The Africa Youth Day theme for 2023 allows us to focus on the potential of young Africans for the cultural, political and socio-economic development of their communities through the implementation of the 1 million next-level initiative. The initiative aims to create opportunities for young Africans in education, employment, entrepreneurship engagement and health and wellbeing (4Es + H). This year’s theme invites all relevant stakeholders – youth-led movements, governments, international organisations, development partners, private sector, civil society, and all African youths on the continent and in the diaspora – to implement the one million next-level initiative.

Much has been said about Africa as the region of opportunity and promise: Geostrategic positioning, precious and untapped natural resources, or investment potential. While accurate, these insights largely ignore the continent’s most treasured asset: young Africans. Only through embracing their drive can Africa truly reach its potential.

With over 75% of Africa’s 1.2 billion inhabitants under age 35, and 453 million Africans aged 15-35, Africa needs to harness the potential of her youths to achieve her developmental capacity. Youths in Africa are expected to constitute 42% of the world’s youth and 75% of those under 35 in Africa by 2030. Indeed, Africa's challenges in health, employment, governance and education are felt mainly by her youth. African states must move beyond aid to shift towards home-grown policies and solutions that build prosperity through concrete priorities such as job creation, regional integration, and economic engagement.

Exploiting that demographic dividend and expanding opportunities for youths has to be the priority, which certainly demands sound evidence-based policies and programmes. Sadly, more than one in four young people in Africa are not in employment, education or training (NEET). Two-thirds are young women. The African Development Bank (AfDB) notes that one-third of African youths are unemployed and discouraged, another third are vulnerably employed, and only one in six are in wage employment. When asked what challenges they faced, many African youths cited data inclusion, while others cited energy poverty, lack of clean water, food insecurity, unemployment and security issues.

It is essential to meet the needs of African youths in line with aspiration 6 of Agenda 2063, which recognises young people as crucial in attaining people-driven development on the continent. Indeed, the African Union (AU) Commission highlights youths' critical role in achieving all the seven aspirations of Agenda 2063.

The Chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat noted that the celebration of the African Youth Day shows the importance attached to youths by African leaders as mentioned in the Preamble of the African Youth Charter that they are the most incredible wealth of the Continent. Mahamat further notes that the African Youth Charter obligates the States, the AU Commission and the youth themselves to work towards advancing the aspirations of youths in Africa. He asserts that Africa needs a new governance framework that safeguards these youths' political, cultural, social and economic rights. Mahamat further laments that many African youths brave and perish in the torrid heat of the desert, in the cold and unforgiving waters of the Mediterranean, while searching for an imaginary paradise in other continents.

Education in Africa should encourage the demographic potential of children to shape the continent’s future and not be divorced from the continent's realities.

The AU Commission has walked the talk by appointing a Special Youth Envoy responsible for relaying, both systematically and institutionally, the concerns of African youths to the policy organs of the AU. Indeed, Africa was liberated by the founding fathers when they were in their youth, and it is only necessary to realise that the youth have to take it upon themselves to ensure that the vision of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa becomes a reality.

Africa must leverage the scientific and technological competence of its youths of today. Otherwise, she will not stand the global competition. There is growing consensus that Africa’s education must be reimagined to nurture the entrepreneurial spirit of youths that benefits society. This means removing the top-down curricula that have for years restricted the potential of African youth within the confines of theory. Education in Africa should encourage the demographic potential of children to shape the continent’s future and not be divorced from the continent's realities.

Indeed, the utility of education in Africa should be to anticipate and solve legitimate dilemmas on the ground, particularly those concerning food security, healthcare, climate change, sustainability, job opportunities and infrastructure. The Future Africa model at the University of Pretoria may be emulated across the continent. Educational institutions in Africa should be the heartbeat of agricultural, technological, industrial, economic and social ecosystems.

Article submitted by Samson Mhizha


The Future Africa Research Leader Fellowship (FAR-LeaF) is a fellowship programme, focussed on developing transdisciplinary research and leadership skills, to address the complex, inter-linked challenges of health, well-being, and environmental risks in Africa.