Saturday, September 08, 2012

Planning ahead of Africa's Demographic Window, what are the imperative actions? - an opinion.

Saturday, September 08, 2012
According to some sources, Africa is projected to enter its demographic window by 2032. Whether the continent will be ready to capitalize on economic dividends that come with this opportunity or miss this window and face increasing pressures on its social systems is still subject of continuous discussion. 

What is clear however is that Africa's population of more than 1 billion, which is 65% young people, presents clear opportunities for economic gains much similar or even greater than those of the Asian tigers. To get there, the continent must plan and must do so collectively. And those plans must already be taking shape today, else we would be squandering an opportunity unlike no other.

So are we and our governments across the continent in planning? ...planning to utilize the economic muscle that is Africa's young people; planning to make the ever increasing, but underutilized, labor force productive and innovative.

At all levels on the continent, planning is viewed as a working progress. Whilst political will to take Africa, as a collective and indeed also at individual country levels, to such an end is significantly lacking, we can attest to progress being made in the right direction, but much is still needed. To plan effectively, we need information that will enable us to make better decisions on the type of actions to take to capitalize on the projected demographic window.

We would need to know the dynamics of our population, including young people. We would need to know where they are, what they know, what they are doing, understand their limitations and improve the socio-economic environment to ensure their capacities are grown and utilized sustainably to transform our economies. But such an undertaking is lacking on several fronts on the continent.

Policy Action

Where we are at the moment is at crossroads. Will we take the necessary actions or will we miss the opportunity of time? Action is needed now. Here are some of our ideas;
  1. We need to drastically improve our education systems on the continent; this encompasses structural, content and financing issues. Are the systems we currently have delivering the human capital capacities we need to address the challenges we face and the opportunities ahead of us? Do we have a numerically strong and adequately trained tutor-base for our young people? And are we ensuring our education needs are suitably financed? These are important questions to ask to take stock of our progress and move forward.
  2. Improve young people's health status; Africa can not expect to capitalize on expected demographic dividends if the productive human capital that would deliver on these expectations is at risk. Whatever efforts on the ground would be counteractive. There would be increased expenditure on addressing the results of health issues instead of building capacity of this human capital.
  3. Create jobs and a supportive environment for young people to build enterprise and compete at all market levels; if anything, this is the niche Africa would need to capitalize on towards those dividends. Jobs, jobs, jobs. What they mean in real terms is increased business activity, revenues, knowledge and professional base, and much more. Realizing this means we diversify and increase functionality of our economies.
Education, Health and Employment. These are but a few of the policy areas needing immediate action. To do so, we need updated information of where we stand on these areas. Unfortunately, Africa does not produce or collect enough information to help make the right decisions. An example is, after the adoption of the African Youth Charter, young people on the continent were defined as those in the 15 to 35 age bracket. While many countries already maintained a similar definition, data on this age bracket on diverse issues is widely lacking. For example, how many young people aged between 15 to 35, who are male or female or general are living in urban areas, are self employed, employed in the industrial sector etc. Without this kind of information, planning would be significantly compromised or delayed.

Planning for Africa's Youth Data Need

CAD Blog, in form of the Head of our Editorial team, participated in a workshop last week organized by the African Union Commission to respond to some of the questions we raised above. Working in line with the programmes the commission is running on youth, the workshop looked to develop a number of tools that would mitigate the data shortages the continent has on young people. These include a Virtual Data System, where one would be able to view, compare and visualize data on respective African countries; and a Youth Development Scorecard that will set the standard on youth development parameters on the continent.

All these are a working progress and in the right direction. When completed and with the participation of all state governments, information would be available for all actors to develop programmes and make decisions that are informed. The 4th Ordinary Session of the Conference of Ministers in charge of Youth (COMY IV) taking place later this month can be an important step in ensuring we begin strengthening our plans well ahead of time by ensuring these information/ data systems, among others, are in place.

Moving Ahead

We will be looking at developments on these issues later this month as information from the COMY IV meeting comes through to us. Further discussion will follow in a new INFOCUS series we hope to have on Employment.

Your reactions and insight are also very much welcome. Please write to us and we will feature your analysis right here. You can reach us on

Editorial Team.
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