A Continent of the Future

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A new publication identifies Africa as a continent with the youngest population which can be a blessing if properly managed or a disaster if abused

By Maureen Chigbo  |  Jul. 22, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

THE teeming youth population in Africa has been described as Africa’s greatest risk or future asset. With one billion people in Africa today and a projected 2.3 billion people, mostly youths in 2050, the continent’s greatest assets, or risk, in the coming decade will be its capacity to harness this rapidly expanding reservoir of human capital, according to a new publication One Billion People One billion Opportunities: Building Human Capital in Africa.

The book said that after Asia, Africa is the world’s largest and most populous continent, with about 15 percent of the world’s people. Africa is also the youngest region and in the mid-2011, the top 10 countries with the youngest populations were African.

By 2040, Africa will have the largest workforce, surpassing China and India. Within the continent, East and West Africa will be the youngest regions. “A large “youth bulge” can be an opportunity for change, progress and social dynamism – or a risk. If the talents of the rising youth cohort are harnessed and channeled to the productive sectors of the economy, the opportunities for the economic and social development are endless,” the book which was edited by Agnes Soucat and Mthuli Ncube, vice president and chief economist, African Development Bank, AfDB, said.

It said that children in Africa born in the next 15 years will be the movers and shakers of the 22nd century Africa. The magnitude of the population growth and its impact on human development is staggering. Over the next 15 years, roughly 600 million children born in Africa will then be parents, teachers or nurses leading Africa as it nears the 22nd century. “To benefit from the demographic dividend and build a highly skilled labour force, Africa’s graduating cohort of high school and technical vocational education and training, TVET, students need to increase dramatically.

Agnes Soucat
Soucat

Roughly 5.3 million students (only 23 percent of children enrolled in primary education) graduated from high school in Africa in 2010. According to the United Nations Population Division, 34.4 million children will enter primary school in 2013 and that 75 percent of them (25.8 million, half of them girls) will graduate from high school, a fivefold increase from today. Africa’s economic growth amid uncertainty in the global economy has been remarkable. Spanning 2001 – 2010, six of the world’s fastest growing economies were in Sub-saharan Africa, and this is expected to increase to seven by 2015.

The continent’s growth in 2012 was expected to accelerate to 4.5 percent from 3.4 percent in 2011, with the recovery in North African economies and the sustained improvement in other regions. Of the 53 countries, 24 more than doubled their per capita income from 1990 to 2010 and the past decade of robust growth has reduced poverty, the book said

The elasticity of poverty to growth in Africa has been much lower than in other regions, and the poverty gap remains high. Poverty declined by 0.5 percent a year between 1990 and 2008 in Africa (excluding North Africa), compared with 2.3 percent in East Asia and 1.0 percent in South Asia. The burden of poverty is borne disproportionately by women and rural dwellers. According to the book, rural poverty fell 5.1 percent between 1998 and 2008 in sub-saharan Africa, far less than 68.8 percent in Latin America and the Carribean, 51.4 percent. South-East Asia’s heavy investment in education at all levels to provide human capital and spearhead its industrial transformation attest to the potential benefits in the short and long term.

According to it, Africa is experiencing profound shifts, with repercussions for building human capital. Demographically, Africa’s young and rapidly growing population is the world’s most dynamic. Economically, African countries have been growing five percent on average over the past decade, as they continue to weather the global crises.  The private sector has a much larger presence than ever before.

Technologically, Africa has been benefiting from a shift of the technological curve, leapfrogging its access to new information and communication technologies, ICTs. By 2025, mobile phone coverage will be nearly universal, implying scope for changing the financial services reaching the poor, even in fragile states. This has expanded opportunities and enhanced connectivity to the rest of the world. Politically, Africa’s democracies are gaining ground, and governance standards are improving thanks to greater demand for voice and accountability, which has fostered democratic reforms and reduced conflicts and civil wars.

Environmentally, Africa needs to ensure that it remains a net biodiversity creditor and addresses the consequences of environmental changes that hurt the poor the most. These are (pollution, waste and environmental degradation arising from increased urbanization food security and displaced populations.

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