Since the beginning of the Arab Spring in Tunisia in December 2010, conversations on youth unemployment and underemployment in Africa have percolated political, development, and social discourses across the continent. The World Bank, in the 2010 article on youth unemployment in Sub-Saharan Africa cites 3 out of 5 unemployed people in Africa are youth. Despite this growing demographic, governments, private sector, and civil society organizations have failed to address the root causes of youth unemployment such as lack of industry relevant skills, vocational training, and entrepreneurship. Consequently, I was delighted when a colleague invited me to OCI International (Opportunities Industrialization Centers) conference focused specifically on youth empowerment in Africa. The one-day conference titled, “Youth Investment Summit: The road to economic growth” featured panels and plenary sessions on youth entrepreneurship, technical and vocational training, the private sector response, and opportunities for youth in agriculture. Presenters ranged from a variety of professions and sectors including World Bank Ghana, Ministry of Gender and Culture, Oracle group, and budding entrepreneurs.
The best part of this conference, however, was not only the range of presenters but the engaging discussion that each panel generated during the sessions. Panelists concurred that skills training, specifically market-relevant education and entrepreneurship are key to empowering and employing Africa’s youth. In the opening plenary session, Jim Lutzweiler of Joint Aid Management concluded his remarks with the acronym, GHANA, Generation of Hope for A New Africa. Echoing Lutzweiler, each session centered on hope and limitless possibilities for Africa’s youth in engaging in local and global economies. Other highlights of the conference included:
– A speech from the Honorable Nii Armah Ashitey, the Minister of Employment and Labor Relations (Ghana), and a former counselor in OIC Ghana. The minister affirmed that the Government of Ghana is committed to making sure youth are able to gain vocational skills and access credit.
– Shirley Whitaker of the Whitaker group led a panel on private sector training for youth. She challenged the audience with the question, “Will this demographic be a disaster or dividend?” Panelists concluded that Africa’s youth will be a dividend if young people are equipped with skills and training that private sector needs.
– Sena Kwawukume of the Ministry of Gender and Culture lamented the gap between government-designed programs for youth training and employment and youth’s actual desires for training.
Overall the conference stimulated discussions between various governmental, nongovernmental, and private sector actors on Africa’s youth place in the growing global economy. After conference participants have returned to their respective organizations and countries, what’s next? I would to see the momentum of the conference sustained and codified into policy and programs. After all, Ghana’s and Africa’s youth deserve to be a Generation of Hope for Africa.
The writer is not associated with OIC International and has used the logo for informative purposes only.