This Saturday is International Day of Youth, a good time to think about what it will take for Africa to harness its demographic dividend.
Africa’s population is projected to grow to 2.5 billion by 2050, adding more people than any other region in the world. While this can present many opportunities, there is a risk that increased population pressure may increase youth un– and underemployment in cities and rural areas and trigger political instability. A demographic dividend accrues to a country when the share of the working population has grown bigger than the proportion of the dependent children in the total population. This dividend – if harnessed - would accelerate economic growth due to the resources gained and could allow for critical growth leaps.
However, in order to harness the potential of a growing young population, initiatives that invest in the potential of young people need to be developed and strengthened across the continent. Governments must put in place policies and strategies that strengthen education and (vocational) training, foster entrepreneurial skills and capacity, facilitate young people’s access to financial services, promote decent and commensurate jobs especially in rural areas, and promote youth participation in political and economic decision-making processes.
In Tanzania, youth make up 59% of the active labour force in the country and the demographic dividend is set to grow further over the coming two decades. According to the 2012 national population and housing census, the Tanzanian youth (ages 15 – 35) makes up 66.4% of the labour force. Unemployment is very high among the youth as compared to other age categories at 13.4% with urban youth suffering the most at 26.7% and rural youth at 7.9%. In order to harness the potential of its “youth dividend”, the Tanzanian government has implemented a wide range of policies and programs.
Skills development initiative
The government is implementing a skills improvement program which is aimed at boosting the variety and level of specialist skills among young people. The “Education and Skills for Productive Jobs (ESPJ) Program” will see about 30,000 youth trained in select sectors, such as agriculture, and arts and culture, and is aimed at closing the gap in the mismatch between labour demands, labour supply and skills shortage in the job market.
Investments for job creation
The government is seeking to encourage the development of small and large scale enterprises to create new employment opportunities. District level leaders are responsible for identifying existing economic opportunities – mainly in the agriculture, mining, forestry, fishing and the service sectors - and developing programs to enable young people to exploit them.
Youth development funds
The government has set aside resources for youth development funds to use as start-up capital for their activities in agriculture, trade and the service sector. All local government authorities, rural and urban, have to set aside 5% of their internal revenue as a loan fund to Youth Economic Groups (YEGs). Besides government funds, there are resources for youth from private foundations and Corporate Social Responsibility programs (CSR). To access these funds, youths have to form groups and register with the local authorities. This strategy is aimed at ensuring that more youth are able to benefit from the revolving funds. In 2012, the government started the Tanzania Agricultural Development Bank (TADB). Among the objectives of the bank is the transformation of agriculture from a subsistence to commercial activity in order to effectively and sustainably contribute to economic growth and poverty reduction. The bank provides loans to YEGs, which are strategically positioned to engage in agricultural projects. As a support, the bank offers training to such groups so that they can use loans to advance their agricultural projects.
Mainstreaming youth in governance for development
Finally and in addition to direct initiatives of investing and supporting youth in Tanzania, the government has mainstreamed topics related to young people across government departments. Young people have also been appointed into various positions of leadership at local and central government levels to ensure that their voices and interests are represented and listened to.
It remains to be seen what outcomes these policies and programs will have but it is certain that they will throw up important lessons for policy makers. There are many other initiatives – by governments, development partners, youth themselves and the private sector- that are being implemented across Africa aimed at harnessing the potential of the continent’s energetic and driven young people.
We would love to hear from you about any programs you are involved in or heard of.
The opinions represented in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of individual Malabo Montpellier Panel members and their organisations.