Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 18 November 2023 - With skills development and supportive policies that avail entrepreneurship opportunities, Africa’s ‘youth dividend’ can give a good return on investment by driving economic transformation and sustainable industrialization on the continent.
This was the clear call to governments by Africa’s youth, participating in a side event at the African Economic Conference 2023 in Addis Ababa. The youth participated in a panel titled “Entrepreneurship for Africa’s Sustainable Industrialization: Challenges, Opportunities, Policies”, moderated by Mr Olawale Bakare, Regional Sales Manager at cement firm, Lafarge Africa Plc, and the Immediate Past National President of Junior Chamber International, Nigeria.
The youth, or demographic, dividend is defined by United Nations experts as the economic growth that comes when there are more working-age people, between the ages of 15 and 64, than non-working people, aged below 14, and over 65.
Entrepreneurship is seen as one of the critical factors for economic growth and development in Africa, as it is linked to poverty reduction. A recent survey of 4,507 young Africans from 15 countries by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation (IFF), shows that 78% of young Africans between the ages of 18 and 24 plan to start businesses in the next five years.
“Young people are the driving force behind what we see today as Africa’s economic transformation, they are creative, they are resourceful, they are energetic, and they are resilient and successful,” Bakare said in a summation of the discussion which called on governments to consider the youth in policy and entrepreneurial development. “We should focus the future on ensuring that Africa goes beyond being seen as the epicentre for humanitarian action, but one with great potential for accelerated industrialization with the right investments in youth and women,” added Bakare.
Despite their entrepreneurial flair that is fast transforming African economies, the youth lamented that many challenges remain on their path to success, from the lack of skills, to limited access to finance and markets, to their exclusion from policy making. The youth has called for collaboration between governments, youth organisations and the private sector, to create an enabling environment for young entrepreneurs to thrive.
Minister of Youth Affairs in Ethiopia, Ms Muna Ahmed, reiterated that youth need access to affordable and flexible finance to start and grow their businesses. Furthermore, skills and training, including business training tailored to the specific needs of young people, were key.
“Africa is a resource-rich continent and has untapped potential for natural and human resources. At issue is how can we liberate the potential of the resources for the development of Africa? Political commitment is a must to create a conducive environment for the youth,” Ahmed said.
Mr Esono Jude, Marketing Manager of Yummy Delight Foods and Volunteer, Youth Alliance for Leadership Development in Africa (YALDA), agreed that penetrating produce markets was a major challenge for young people.
The panel also heard that it was not all doom and gloom. Africa’s growing creative and technology sectors. as well as the new African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), offered many opportunities for young people to trade and grow innovative enterprises.
Libyan Minister of Youth, Mr Fatalla Elzuni, highlighted the importance of entrepreneurship in driving industrialization in Africa, particularly in the agriculture sector. And to allow the youth to achieve economic development through entrepreneurship.
“Youth are at the forefront of the technologies that can drive Africa ahead,” Elzuni said, commenting that the AfCFTA was a huge opportunity for young people to lead thriving enterprises, but there was a need to improve the regulatory bottlenecks that would enable cross border movement of people and goods.
Ms Kenna Amsalu Alemayehu, from Addis Ababa University and UNESCO Ambassador for Peace and Intercultural Dialogue, noted that if tailored properly, and with investment in quality skills development, education can help young African entrepreneurs succeed in small and medium enterprises, and enter global markets.
While, Mr Gathige Wa Maina, Founder and Director of Youth Motion Kenya, said government intervention in youth activities was critical in enabling youth entrepreneurs to succeed. Governments should have the confidence to invest in youth enterprises that are creating jobs.
Mr Sansy El Hassan Diane, Honorary Junior Research Fellow at the School of International Studies and Economics, University of Buckingham, called on governments to strengthen public policies, while including youth in rural areas, who do not have access to electricity, ICTs and finance, in the industrialization process.
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