ECA’s Muhwava urges Africa to invest in its youth
Youth can be critical agents for positive socioeconomic change in Africa if appropriate investments are made to unleash their potential to innovate and become productive citizens, says William Muhwava, Chief of the Population and Youth Section in the Economic Commission for Africa’s Social Development Policy Division.
In a presentation on demystifying the concept of the demographic dividend in Africa in a workshop on policy options for youth in Africa and an interregional youth policy toolbox in Addis Ababa, Mr. Muhwava said the so-called youth bulge can turn into a nightmare if not properly harnessed.
“The numbers are with young people and they can be a liability if uneducated, unskilled, unhealthy, and without job opportunities,” he said, adding the youth can also be agents of social unrest if they are hopeless and disillusioned by their economic and political situations.
Mr. Muhwava said it was crucial for the continent to invest in human capital development; economic reforms and the promotion of good governance and accountability as a way of ensuring the needs of the youth on the continent were addressed with their involvement.
He said Africa could earn the demographic dividend if it invested in its youth.
“Healthy, educated, productive and fully engaged young people can help break the cycle of intergenerational poverty and are more resilient in the face of individual and societal challenges,” said Mr. Muhwava.
As skilled and informed citizens, they can contribute more fully to their communities and nations, he added.
Mr. Muhwava, told participants, including experts in youth issues and representatives from member States, that ensuring sufficient employment growth and the up-skilling of Africa’s youth labour force was also essential to achieving sustainable long run growth in Africa.
The demographic dividend is the economic benefit arising from a significant increase in the ratio of working-aged adults relative to young dependents and is harnessed by social policies.
Mr. Muhwava said the demographic dividend was not automatic and required a number of key elements, including a favorable population age structure; large working-age population; small dependent population; investments in education; completion of primary and secondary education, especially for girls; sound labour market and economic policies and most important, good governance.
“To harness the demographic dividend, African economies need to grow faster and create ample jobs for the rapidly growing youthful labour force,” he said, adding it was great that the African Union’s Agenda 2063 highlights the importance of harnessing the value of Africa’s youthful population for development.
Participants are discussing the need for African countries to develop inclusive and sustainable national youth policies and related topics, including a youth policy toolbox being developed by the ECA and its partners.