Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, March 21, 2021 (ECA) - Young entrepreneurs can propel Africa’s industrialization, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) noted at the weekend, calling for enabling policy and infrastructure to promote their digital innovations in solving the continent’s development challenges.
Jean Paul Adam, Director for Technology, Climate Change and Natural Resources Management at the ECA, in a keynote address at a side event on ‘Driving Africa’s industrialisation agenda by investing in youth’s digital innovations post COVID-19’, said the ECA was emphasizing recovery and reset in responding to the pandemic and that the youth were a critical part of this strategy.
“We need to reset our development framework for Africa to succeed and digitalisation will play a key role in this,” Mr. Adam told the youth panel discussion, explaining that reset was about reconsidering sustainable development for Africa and tapping the energy of young people to build forward better.
“Young people are key agents of that reset,” he added. “The digital space should be one of empowerment and not restriction.”
The ECA Director said Africa was impacted more than other regions in the context of COVID-19 and climate change due to its vulnerability, lack of safety nets and minimal fiscal space to adequately respond to such issues.
“We need to respond. We need to address the immediate impact we are facing in terms of lost jobs, in terms of economic opportunities which have been disrupted and we also need to recover from the initial impacts of the crisis of this unprecedented magnitude.”
Mr. Adam said 110 million young people entered the job market in the last ten years but only 37 million wage paying jobs were created. COVID19 has further shrunk that job market.
The pandemic, however, has presented opportunities for a reset and green recovery for Africa around sustainable energy access for more than 590 million people without access to electricity.
Investments in renewable energy are an opportunity for better and more inclusive employment. A recent study by the ECA using the case study of South Africa has shown that more that 250 percent more jobs can be created as opposed to investing in fossil fuels.
Mr. Adam said digital services were also an opportunity to move Africa’s commerce into the digital space. Digital deliverable services for Africa have grown 2.5-fold since 2005 in a global market valued at an estimated $2.9 trillion.
Noting that digitalization was central to the green industrialization process in Africa, Mr. Adam said consideration should be made on which specific digital skills should be invested in as well as upgrading digital infrastructure like internet, enhancing digital services, digital identities,and online payment systems.
“We have to ensure access to markets for young people,” he said, adding that young entrepreneurs must have access to finance and the procurement space. E-commerce has emerged as trade facilitator, Mr. Adam added, and the AfCFTA must be leveraged to facilitate trade for young people.
“If we empower young people to enter the digital space and create their own business space, we can expect that every young person will probably create one other job for another person. This is the promise that we have for that reset in reviewing the development architecture we believe is necessary for the empowerment of young people and green recovery for Africa.”
Mathews Mmopi, the international chairperson of the Youth Alliance for Leadership and Development in Africa (YALDA), said COVID-19 has changed the role of work and young people have been impacted, particularly within education.
Mmopi said the youth who represent most of the African population, were at the forefront of utilising, innovating, and leveraging digital opportunities to improve access across economic, social, and political spheres.
Erickson Mvezi, founder, and CEO of Tupuca, an on-demand delivery platform in Angola, said Africa’s youth were spirited entrepreneurs but operated under difficult conditions.
For Nneile Nkholise, a young entrepreneur and founder of IMedTech Group, a medical solutions company, governments in Africa should create the right infrastructure such as roads to facilitate business and remove barriers to rolling out digital innovations.
Ahmed Bastawy, who runs Icealex Innovation Hub, which supports start-ups and entrepreneurs in Egypt, called for the right policies, laws and incentives to promote start-ups and digital innovations across Africa.
For Bashiru Mansaray, trust is a critical element in promoting youth entrepreneurs in Africa where they are largely marginalised from accessing big contracts because they are considered to lack experience and the ability to deliver.
Concurring on the importance of trusting young people to deliver development projects,
Mountaga Keita, Guinean inventor and founder of Tulip Industries which designs and manufactures interactive digital kiosks and tablets, lamented that governments were quick to import and outsource technologies from other countries at the expense of local innovations.
“The digital sector is a powerhouse for wealth creation and job creation,” Keita said.
“In Tulip we decided to go Africa and thanks to the African Continental Free Trade Area we have now signed a contract with 23 countries and hope by 2021 to go to all countries in Africa. We are tapping into an untapped market. Government must dance with us or else we will dance with other people,” he said.
“Africa’s sustainable industrialisation and diversification in the digital era in the context of Covid-19” is the theme for this year’s conference.
Economic Commission for Africa
PO Box 3001
Tel: +251 11 551 5826