates that only three of the 21 gov­ern­ments in East and South­ern Africa are meet­ing the minimum in­vest­ment re­quire­ments for health (15 per cent of the bud­get ac­cord­ing to the Abuja Dec­la­ra­tion) and seven for ed­u­ca­tion (20 per cent of the bud­get based on the Ed­u­ca­tion for All In­cheon Dec­la­ra­tion).

Fur­ther, it is es­ti­mated that less than 2 per cent of ado­les­cents are en­rolled in some type of non-formal or tech­ni­cal and vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing pro­gramme in the re­gion.

In 2002, of­fi­cial devel­op­ment as­sis­tance was 20 per cent of the na­tional bud­gets in East and South­ern Africa. To­day it stands at around 8 per cent. ODA re­mains crit­i­cal, as does mo­bil­is­ing more do­mes­tic re­sources, pri­ori­tis­ing them in the right sec­tors and programmes, spend­ing them bet­ter.

The re­quired ar­eas for in­vest­ment in Africa’s children and youth are both tra­di­tional and non-tra­di­tional. Ar­eas of­ten not at scale – such as ado­les­cent pro­gram­ming and vo­ca­tional train­ing – are emerg­ing as ac­cel­er­a­tors of the de­mo­graphic div­i­dend.

This means gov­ern­ments, the pri­vate sec­tor, part­ners in the UN, in devel­op­ment and civil so­ci­ety have to think and in­vest dif­fer­ently. It means gath­er­ing thought lead­er­ship, look­ing at non-tra­di­tional ap­proaches and investing at scale.

This is not the work of one group­ing or sec­tor. It is about col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity and lead­er­ship. Investing in Africa’s children and ado­les­cents re­mains Africa’s best op­por­tu­nity to strengthen the eco­nomic gains of re­cent years. This is the mo­ment.

Stu­dent me­chan­ics learn at Mpeke­toni Vo­ca­tional Train­ing Cen­tre in Lamu County.

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