SADC’s youth: key to a brighter future

About half of the world’s population is younger than 28 and classified as ‘youth’. In Southern Africa, like many regions of the African continent, more than two-thirds of the population fit into this category.

What this simply means is that the future of the world, in general and that of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region to be specific, is inextricably linked to the fate of these people, most of whom are the youth of today.

Sadly, most young people in the region are faced with different political, economic, social and technological calamities.

For instance, almost 60 per cent of the region’s youth is unemployed and most countries do not have industries to absorb new entrants on the job market, especially the youth. 

“The region is experiencing jobless growth – an unacceptable reality on a region with such an impressive pool of youth, talent and creativity,” noted Professor Mthuli Ncube, chief economist and vice president at the African Development Bank (AfDB).

Elsie Kanza, director and head of Africa for the World Economic Forum, says that youth unemployment in most African states is rising, inequalities are widening, and poverty remains unacceptably high.

“Due to various pressing needs, most youth in African countries are unemployed. This is an elephant in the closets of most leaders.

“Further, unemployment in most states is rising and the inequality gap is broadening,” she explained.

Engaging the youth, therefore, is an urgent priority for all countries in the SADC region if they want to make good use of their demographic dividend: their deep pool of youth, talent and creativity and secure their future.

“It time for the real Africa to stand up. The region, thus, needs to engage and protect its young people, and to secure its future,” noted Kanza, adding that governments must provide young people with opportunities to build decent livelihoods and be integrated into the region’s mainstream economies.

Dr Graeme Codrington, a South African author, futurist and strategy consultant, and a founding director of strategic insights firm, TomorrowToday, added: “To engage youths, government sectors in the region need to create taxation incentives for those who employ and develop workers, especially young people and first time job entrants.

“The emphasis must shift from protecting jobs to creating jobs.”

The author of “Future-proof Your Child” added that the region needs more focus on entrepreneurial training support to create employment space for youths as well as to push socio-economic prosperity.

“Support for small and medium enterprises and the protection of entrepreneurs (including reducing the penalties for insolvency) are vital for economic, social and technological transformation,” affirmed Dr Codrington.

He added that young people should be encouraged and supported to become entrepreneurs – individuals who take initiatives to establish business and work for themselves on their own risk.

“Entrepreneurs are key figures in economic growth. Governments should encourage young people to become entrepreneurs as it is one of the best ways of securing the future of the region,” noted Dr Codrington.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) – a multilateral development finance institution established to contribute to the economic development and social progress of African countries, also encouraged regional countries to design better coordinated strategies and policies to effectively tackle youth employment, focusing on job creation in the private sector while providing the right conditions for businesses of all sizes to grow and expand their work force.

“With the number of youths in Africa set to double by 2045, countries across the continent should boost job creation and help young people acquire new skills.

“To secure the future of the region as well as to enhance development, political and business leaders must, therefore, develop the informal sector – engines for inclusive growth since they can absorb higher numbers of unemployed youths, especially in rural areas.

“Most rural areas contain immense entrepreneurial talent,” noted the AfDB, adding that countries must establish impressive national youth policies to help young people to start their own enterprises.

The multilateral development finance institution also added that since there is no tool for development more effective that the empowerment of girls and women, policy decision makers in the region need to increase the chances of empowering and educating the girl child, a notion also supported by Dr Codrington.

Professor Ncube added that to address unemployment and inequality gaps as well as to secure the future of young people, SADC countries must prioritise quality education for relevant skills.

“Successful economies are those that have invested in their young people. In most African countries, there is inequality in education access, and increasing budgetary allocations to education and reducing inequalities in access between rich and poor and females and males, could, therefore, increase SADC’s aptitude and enhance entrepreneurship skills,” he said. 

Harare-based Information and Technology expert, Stalyn Chingarandi, also urged regional governments and stakeholders in the information and communication technology sector to leverage the power of new technologies so as to secure not only the future of the region, but of young people.

“Leveraging ICTs can create employment for young people, and youth employment is an investment in the future as it contributes to poverty reduction, wealth creation over and above and social cohesion,” he said.

Irina Bokova, United Nations, Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) director-general, believes young people are key partners in developmental issues, and they must be given opportunities to participate as respected partners in decision-making and actions at all levels.

Against the backdrop, she said, the region requires concrete initiatives to provide youths with opportunities to become agents of socio-economic development.

Bokova also said all initiatives require sound policies based on understanding of issues the youth face in their daily lives.

“Maximising the impact of a stronger private sector and economic growth on youth employment requires intelligent policies based on a sound understanding of the issues that the young face in finding, and holding on to, decent employment opportunities,” said Bokova.

Further, the United Nations Special Envoy for Youth Ahmad Alhendawi recently launched a programme to encourage governments around the world to set up youth-led advisory groups that can support national ministries and local delegations, as well as help monitor the implementation of youth policies.

The programme provides young people with opportunities to become agents of socio-economic transformation.

Accordingly, political leaders in southern Africa must support this initiative simply by creating structures for youth to have a legitimate voice as well as to become agents of political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legal transformation.

June 2015
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