Powering Africa’s bright future: how digitising a continent’s youth will drive global progress

PUBLISHED: Sun, 16 Feb 2020 13:08:50 GMT
HE Reem Al Hashimy
CNBC Africa
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The future of the world hinges on the future of Africa. A bold statement? The UAE doesn’t think so and has backed the sentiment with a USD 500 million investment to empower the continent’s youth. Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimy, UAE Minister for International Cooperation and Director General, Expo 2020 Dubai Bureau, explains why investing in human capital is key to Africa’s development – and how it will drive progress in the rest of the world.

Written by: HE Reem Al Hashimy

Africa is the future – not just for Africans, but for the entire world. The youngest, fastest-growing continent on the planet is brimming with promise, and the global community has a shared responsibility to ensure it grasps that opportunity for the good of us all.

Why? Africa’s population of more than 1.3 billion will double by the middle of this century, potentially rising to four billion people by 2100 – or around one third of the global population.

The UAE, which has a near-50-year partnership with Africa – a friendship based on mutual respect and vision that continues to flourish to this day – shares the view of many African and development experts that the future of Africa cannot be built on traditional aid, focused largely on physical infrastructure and basic needs. We recognise that the real value lies in the long-term building of human capital, which is why we are investing in Africa’s greatest resource: its people, particularly its youth.

Huge strides have been made in the last 15 years. Now – at the start of the third decade of the Millennium – we need to step it up and help underpin Africa’s potential through its people, because how Africa develops, how it ensures its stability, builds on its successes and overcomes its challenges, will have enormous implications, not just for the continent itself, but for every country on the planet.

The recent launch of the UAE Consortium for Africa takes our partnership to the next level, with the UAE committing to invest USD 500 million (AED 1.83 billion) – in a consolidation of government and private resources– into a continent whose future development will inevitably bolster positive progress throughout the rest of the world.

As many countries face ageing and dwindling populations, the opposite is true in Africa. The continent is home to 226 million people aged between 15 and 24 – that’s 20 per cent of the population; in 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, half the population is under age 18; and by 2035, Africa’s working population will exceed that of the rest of the world combined. That growing potential talent pool combined with a formidable market represents a powerful ‘population dividend’.

The Consortium is geared towards a vision of a new, ‘turbocharged’ and connected Africa, driven by an enabled and optimistic youth. More than any structures of concrete or steel, the foundations of this future will be built on a new generation of creative, collaborative and critical thinkers.

Young people are the backbone of this great continent. And unlocking their potential, through up-skilling, re-skilling and building a solid digital infrastructure – is a crucial development priority.

That is why the first priorities of the Consortium will focus on digitisation and youth: to ensure that every single person is connected; that young people have the skills to embrace, rather than be overwhelmed by, the opportunities that will naturally follow, and are able to look forward with optimism to a future that is firmly in their control.

We know that technology can transform lives and growing that technology will bridge the gap between tradition and progress, with wide-ranging benefits for communities, economies and beyond.

This is already underway. Almost half the people of Africa subscribe to mobile services, and in 2019, the number of tech hubs across Africa grew by nearly 50 per cent, with Africa the fastest growing continent for developers globally. But internet speeds lag and mobile data costs around eight per cent of average income – more than anywhere else globally.

Innovation and re-skilling youth for the industries of tomorrow, including those jobs that have yet to be invented, while also catalysing a spirit of entrepreneurism – this is key to harnessing the potential of a youthful population and driving sustainable growth and development.

This aim of the Consortium will receive a huge boost by the next World Expo in Dubai. For six months from 20 October this year, Expo 2020 Dubai will give Africa a global stage like it has never enjoyed before, and a platform to showcase policy with the potential to change the future – not just of Africa, but of the world. 

The African Union will, for the first time, host a pavilion at Expo 2020. Millions of visitors will step in to a colourful, arena devoid of national borders, where they will discover Africa’s vast potential and optimism for the future, reflected in its Agenda 2063 aspirations that address agriculture, transport, science and technology, and health.

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Expo 2020 will offer African nations the ideal platform to show their individual visions for the future, with each country having its own pavilion for the first time in the near 170-year history of World Expos.

The potential for new forms of partnerships, across the continent and across the globe, is tremendous, with many of the 192 participating nations eager to widen and deepen their ties with Africa.

Human potential is at the heart of creating an Africa we all want to see. The continent’s future is being built from within, by mobilising a young, entrepreneurial generation that knows what it is to be empowered, thereby embracing and enacting sustainable positive change with implications on a local, pan-continental and international level.