With almost 60 per cent of its people aged below 25 years, Africa is home to the world’s youngest population. This is an asset! It represents a huge workforce in waiting, one that must be nurtured and protected above and beyond.
According to Dr. Githinji Gitahi, Global Chief Executive Officer (GCEO), AMREF Health Africa, now more than ever, youth are actively dismantling barriers to development and social justice through innovation and accountability in a way that only young people can.
AMREF’s recently launched Health Africa Global Youth and Adolescent Strategy 2021-2022 shows that young people in Africa remain disproportionately left behind in health and social development, including having a higher risk of HIV infection, experiencing early and unwanted pregnancies, higher risk of maternal deaths among adolescents, increased incidences of mental health illness, and increased barriers to health care access.
Even more crucial is the lack of information and awareness about their rights, empowerment to exercise their rights, and inclusion to influence decisions that affect them. The youth are barely involved in policy formulation and program design, as their participation in decision-making is limited and often ad hoc. Further, one-third of the 420 million youth aged 15-35 years in Africa are unemployed and discouraged, another third are vulnerably employed, and only one in six is in wage employment. Far too many young people struggle to access public resources and quality social services.
World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates show that 1.2 million adolescents died in 2015 which is over 3000 every day, globally, mostly from preventable or treatable causes.
WHO also noted that road traffic injuries were the leading cause of death in 2015. Other major causes of adolescent deaths include lower respiratory infections, suicide, diarrhoeal diseases, and drowning. Globally, there are 44 births per 1000 to girls aged 15 to 19 per year.
“Half of all mental health disorders in adulthood start by age 14, but most cases are undetected and untreated,” WHO says in the analysis.
Investing in youth
It is often said that investing in youth sets the stage for tremendous economic growth as they are energetic and innovative. Youth have also been encouraged to create employment and contribute towards job creation. However even as they venture into these innovative business ideas and projects deemed to create employment, they still struggle with lack of access to finance, a serious bottleneck towards achieving some of these goals. The recent global pandemic has made things even worse when it comes to achieving these goals.
In a bid to improve the situation, AMREF’s strategy seeks to engage the youth to address the health, and socio-economic challenges they are facing as they seek ways to resolve them.
While youth account for 60 per cent of Africa’s unemployed (World Bank, 2016) – a missed opportunity to capitalize on one of the continent’s greatest assets for growth due to incidents of early pregnancies, mental illness or even drug abuse could set the stage for an even worse scenario where some due to desperation might result in engaging in criminal activities to eke out a living. There is need to provide an enabling environment for the youth to exercise their right to influence decisions that affect them.
The AMREF Health Africa strategy that has been launched to help youth to be productive even in times of these challenges is therefore a step in the right direction towards responding and actively engaging on these aforementioned challenges experienced by adolescents and youth in Africa. With a presence in 35 African countries, this strategy speaks to the firm belief that adolescents and youth have what it takes to fundamentally shift the health and socio-economic landscape of the continent.
With the strategy, AMREF looks to forge partnerships with the private sector, civil society, governments and media to leverage digital technology, and innovation in a bid to increase the demand for stronger health investments for adolescents and youth on the continent.
Some of the activities that the strategy looks to work on is to increase investments for youth-led initiatives and programmes in the organisation. This will improve the unemployment situation within the groups.
AMREF also has plans to increase meaningful collaborations between the youth and policy-makers on the continent. This is to set the platform for robust investments and stronger accountability for youth and adolescent policies which will then grow the human capital index in Africa.
There are also plans to work on improving health indicators among adolescents and youth, by addressing sexual and gender-based violence, early and forced child marriage, teenage pregnancies, and female genital mutilation. This will be done by investing in programmes that maximise adolescents’ and youth potential, including access to contraception use and agency, gender equality, nutrition, mental health support, prevention and management of HIV.
“The AMREF Health Africa Youth and Adolescent Strategy will operationalise the dynamism that young people hold to help solve our most pressing issues in Africa and the world, making space for young people to have meaningful engagement and participation in the design and delivery of solutions that are relevant and will resonate on this dear continent we call Africa,” said Dr. Gitahi.
These sentiments have also been echoed by the Head of Division at the Youth Development, Women, Gender and Youth Directorate at the African Union Commission, Prudence Ngwenya, in her remarks on how the power and influence of young people goes far beyond the spaces we have created for their participation. “This strategy will be a refreshing change in recognising that young people are drivers of change, they create solutions for our communities and leave imprints for others to follow”, she added.
Research suggests that Africa needs to create 18 to 30 million jobs annually through 2030, and Ladi Balogun, CEO of First City Monument Bank Group in Nigeria, reiterated the urgency of this challenge. He says that time is of the essence in terms of mounting a response as well as accelerating decision-making processes for the extension of financing to entrepreneurs. He also advised working through local money managers to achieve scale of training the youth in how to grow their talents and earn a living.
The African Development Bank has also demonstrated its strong commitment to the youth of Africa through its Jobs for Youth in Africa Strategy to help create 25 million direct and indirect jobs, and empower 50 million youth by 2025. The institution has also set up a $40 million trust fund in partnership with several European countries to advance youth entrepreneurship and innovation.
The future very much depends on what steps the continent as a community is taking right now to cushion the youth against the challenges facing them.
These are certainly the defining moments and the efforts towards enabling the youth and giving them a platform to shine will play a big role in further growing global economies and creating jobs as well as improving livelihoods. The time is now.