The working age population in Sub-Saharan Africa will reach about 1.25 billion by 2050, according to the International Monetary Fund.
In addition, Africa’s median age is projected to rise modestly from about 18 to 25 by the same year. And thanks to expanded access to education, this is the best-educated generation.
The size of Africa’s working population is increasing the continent’s productivity potential at a time when advanced economies in North America and Europe have to grapple with a declining and aging population.
Similarly, emerging economies like China are already experiencing decline in their workforce. Africa is, therefore, really the future.
From Abuja to Dar es Salaam, from Addis Ababa to Maputo, you can feel the burst of enterprise development and surge of human endeavor.
Our streets are vibrant alleys of exchange. Young schoolleavers and university graduates are pounding the tarmac, ever hopeful that some day they will find a job.
A burgeoning population of relatively well-educated potential consumers has ignited the belief that Africa is on the cusp of prosperity.
As I said last week, the proponents of the Africa Rising saga are neither naïve nor reckless.
This belief is buoyed by the undeniable progress that is visible across the continent. But progress exists side by side with great suffering among Africa’s youth who live in the direst circumstances.
While Africa’s youth make up between 70-80 per cent of the population today, they make up 100 per cent of Africa’s future.
Today, Africans endure poverty, unemployment, poor access to healthcare and education services with remarkable dignity and extraordinary resilience. Certainly, such dignity and resilience cannot be guaranteed over the next five to 10 years.
The unprecedented youth bulge demands that Sub-Saharan Africa must create at least 18 million jobs a year for the next 20 years. Failure to create sufficient jobs could result in grave economic, social, political and environmental problems.
Responsive policies, including investments in early childhood development, adolescent health, education, technical and vocational training and structural transformation are therefore needed to take advantage of the youth bulge.
The proportion of Africa’s youth who are not in education, employment or training has reached alarming proportions. The problem is African governments think it is normal or acceptable.
A large number of youth who feel they are sufficiently educated but excluded from participating in the economy constitute a tinderbox for social upheaval. Is the stage set for an Africa Spring?
It is important to understand that Africa’s youth are more than just a potential workforce.
While Africa Rising is undeniable, the continent will not reach for the stars until the youth bulge is transformed into a veritable engine of innovation, enterprise and creative growth. Africa sorely needs its youth.
Certainly governments alone cannot solve the youth crisis. We need a real collaboration here, bringing together business and civil society along with governments to find the policies and actions to unshackle and emancipate Africa’s youth to participate and own a piece of the Africa Rising dream.
Dr Awiti is the director of the East African Institute at the Aga Khan University