Africa is the youngest continent in the world. According to the CIA World Factbook, the ten countries with the lowest life expectancy are located on the same continent; the median age in Niger is 14.8 years and in Uganda, the second youngest country, it is 15.7 years. With the exception of island countries, such as the Seychelles, and North African countries such as Tunisia and Algeria, no African country, with the exception of South Africa, is among the 150 youngest countries in the world. The Value of Youth to Africa:
Africa: the younguest continent
Ambassador Mark Green, president of the American Wilson Center, says, “Africa…is the youngest continent in the world in a report released by the center. However, the average age of Africa’s leaders contrasts sharply with the average age of its citizens. The three leading candidates in the recent Nigerian presidential elections were 76, 70 and 61 years old. And the one who was declared the winner is 15 years older than the average age of his voters.
In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni, who is 78 and has been in office since 1986, is about 63 years older than the average age of his voters. This large “age gap” is due to the fact that some people were old when they first ran for office, and current presidents simply choose to stay in office as long as their health permits – and in some cases, they stay on despite the expiration of their term in office.
As Sudanese-born billionaire, businessman and philanthropist Mo Ibrahim puts it, “Political power rests in the hands of aging leaders who know little or care about the aspirations and fears of younger generations – and, unfortunately, even less about passing the reins of power to others.
Ambassador Green believes this is important because the age gap in Africa is likely to create political and other challenges that could affect the stability of some of its countries. The most important of these challenges is the growing pressure on leaders to find ways to meet the economic needs and aspirations of their young people in the years ahead.
Several years ago, the World Economic Forum, the International Development Bank, and the World Bank issued a report estimating that Africa’s population would grow much faster than the jobs projected.
The report projected that the number of working-age Africans would increase by 70 percent – or 450 million people – by 2035. On the other hand, without significant economic reforms – reforms that could cause economic and political problems in the short term – the number of employment opportunities is likely to be no more than 100 million.
African youth as an opportunity
For Ambassador Green, however, the continent’s youth represent an opportunity to realize a “demographic dividend“. The report notes that “Africa’s youth represent new ideas and aspirations that, if properly harnessed, could lead to a new economic opportunity; as the continent’s population continues to grow rapidly, it is imperative that African leaders listen to the needs of the new generation and prepare them to participate in the political process.
Arguably, what Mo Ibrahim is saying is that today’s African leaders must empower young people to become leaders themselves. It is also an opportunity for the United States – and especially for American investors – to lend a hand.
With the help of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a bilateral agency created by the U.S. Congress in 2004, is applying a new philosophy of foreign aid, and “Prosper Africa,” a U.S. government initiative that aims to help U.S. and African investors choose their partners. on the other hand, and to develop investment opportunities for both The two sides, the conclusion of partnership agreements between them, the United States can play an important role. But in fact, it can be said that it is trade and investment that will enhance the future that African leaders desire…and that African youth will demand.