AP Photo/Khalil Senosi
The narrative ’Africa Rising’ has been linked to a continent leapfrogging into development and global relevance due to investments in infrastructure, strong governmental policies, international partnerships and interventions vis-à-vis promotion of local contents in the landscape of economic activities . This transition is well illustrated by two articles written in The Economist “A Hopeless Continent” in 2000 to “Africa Rising” in 2013, which depicts the dramatic shift for this continent. The drastic change in less than 15 years calls for a keener look in understanding a critical demographic, the youth, which are acting as catalyst for change.
While many have stressed the negative impact of youth bulge across Africa with respect to unemployment, there must be recognition of the positive impacts that youth bring to the African economy. More needs to be done to promote and recognize the high impact youth have in breaking up fallow grounds within different industries, so as to promote innovation and reduce youth unemployment. Africa currently ranks top as the continent with the youngest population having 200 million young people between the ages of 15-24. The number is expected to double by 2045, despite the fact that young people currently account for 60% of all unemployed persons in Africa, according to the World Bank. The plight of these young people have become the bane of many governments. The youths’ frustration of constant unemployment has resulted in radical changes of governments across different countries. In the last held general elections of Senegal and Nigeria, both have witnessed a shift to new governments, thanks to the youth demographic. The drastic electoral shift within those two countries respectively, is forcing other governments to prioritize tackling youth unemployment. Governments are now actively putting strategies forward for the youth so as to solve the unemployment problem and to secure electoral votes. Although unemployment continues to be a big factor which affects Africa, the reality is that growing economies as well as emerging young entrepreneurs in the field of business are cutting across industries such as Information and Communication Technology, manufacturing, real estates, and financial investments. These young innovators are also responsible for re-engineering the continent’s global perception.
The following are a few examples of how youth innovation continues to shape and transform the continent of Africa into a future economic powerhouse. Jobberman an online job search company started by 3 young Nigerians during their undergraduate years has grown from a 3 –man organization to an organization which employs 125 people. Jobberman – with the tool of the internet to create an online portal to bridge the gap between job seekers and employers not only enjoys success in attracting over one million monthly visitors but is also successful in attracting international investors. Moreover, between 2012 and the end of the third quarter in 2014, Jobberman has helped over 35,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa find jobs. Its 100% acquisition,2 months ago, by the reputable $16 million valued – One Africa Media which is a sub-set of SEEK (largest online employment platform in the world), has definitely made this company formidable in the online service space. Aside from the direct investments enjoyed by Jobberman, a more important inspiration to glean from their success story is how their story has inspired many more start-ups within Lagos – economic capital of Africa’s leading economy (Nigeria), making some tag Lagos as “the Silicon Valley of Africa” due to sprouting innovations and investments in the tech-space.
Young entrepreneurs are also acting as trailblazers as they take mobile technology to the next level while still fostering local innovation in Africa. One such young promising African is Verone Mankou, Congolese and Founder of VMK – tech company producing mobile technologies specifically designed in Africa. With a passion to see that technology is made available and affordable for African entrepreneurs to increase their productivity, VMK has witnessed some level of goodwill from various global platforms showcasing and supporting the enterprise. Some of VMK’s ‘made in Africa for Africans’ Android Tablet PCs and Smartphones have entered some African markets with the hope of gaining ground in other countries to bridge the good quality, affordable price gap.
Asides from the role that entrepreneurship plays in reducing youth unemployment, a joint study by Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) and Youth Business International (YBI) reveals that about 60% of 18 to 34-year-olds young Africans who took part in the study had high optimism regarding the enormous business opportunities in the continent and were confident that they had skills and knowledge to start a business. This is quite a greater margin compared to 17% of their counterparts in the European Union, Asia Pacific, South Asia respectively and about 30% in North America.
The challenge before all stakeholders concerned with the economic progress of the region as well as job creation potentials will be to help harness and channel the strength embedded in the youth. To do this, stakeholders need to invest in critical areas in infrastructure such as power, affordable internet access; promoting informal learning entrepreneurship platforms and creating more financial safety nets for budding entrepreneurs to thrive. The likes of VMK and Jobberman is not just a proof of what young entrepreneurial minds are capable of achieving within Africa with the right support, but it is also a precursor to the enormous potential of the youthful populace’s capability of sustaining the rise of the continent. We must understand that the entrants of young people into the entrepreneurial space is not only beneficial to reducing youth unemployment, it also ushers in a new wave of prosperity, new ways of seeing things, doing business and puts young people in charge of their own destinies. This was very much conveyed in President Obama’s speech at the recent Kenya’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit. Africa’s rise is being weighed down by present day challenges in the form of divisions and violence in which young people act as major culprits. In the face of a rising entrepreneurial centric generation, more bridges must be created to quench the frictions existing today, so that the creation of a sustained continent as far as social inclusiveness is concerned, can become a tangible reality.