Harnessing the potential of African youth for two continents

Past event

Harnessing the potential of African youth for two continents


Africa and Europe must forge a new partnership of equals which gives priority to investing in Africa’s young people, according to a High-Level Group of personalities established by Friends of Europe in partnership with the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and the ONE Campaign. The group of about 20 senior personalities, set up in 2018, gathered for the first time in Brussels on 10 October, hosted by the European Commission.

Africa’s youth population may double to 830 million by 2050, bringing unemployment and migration challenges, but this ‘youth bulge’ could also benefit both continents provided Africa and Europe step up their cooperation and start implementing youth-focused projects.

Young people make up 60% of Africa’s jobless, hence the urgency of creating quality jobs – up to 18 million annually – by supporting the continent’s entrepreneurs, industry and agriculture, and tackling trade barriers that lock African firms out of EU markets. More education and skills training are also crucial for African youth.

Better jobs and enhanced status for African women in particular will flow from their empowerment, boosted by the digital revolution and e-commerce, where women are thriving. However, to limit Africa’s demographic explosion and to give young women greater life opportunities, it is time to address taboo subjects like family planning and child marriage.

“Europe cannot succeed if Africa fails” 

“Europe and Africa need a new partnership, steered and shaped by independent thinkers, because helping Africa is a task for all – not just ministers and international cooperation,” said a participant. Several members of the EU-Africa high level group called for Africa to be seen as Europe’s equal and said the EU should share with Africa more of its know-how and skills. This will help the continent build its own common market, support SMEs, and improve public and private governance. The ONE Campaign, added: “What the EU has done, Africa can do too – but we need big ideas to achieve that.”

Unregulated mass migration to Europe by Africans is a political and logistical headache for some European countries. Yet participants remarked how young African migrants are a positive opportunity for Europe, where they boost its economy and compensate for an ageing population. They also highlighted that if the economy of Africa can be transformed, its migrants will return.

The EU envisages a new ‘Africa – Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs’ and has earmarked €500mn of new investment for Africa by 2027. More investment could be leveraged by working closely with China and supporting ‘star player clubs’ formed of fast-growing African countries. There was agreement that investment is better than aid, but Africa still needs guaranteed funds to “de-risk investments and some  game changers including  low interest rates”.

EU-Africa High Level Meeting 2018



Europe and Africa are engaged in a much-needed attempt to reset relations. A decade after the launch of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy, the partnership clearly needs to adapt to new global, regional and national realities. The success of the endeavor will depend not only on interaction between African and European governments but also on the engagement and contribution of independent, high-level African and European personalities with a joint commitment to improving Africa-Europe relations. Given the current global landscape and new realities in Africa and Europe, the time is right to step up interaction and cooperation at all levels. This can only be achieved through multi-stakeholder dialogue and engagement.

Following an exploratory meeting held in November 2017 in Brussels and an exchange with 5 European Commissioners and the President of the European Parliament, Friends of Europe and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation have decided to create a high-level group of personalities to give new impetus to EU-Africa relations.  Drawing upon each other’s expertise and longstanding networks of high-level stakeholders from both continents, we have assembled an independent and balanced group of respectable top-level leaders, to informally exchange views in order to accompany and advise on the deepening partnership process.

The high-level group of personalities from Africa and Europe will work together to identify the priorities and next steps that both continents must take to enhance the strategic approach needed in core policy areas including trade, entrepreneurship, jobs, migration flows, digital development, energy, security, climate change, etc. Members of the group will bring their in-depth and pragmatic expertise and knowledge, to help identify both quick wins and long-term progress for the prosperity and well-being of our citizens.

The group of personalities will meet twice a year on an ad-hoc basis with African and European leaders who are designing the future relationship, alternating between a meeting on the African continent, in the margins of the Mo Ibrahim governance weekend in April, and one meeting in Brussels taking place in October. This group may also invite external observers to take part to the meetings.

For the full list of EU-Africa High-level group members, click here.



