Africa has the youngest population in the world with 22.7% of the world’s total youth population of which 454.5 million are between 15 and 34 years.
This was said by Wamkele Mene, Secretary-General AfCFTA Secretariat, in his opening remarks at the First African Union Youth Town Hall Meeting on the margins of the 36th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union last week.
Using the International Labour Organisation’s statistics (2020), Mene said young people aged 15 to 24 years comprised 34.2% of Africa’s working-age population, adding that the youth labour force is projected to grow by over 25% (i.e. by nearly 30 million).
He believes the youth can play a critical role in advancing continental economic advancement.
“There is a firm conviction that the development of the continent can only be truly achieved by transforming the comparative advantage that is the youth bulge into a demographic dividend”.
Mene said the continent needs to harness the potential of Africa’s young people for their benefit, that of their families, their countries, and ultimately of the entire continent.
For the youth fully contribute to continent-building and economic advancement, he said they need to be involved in future planning and policy formulation.
“It further requires their active contribution and participation in the design and implementation of policies, programmes, and initiatives,”he said.
Mene reiterated the imperative to empower young people in all spheres of life as leaving young people unequipped and with no opportunity will jeopardise the inclusive and sustainable development of the continent.
The AfCFTA chief reminded the continent leaders that the conversation around harnessing the potential of Africa’s young people is not new, saying the AU theme of the year 2017 centred around ‘Harnessing the Demographic Dividend Through Investment in Youth’.
He said there is a specific legal instrument, the Africa Youth Charter, which aims to ensure that the conditions of young people are improvedby addressing the social, cultural, economic, and political challenges they face and availing opportunities to meaningfully contribute to the development of the continent.
He also pointed out that there are strategies and action plans focused on youth within the African Union designed to guide AU Member States, African Union organs and specialised agencies, development partners, and any other actor when implementing initiatives and programmes to empower young people.
Mene indicated that one of the key objectives of the AfCFTA is to promote and attain sustainable and inclusive socio-economic development, gender equality, and the structural transformation of AfCFTA State Parties.
The Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union has committed to broadening inclusiveness in the operation of the AfCFTA.
The AfCFTAprotocol is a one-of-a-kind legal instrument that seeks to address challenges that young people as entrepreneurs and traders face through legally binding commitments.
According to Mene, empowering youth in the context of the AfCFTA,”means providing an ecosystem in which young people can meaningfully trade and benefit from such trade”.
Recent studies show that women and young people make major contributions to trade in most African countries and are active in handicrafts, garments, and food, in the services sector, mostly as informal and casual workers, and as managers and owners of firms involved in trading.
They are involved in the production of tradable goods, as cross-border traders, small-scale producers, or home-based entrepreneurs.
Small, and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which are the backbone of the African economy, represent more than 90% of businesses and employ about 60% of workers, many of whom are owned by women and youth, the AfCFTA secretariat revealed.