- By Chris Kremidas Courtney
Two stories have dominated the media headlines over the past year: the continuing ravage of COVID-19 and the surge of migrants who risk their lives trying to get to Europe. These issues are related and need a similar response of political leadership, strategic investment and engagement with communities. The exacerbating factor for both issues is the state of the economy and inequality of opportunity.
The economic consequence of the global shutdown to limit the pandemic pushed Africa into recession for the first time in 25 years. Our economy is only as good as the sum of its parts. An ‘ideas economy’, focussed on the ingenuity, creativity and innovation that young people can bring to the table, enhances our bricks-and-mortar economy. Investing in youth yields long-term economic benefits. Failure to do so risks social unrest and instability.
Africa’s population is predominantly young and dissatisfaction with what governments can offer can be seen throughout the continent. Three coups have taken place in Guinea, Mali and Chad in 2021 alone. The global economic impact of COVID-19 has yet to be felt, but Africa is likely to experience a squeeze on aid from developed economies tightening their public finances, philanthropy with less money to spend because their endowments are hit by stock market downturns, and drops in the cashflow from African diaspora.
Private and public sector leaders need to send a clear message that training, education and job opportunities for Africa’s young people are a priority
There are parallels to the 2008 global financial crisis. Triggered by the subprime mortgage crisis in the US, Europe’s deepest recession in 70 years harmed the life chances of the young generation. The political class recognised the seriousness of the treat to social stability of the continent. In 2013, heads of state, not youth or social welfare ministers, came together to issue a promise to the next generation: a youth guarantee that all young people under 25 would be offered a tailored and quality education, training, employment or apprenticeship within four months of leaving school or losing their job. This kickstarted a sustained investment in opportunities for young people that improved the lives of millions. Each year 5mn people registered for the scheme and 3.5mn accepted an offer. In October 2020, in recognition of the way that the pandemic was blighting the life chances of the young, the youth guarantee was renewed and extended to those aged 29 and under. Today, a similar large-scale political commitment needs to be made in Africa.
The Africa-Europe Foundation recently held three debates on contentious issues: the climate and energy transition, migration and mobility, and the vaccine challenge. A red thread that emerged was the urgent need to address the lack of economic opportunity for young people. This is a huge investment gap that has no short-term fix.
The potential of the health and ICT sectors to generate new jobs is well understood but the pandemic focused political attention. Investing in expanding the health workforce and scaling up digital health services is a double win: a growing source of quality jobs for young people and better health outcomes. The focus on manufacturing facilities for medical supplies in Africa adds job creation potential and a demand for higher skilled workers. However, this must be underpinned by the ratification of the Protocol on free movement of persons, signed in 2018 but not yet enacted. This would open up the horizons for young Africans of opportunities on their doorstep and address broader issues of skills gaps and brain drain.
Next week sees the Africa-Europe Week, the EU-Africa Business Forum 2022 (14-18 February), and the EU-AU Summit (17-18 February). These high-level convenings will see many commitments to investment and political collaboration. These private and public sector leaders need to send a clear message that training, education and job opportunities for Africa’s young people are a priority. Inspired by the youth guarantee to European youth, there needs to be a commitment to a viable future on the continent for them.
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