Empowering Africa’s youth is one of the most serious challenges facing the continent today. Although many African countries are experiencing an economic boom, youth unemployment is at crisis levels.
While we have made great strides in providing access to education, we have not matched this with access to jobs.
African youth are better educated than ever before, and with increasing access to internet and mobile connectivity, they are more exposed to Western ideals and aspirations.
Young educated Africans have come to expect the same opportunities as their Western counterparts. It is these unfulfilled aspirations that translate into anger and frustration, with deadly results.
Africa is experiencing a wave of senseless violence, brutality, and crime, the outcome of frustrated youth who are struggling to fit into a world that does not have opportunities that match their aspirations.
The advent of Isis, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, the Garissa and Westgate Mall attacks in Kenya, as well as the recent xenophobic assaults in South Africa were all perpetrated by angry young men giving voice to their frustrations in the most horrific way.
We need to equip young Africans with the skills they need to thrive in the modern world. This is critical to move African countries from emerging to developed markets.
It is not surprising then that youth empowerment is at the core of the agenda for most African governments. Young Africans enter the workforce at a faster rate than jobs are created, with 40 million youths out of work.
This rise in unemployment is proportional to the rising insecurity, hopelessness, and despair that manifests in violence and insecurity across the continent.
The Millennium Development Goals identify young people as among the most vulnerable of the African population upon whom issues such as poverty, hunger, lack of education, maternal mortality, unemployment, and HIV/Aids have a great impact.
These problems are only set to rise unless an intervention is made. SubÂ-Saharan Africa’s population is becoming more youthful and this is worrying when an estimated 50 per cent of its youth lack the business and life skills needed to enter a productive economic and social life.
The challenge is not just about creating more jobs, it is also about matching skills to jobs and, once in jobs, enabling youths to thrive in the workplace.
Considering the complexity of the challenge, we need to help young people increase their productivity to expand their options to be economically active, for example by providing soft skills to enable them to market themselves better, seek employment effectively, and, once working, to thrive and succeed.
We can resolve these challenges, first, through private sector engagement. The private sector must expand opportunities for all young people.
Secondly, the problem of youth unemployment can be addressed through creating opportunities for entrepreneurship. Africa simply is unable to generate enough jobs to accommodate the large number of youths graduating from high school each year.
Any solution to the youth empowerment issue must include a mechanism that allows young people to create their own jobs. To catch up with the developed world, Africa must grow faster and innovate more aggressively than ever before.
The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, in partnership with Mercy corps, Microsoft, Harambee, and Kuza Biashara, recently launched the Youth Empowered for Success initiative, which by 2017 aims to empower 25,000 young Africans in six countries with the skills to create and access sustainable, safe, and productive jobs.
The programme will support disadvantaged and vulnerable youth in Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tunisia, and Uganda through access to soft skills, jobs, and entrepreneurship opportunities via a job-matching platform, e-mentoring, access to finance, and upskilling.
Other organisations should also strive to unleash the potential of Africa’s talented youth through initiatives that can turn an emerging problem into a solution to accelerate Africa’s growth and innovation.