While most of the world continues its struggle with low fertility rates and aging populations, Africa has a very different struggle: The struggle to harness the value of its youth amid a population boom.  Today over 60 per cent of Africa's population is under the age of 25, and the country’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

Thus, the challenge for Africa and the world is to help provide the right education, healthcare and employment opportunties for Africa's youth and drive a new global economic boom.  If managed badly, the population growth could instead mean growing youth discontent, conflict and illegal migration, so it is important that the process be managed as well as possible.

Some countries are stretching out their hands both to help and to themselves take advantage of Africa's burgeoning industries.  For instance, Teresa May recently announced new ‘Innovation Partnerships’ between the United Kingdom and Africa which it is hoped will stimulate economic growth and support the creation of thousands of new jobs.  The partnerships will enable UK and African entrepreneurs to share skills and ideas, and encourage future trade.

The tech sector is one of the fastest growing sectors in Africa and it is hoped that it will contribute to the region’s prosperity. The continent’s startups raised 50 per cent more venture capital in 2017 than in 2016, and the majority of this is being invested in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria.  Kenya and Nigeria’s technology sectors currently generate more than 11 per cent and 10 per cent of their respective economic output, and the UK also sees opportunity for these tech businesses to expand into the UK.  

Julian David, CEO of techUK, said:

Africa’s economy is projected to grow by 3.2 per cent in 2018 and to a further 3.5 per cent in 2019, according to the latest 2018 World Bank report. Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa represent a significant part of that growth with technology increasingly underpinning these numbers.

The decision to set up Innovation Partnerships and extend the tech hub network to these African nations shows the Government clearly recognises this opportunity.

The decision will allow the UK tech community to engage with high-growth markets internationally, and in turn provide an important corridor for international communities to engage with our burgeoning UK tech sector.

A successful Kenyan example of this is a small UK aid investment in a startup ten years ago which led to the explosion of mobile-phone based money transfer service MPesa.  Today more than half Kenya’s daily GDP goes through mobile money, giving millions of people access to the formal financial system and reducing crime in otherwise largely cash-based societies.

Agricultural technologies are also touted as a key area to focus on, including the adoption of better crops varieties, improved management practices, mechanisation, and involving the youth in new ways of production.  According to the World Bank, agriculture will be a one trillion dollar business in Africa by 2030.

Initiatives such as the Napuu I Drip Irrigation Scheme in Turkana (known for its dry, harsh conditions) are showing how simple technologies can be used to promote food security.  By using water from underground aquifers and solar power for drip irrigation, the sixty-five-acre piece of land has been turned into a reliable source of food for over 150 households. It is estimated that the water available in the Kenyan country of Turkana alone can serve Kenya for 70 years. However, Africa often needs partners to help with and invest in these projects to get them going.

The fashion industry is another opportunity being explored.  At New York Fashion Week this month, sustainable clothing made from cotton grown and handwoven in Burkina Faso and cut and sewn in Ghana featured on the runway.  The challenge is to increase the scale of production, while maintaining good factory working and pay conditions and sustainability.  However, some think shoppers would be more willing to pay higher prices if they were aware of the social and environmental impact of their purchases. 

If Africa does well over the coming decades, everybody will be better off.  If the youth are our future, we need to support the world's youngest continent.

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...