Africa’s untapped youth population

Today we turn our attention back to the recently concluded annual meetings of the African Development Bank (AfDB) in Busan. The inaugural briefing entitled Bridging Innovation and Industry: African Youth Solving Continental Challenges attracted a lot of interest from delegates as its core theme was focused on leveraging the continent’s youth to accelerate economic prosperity. For most African countries, unemployment and underemployment remain throbbing issues. However, to improve job prospects, a new trend observed across African countries has been the emergence of young entrepreneurs.

  • This briefing highlighted a few of the young entrepreneurs who have managed to adapt innovative solutions to economic challenges within their countries despite choppy business terrains.
  • The first was Badr Idrissi, a young Moroccan and co-founder of ATLAN Space, which uses artificial intelligence and drone technology to fight illegal fishing in West Africa. The region loses as much as US$1.4bn per year due to the incapacity of governments to monitor oceans and maritime activities.
  • Lorna Rutto co-founded EcoPost, a social enterprise in Kenya that addresses the challenges of urban waste management (plastic pollution), chronic youth unemployment, deforestation and climate change. The company recycles waste plastic and converts it to eco-friendly plastic lumber profiles with applications in numerous industries from fencing to road signage and outdoor furniture among others.
  • Zambian Mutoba Ngoma, chief executive officer of Tapera Industries Limited, was also highlighted during the briefing. Tapera is geared towards renewables and converts vegetable oil into biodiesel and soap. The process provides jobs across its production and supply chains to those within Zambia’s rural economy.
  • The usual culprits continue to stifle the emergence of more solution-driven businesses similar to the aforementioned.: access to finance and enabling environments (including conducive policies and regulations). During the briefing, education and training cropped up as enablers for youth entrepreneurship.
  • In Africa the general quality of education remains unsatisfactory and has not kept pace with technological changes. The unemployment rate in a country like Nigeria keeps inching higher while employers face a shortage of critically needed skills and competencies.
  • This is alarming, given the global industrial revolution, rapid spread of ICTs, and emergence of robotics and artificial intelligence. African countries need to transform their education models rapidly to prepare their citizens for the new wave of expected jobs as well as support the industrialization which is expected to be driven by the continent’s youth population.

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