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African leaders at a crossroads

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Sir: When African leaders converge again for their next Summit, they will hopefully be appending their signature to the document that will chart the path towards achieving the goals of the long drawn theme: “Harnessing the demographic dividend through investment in the youth.”

The theme had been on the table for the past year and had witnessed various dimensions with the youth themselves fighting hard to be in the driving seat. Yes they will be allowed to be in the driving seat but they will also need a strong investment from their political leaders for an overall success.

The decisions that will be taken come January will be critical for the survival of Africa’s youth which makes up a huge chunk of the continent’s population.

Such decisions must avoid the route of imminent disaster. Projections show that the continent’s youth population is set to double by the year 2050 by which time Africa’s population is estimated to reach 2.5 billion, with half being under the age of 25.

The ONE campaign group has been strident in its campaign to the African leadership. With its more than eight million members worldwide ONE has been lobbying governments to spend more on education, health, agriculture, access to energy and job creation among other things with one basic aim, ‘End Poverty.’

In Africa in particular, where 51 million out of the global 130 million girls are denied the basic right to education, ONE has been putting pressure on the governments to create the avenue for these girls not only to go to school but to also improve outcomes and generate fit-for-purpose skills. As ONE puts it, “Poverty is sexist – it hits girls and women hardest. But educate a girl from a poor community, and it can dramatically improve her health, wealth and potential. She’s less likely to become a child bride, contract disease like HIV, or die young. And she could help lift her family and her entire community out of poverty.”

It is true that African leaders have the power to increase investments in education, employment and empowerment, and could make sure every girl gets the chance to go to school and learn. If this is done it will be an opportunity to transform the future of the entire continent. But if they do nothing, even more girls will be left behind.

In the area of employment, African leaders must focus on how to create jobs for the massive number of unemployed youth on the continent. Leaders must develop and effectively implement policies that promote and support start-ups, flexible labour markets, facilitate the development of labour-intensive sectors that can compete globally, and liberalise trade – all of which will lead to job growth driven by youth’s entrepreneurial energy.

In addressing job creation they should also take a comprehensive look at training. Focus should not just be within the four walls of a classroom but should be extended to vocational training! Trades – plumbing, auto mechanic, construction, photography, electrician – just to name a few. With trades under a youth’s arm, he or she will never be out of pocket hence an economically strengthened force.

African leaders have the wherewithal to do it now, so why not embark on this journey which, though tempestuous, will not crash but land safely for the youth of tomorrow?

Dorine Nininahazwe is ONE representative to the African Union.


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