In no time is this discussion more relevant than it is now. Presently Africa has more people aged below 20 than anywhere in the world and going on to 2050, over half of the global population growth is expected to be in Africa. This is a demographic shift of seismic proportions, that potentially portends good economic tidings for the continent.
But just as an African proverb admonishes, that “having rain clouds is not the same as having rain”, such good tidings are not a given as the prevailing situation attests. While on paper, a growing youthful population is weighted as an open door to reaping a demographic dividend, the reality faced by Africa’s youth is nothing short of an albatross, weighing down on their backs. Up to 12 million of them join the labour markets annually to compete for just 3 million jobs.. The number of job seeking youth in the continent is projected to exceed the rest of the globe combined to reach over 350 million in less than 17 years from today. The number of poor working youth has increased by up to 80% in the last 25 years. Unaddressed, the consequences of this trend have been described, and rightfully so, as a ticking timebomb, that is dangerously close to exploding.
“Do not walk into a snake-pit with your eyes open”, Africa’s eyes are wide open to the potential dangers of a ballooning unemployed youthful population. The big step is devising a lasting solution.
From jobs to wealth creation – a lasting winning formula for jobs in Africa
“If there were no elephant in the jungle, the buffalo would be a great animal”, just as a hunter would aim for the biggest prey they can hunt, this African proverb admonishes us to always aim for the highest we can reach. At the core of every development vision in this continent, is an objective, or a chapter on “job creation”. Most of these visions were developed at about the same time, which was a few years after the turn of the millennium in the year 2000. It is therefore logical to say that in most countries, these development visions have been in the works for about 10 years, yet the results are far from satisfactory. The plain truth is that there are still no jobs. Time has now come to shift gears in the continent’s hunt – and aim for the highest – wealth creation. While the “job creation” path is largely government centric – where the government is looked upon to both create public jobs e.g. through development projects, as well as attract private sector investment, through various policy & infrastructural incentives, who are then expected to employ the local population, wealth creation is a paradigm shift. It draws from a famous saying by an iconic leader – “ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country”. Wealth creation is a clarion call to the daughters and sons of Africa, to rediscover themselves, arise and possess the rewards inherent in solving the continents challenges through creation of enterprises. The days of expecting government to legislate & develop policy, implement, monitor and report progress, while sitting back to wait for jobs are no longer tenable. Non-state actors are the most effective implementors and Africa’s 720 million strong youthful population is the most significant non-state actor constituency that needs to be leveraged.
Wealth creation – the panacea to address Africa’s challenges
Simply, wealth is the accumulation of capital – human and material. Of all the components of wealth, human capital – the skills, creativity, talent, energy and ongoing initiative of citizens, and especially the super-majority youthful population, constitute the most sovereign, critical capital. Human capital is the most significant component of wealth globally. With human capital, one can generate material. A big damper to Africa’s progress has been the lopsided prioritisation of material over human capital. This has led to a retrogression of the continent. For example, during the independence dispensation of the 60s, most African countries had a much higher base to start from. For example, at that time, South Korea was a country in economic trouble. A population facing acute starvation prompted goodwill from nations – including from Africa. Fast-forward to today, South Korea, with no minerals unlike Africa, a mineral rich region, and roughly five times smaller than many African countries, has an economy estimated at 15times the combined size of Africa’s economies. This marvellous meteoric rise can be summed in one of my favourite African proverbs – that “he who has no pond should not breed crocodiles’. South Korea focused on maximizing on strategic industries for which it held a comparative advantage. It then convened its human capital across all sectors, towards complementing productivity maximization & global competitiveness in this strategic area. Leveraging on their human capital to build globally competitive enterprises around sectors of comparative advantage was how South Korea built a formidable economic foundation that led to its rise. This is a lesson in wealth creation, that citizens of the continent must learn. Africa’s prioritization of material & financial resources over people, and the talents, skills, gifts they hold; of pricing how “deep” someone’s pockets are, instead of the values they espouse, has been the major undoing.
“He who is bitten by a snake, fears a lizard”. The big lesson of retrogression now calls for a paradigm shift. It is time that Africans, and especially the youth leverage on what they have – their skills, talents, interests and ongoing work, to work in selfless partnerships with compatriots with complementary skills, and develop enterprises drawn from comparative advantage sectors, that solve the continents challenges. The youth should now work to create enterprises that employ fellow youth, not compete for ever shrinking jobs. Work to solve the continents challenges, not waiting for government. And do so by leveraging on the continents comparative advantage sectors.
