International Youth Day and harnessing the demographic dividend


FROM the 9th to the 12th of August, l was at the Women Advancing Africa (WAA) forum in Dar es Salam, where l had the privilege of listening to eight dynamic youth advocates from Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania, reflecting on Africa’s efforts to harness the demographic dividend through investment in youth.

Considering the International Youth Day commemorations taking place today and in view of 2017 being the African Union (AU) year of Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investment in Youth, I felt that it was important and opportune for me to join these young leaders in drawing everybody’s attention, particularly our African governments, to three important issues on our aspirations of harnessing the demographic dividend.

Firstly, I would like to congratulate the AU Commission, AU Member States, civil society and their partners for the development and adoption of the AU Roadmap on Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investments in Youth this February of this year.

Having said that, what preoccupied the young people l spent time with, and certainly myself, is that Africa is replete with progressive policies and programmes that never get requisite financial- and human-resources needed for implementation.

It is important that the domestication of the AU road map in each country receive the much-needed financial and institutional resources that will move us from rhetoric to decisive action and progress as a region.

Secondly, as an important step towards reaping the benefits of Africa’s demographic dividend, evidence points to the imperatives of investing in the wellbeing of youths, particularly in sexual reproductive health rights and services, coupled with target funding in education, job creation and entrepreneurship.

The rationale for this is that if we do not reverse the high teenage pregnancies in our countries, the rising HIV infections among young people in most countries in Africa and other related challenges, we will not have the healthy populations that are needed for human capital.

While we acknowledge the work done so far by our African governments, this has also largely been progress in the development of sound strategies and ambitious commitments that have not been followed by appropriate resources, and as a result, health and sexual reproductive health services remain inaccessible, and when they are, they are not youth friendly.

The concern raised by the panel of young people l interacted with this week, was that, if action to address these issues was not accelerated, their countries would not be able to realise the envisaged benefits of the demographic dividend.

Thirdly, with over 60 per cent of our African population being young people, and unemployment and lack of economic opportunities continuing to rise, youths lament the fact that Africa’s economies have not been able to create much needed job opportunities nor has entrepreneurship been adequately developed and facilitated.

It is imperative that the ministers responsible for youth, given their pivotal role in the youth-development agenda, lead and facilitate accelerated action and the expansion of opportunities for young people in agriculture and agribusiness where the absorption of high numbers of unemployed youths has great potential.

Finally, based on my confidence in the capacity of young people to contribute to development efforts, l would like to appeal to governments and the private sector to ensure that young people participate fully in our institutions and governance.

Even more important, is the institutionalisation of youth participation, which is a huge move from merely inviting young people to the table when and if we want them, to being equal partners in development.

With these issues for our reflection, l wish all Africans a happy International Youth Day and a prosperous future in your national aspirations.


Graca Machel is the Founder of Graça Machel Trust

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