In Africa the median age is 19.4 years; In Europe it is 41.8 years.  Over 60 per cent of Africa's population is under the age of 25, and the continent’s population is expected to double by 2050. In contrast, in Europe just 27 per cent of the population are under 25, and it is a continent in decline

More than half of the world’s population growth out to 2050 will be in Africa, according to United Nations projections.  So, the world will look a lot more African in 2050.  And they will be young Africans. 

What will this young, new generation have to offer the world, and how will they change it? 

A lot depends on whether African governments act now to improve education and tap into the vast potential of this generation.  With every new baby, there is the potential for another Einstein, Edison, Newton or Da Vinci, if that baby is nurtured in the right way.  African innovators would be well-placed to solve uniquely African problems. 

Mismanagement and governance are huge issues for much of Africa at the moment, and many believe education needs to be better linked with private sector skill requirements so that the youth can be employed and drive productivity, new business, entrepreneurship and innovation.

Gen Z (roughly babies born from 1996) will be digital, and the tech sector is one of the fastest growing sectors in Africa.  Many argue Africa’s future lies in a healthy and robust digital economy. According to a recent report analysing their behaviour by Liquid Telecom:

“Most Gen Zs have likely never posted a letter, read a newspaper, used a library file referencing system – much less an encyclopedia, searched for content alphabetically, navigated using a map, looked up a number in a phone book, rented a movie, endured a broadcaster’s choice of viewing schedule, bought or used a CD/ DVD, or even used a mobile device with a numeric keypad… This generation is immersed in a digital world.

With their natural Gen Z affinity for technology, Africa’s youth are poised to drive massive digital innovation, which presents both employment opportunities for them and socio-economic development hope for their countries.”

Oswald Jumira, Group Head of Innovation Partnerships for Liquid Telecom, reports:

“We are seeing massive innovation coming out of Africa, much of it from very young entrepreneurs. It’s encouraging.

 Across Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, for example, there is a lot of activity in terms of teaching the youth to develop apps. And many of the award-winning and most promising apps coming out of Africa, designed by the youth, address uniquely African problems.”

The World Economic Forum writes:

“The potential for technology to do good in Africa is … staggering, as has been demonstrated in areas ranging from improving education quality and quantity, to mobile money reaching the unbanked, data being used to improve public health, and connectivity improving transparency.”

Organisations offering work opportunities for Africans, and technology and innovation support hubs such as Co-Creation Hub in Nigeria (where a high proportion of Africa's future population growth is coming from) are helpful initiatives for those that are able to take advantage of them. 

However, ending political corruption, better governance and better education seem key to securing a positive future for all of Africa’s youth.  Vera Songwe, executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), commented at the recent Mo Ibram Foundation Forum, which ended on 7 April 2019:

“I think we’re talking about migration today because of some indignation that our youth die in the oceans.

I think we should be totally unsettled by the fact that our youth are dying because of poor governance. They are not dying because of the oceans.”

Wangui Kimari, an urban anthropologist based in Nairobi, Kenya, adds to the African youth debate:

“Young Africans are pushing against the narrative that frames them as a threatening bulge. Groups like LUCHA (Struggle for Change) in Congo and Y’en a Marre (We’ve had enough) in Senegal are using protest, art and everyday mobilizations to reconfigure the status quo.

As they do this, they chart their own future: one that sees young people as neither a security risk nor a resource for neoliberal exploitation. It is these movements – for water, land and inclusive political and economic systems – that suggest a ‘demographic time-bomb’ may be just what the continent needs.”

It will do the whole world good to consider African youth, remembering also that the continent represents a diverse range of countries that have different needs.  With the right values and skills, this new generation of youth could be an important economic boost for the continent – or they could be a source of political unrest and disillusionment for half the world's youth.

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...