Networking & registration
Expand Debate

Young people are Africa’s greatest and fastest growing asset and should be playing a leading role in driving forward the continent’s sustainable growth and development agenda. Yet, while the numbers are impressive and Africa’s demographic potential is enormous – Africa’s youth population is expected to double to over 830 million by 2050 – finding jobs for these young people so that they can become productive economic agents and responsible members of society remains a challenge across the continent.

Young people account for 60% of all of Africa’s jobless and even when jobs are available, and despite strides in education over the past decades, youth often do not have the training and skills required by employers. Women are particularly impacted, often facing even greater barriers to accessing opportunities and earning equal pay. This alone represents a loss for African economies estimated at around EUR 16 billion a year.

The EU and European governments have promised to focus on concrete actions to meet the specific needs of young people, such as increasing quality employment and entrepreneurship opportunities, enhancing their skills and access to digital technologies and services, and strengthening their rights and empowerment. But are these policies being implemented and are African governments and the private sector taking on their responsibilities? Further questions to help guide the conversation may include:

  • How can Africa and Europe better work together and learn from each other, to help create a conducive environment for youth entrepreneurship?
  • What will the jobs of the future look like and how can Africa and Europe better invest in them?
  • How to bridge the gender gap that is hindering Africa’s full economic boom?

Participants include

Ayodeji Adewunmi

Co-Founder & Director, Emprego Holdings

Andrus Ansip

European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market

Tom Arnold

Chair of the Irish 2030 Agri-Food Strategy Committee

Gunilla Carlsson (ex officio)

Co-Chair of the Africa Europe Foundation Strategy Group on Health and Vice-Chair of the Strategy Committee

Etienne Davignon

President of Friends of Europe, Belgian Minister of State and former European Commission Vice-President

Hailemariam Dessalegn Boshe

former Prime Minister of Ethiopia and former President of the African Union

Mariya Gabriel

European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, European Young Leader (EYL40)

Tsega Gebreyes

Managing Partner and Chief Executive Officer, Satya Capital, United Kingdom

Tanja Gönner

Chair of the Management Board at the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)

Arancha González

former Executive Director of the International Trade Centre, and former Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, EU and Cooperation

Mo Ibrahim

Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the Africa-Europe Foundation, Founder and Chairman of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, Founding Chairman of Satya Capital Limited, Founder of Mobile Systems International (MSI) and Celtel International, and Trustee of Friends of Europe

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

First democratically elected female head of state in Africa, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Honorary Co-President of the Africa-Europe Foundation

Donald Kaberuka

High Representative for the Peace Fund of the Africa Union Commission and former President of the African Development Bank

Horst Köhler

United Nations Personal Envoy for Western Sahara; former President of Germany

Pascal Lamy

Vice President of the Paris Peace Forum, former director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Trustee of Friends of Europe and Member of the Africa-Europe Foundation High-Level Group of Personalities

Rima Le Coguic

Director, Africa, Agence Française de Développement (AFD), France

Stefano Manservisi

Special Advisor to the European Commissioner for Economic Affairs and AVSI Board Member

Neven Mimica

European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development

Carlos Moedas

Mayor of Lisbon, former EU Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, former Portuguese Under Secretary of State and Trustee of Friends of Europe

Festus Mogae

Former President of Botswana

Catherine Ray

Member and Lead Spokesperson, Cabinet of High Representative for Foreign Policy & Security Federica Mogherini

Lapo Pistelli

Executive Vice-President for International Affairs of Eni and former deputy Italian minister of foreign affairs

Gayle Smith

President and Chief Executive Officer, The ONE Campaign

Christos Stylianides

Former European commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management and Trustee of Friends of Europe

Karmenu Vella

European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs & Fisheries

Wouter Vermeulen

Senior Director for Sustainability and Public Policy at the Coca-Cola Company Europe

Koen Vervaeke

European External Action Service Managing Director of the Directorate for Africa


Shada Islam

Managing Director at New Horizons Project

Track title


Stop playback
Video title


Africa initiative logo