Africa is currently failing to make the most of its youth population bulge, according to a new report released on Monday.  An increase in babies and youth is something most countries are struggling to achieve amid sometimes disastrously low fertility rates, but Africa has a different problem: it needs help to make the most of its growing workforce.

According to the recently released 2018 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, Africa is doing very well at achieving economic growth (mainly commodity led), but is failing to translate that growth into sustainable economic opportunities for young people – a lost opportunity.  It also finds diverging paths amongst African countries.

In 2017, more than one third of Africa’s population (40.8%) were under the age of 15, and this demographic will soon be part of the working age population.  By 2027 the working age population (15-64) will constitute 57.7% of Africa’s total population.  As there will be a larger workforce supporting fewer children and elderly people, the lower dependency burden means that Africa has the opportunity to reap a “demographic dividend”. 

The report states that, with more resources to invest in physical and human capital, particularly children’s health and education, as well as a higher rate of savings, productivity could be strengthened over time, paving the way for a second demographic dividend.  However, if Africa’s growth patterns remained unchanged and not enough jobs are created, this dividend could turn into a threat.

Improvements in health and infrastructure stand out as being very positive for much of the continent.  However, Africa's overall GDP has risen nearly 40 percent over the past decade but the continent's average score for sustainable economic opportunity has barely increased.  For instance, Nigeria, Angola, Sudan and Algeria have some of the highest GDPs in Africa but are among the lowest for job creation.

Mo Ibrahim, the Sudan-born billionaire who leads the foundation behind the new report, said in a statement.

“The evidence is clear – young citizens of Africa need hope, prospects and opportunities. Its leaders need to speed up job creation to sustain progress and stave off deterioration.”

It is particularly concerning at the moment that the quality of youth education seems to be in decline in half of African countries.  Access to electricity also stands out as a key area of concern despite ongoing improvements.  Other poor performing indicators include social inclusion and the promotion of socio-economic integration of youth, which the report states is concerning given the large increase in the youth population. 

Transparency and accountability, measuring things like corruption, is the continents worst performing indicator, despite the fact that there have been recent gains in both this and the rule of law.  This indicator is key to achieving economic opportunities, so the progress made needs to be sustained and strengthened. 

It is the interests of the whole world to help Africa manage its demographic dividend well, and there are so many exciting opportunities.  Among these are the tech sector, agricultural technologies, and even the fashion industry.  With good governance we can hope to see continuing positive changes for the continent, so it can make the most of all those bright new minds.

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...