Tapping Africa’s wealth creation opportunities
The six thousand years of human existence on planet earth provide a very fundamental lesson – that no problem of human making is beyond humans to solve. As morally free agents, all it takes for humans to solve problems of their making is a renewed mindset. It will be no different in Africa. With a renewed mindset, Africa’s sovereign capital, its people & especially the youth, will need to exercise the following tenets of internal rejuvenation, in transitioning the continent towards wealth creation, that unlocks income opportunities for all;
First, people, especially the youth must channel their skills towards maximizing productivity of Africa’s comparative advantage sectors. An African proverb best depicts why – which is that “those who are born on top of an anthill take a short time to grow tall”. Decentralizing clean energy where Africa has a considerable comparative advantage – e.g. the best solar resource in the planet – to power agro-value addition e.g. preservation and processing in agriculture, where the continent also holds significant advantage of having over 60% of global arable land, stands out as capable of creating a $1trillion dollar economy, and which everyone – regardless of discipline – can engage in this catalytic areas Through such, the continents post-harvest losses amounting to $48billion can be converted into food secure homes, and enterprises that put more money in more pockets & the government. The continents middle class estimated to constitute a $150billion market will be the fuel to drive growth of such enterprises. To ensure competitiveness, such enterprises must be developed by complementing skills across disciplines – tech, engineering & innovation, agriculture, in administration, in marketing, in law, among key areas.
Second, treasure skills – not only money. “You have little power over what is not yours”. What will make Africa’s youth relevant – what will make them stand out for the long-run in a highly competitive globe is not how they look, but what they can do. It is their skills that count and is the only premium they need to tap into the catalytic area, to forge mutually beneficial market partnerships that tap this catalytic area. So, the youth should invest in perfecting their skill, not “chasing money”, as commonly said.
Third, is being organised. One casual yet profound saying goes thus – “organise yourself before you try to organize anything”. Like beams in a house or bones to a body, so is order to all things. It is literally the support structure of success in any endeavour of life and will be no different for Africa’s youth as they endeavour to build inclusive wealth by actioning the catalytic areas.
Internal rejuvenation – the trigger for Africa’s prosperity
A common saying in Africa goes thus – that “when a fire starts from the shrine, no precaution can be possible”. It is unstoppable. At the core of Africa’s internal rejuvenation challenge is the need to establish the trigger for a renewed mindset, that will set-off the perpetual and instinctive cascade of exercising the above tenets to the point that they are unstoppable. This trigger is finding purpose and it lies latent in all of us. It is out of a clarity of purpose, that Africa’s people, and especially the youth, will be self-driven to set off a chain reaction that will see them passionately exercising the tenets of internal rejuvenation to unlock inclusive wealth opportunities for all. Through structured guidance and mentorship, a critical mass of purpose-driven youth can be unlocked. This is the essence of Innovative Volunteerism which is a novel tool used for mentoring & inspiring youth to discover their purpose in the context of actualising inclusive wealth in Africa, and structurally guiding them to exercise these tenets of internal rejuvenation, should be the life-long pre-occupation of any pan Africanist worth their salt.
“The sweet rice is eaten quickly” – lessons of wealth creation are like sweet rice and the continents youth must take upon itself to consume these lessons urgently. Failure may be met with regrets as they watch others take them up. This is a call to action for the youth. And as they do, a major lesson to remember is that what others do should not defuse them. God is no respecter of persons. Everyone will reap what they sow. Not what others before, beside you or ahead of are doing. Africa’s youth are the biggest stakeholders in the drive for wealth creation. By virtue of their age and numbers, they stand to benefit the most out of the drive for wealth creation. They also stand to lose the most as the current failures in the “jobs” drive reveals. It is time that they take steps to their best interest by leaping forward with wealth creation. This is the much-needed internal rejuvenation in Africa.
Dr. Richard Munang is Africa Climate Change & Development Policy Expert. He tweets as @RichardMunang
Mr. Robert Mgendi is the Adaptation Policy Expert
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the institution with which they are affiliated