Op-Ed: World Poverty Day: An opportunity to reimagine the future of African youth

By Aya Chebbi – Human Rights Activist and African Union Youth Envoy

Commemorating World Poverty Eradication day presents an opportune moment to reflect on the status of Africa’s journey of development as a means for the continent to step out of poverty, and take its place as a global superpower. It must be celebrated the fact that Africa has achieved positive strides in reducing poverty and accomplishing the aspirations set out in Agenda 2063.

Since 1990, poverty on the continent has declined. According to the latest World Bank estimates, the share of Africans who are poor fell from 56% in 1990 to 43% in 2012. However, during the same period, Africa’s population has continued to expand rapidly.  As a result, the number of the continent’s population living in extreme poverty still increased by   up to about 50 million people.  These numbers are staggering. Further, it is projected that the world’s extreme poor will be increasingly concentrated in Africa if present conditions remain the same.

While 60% of the working age population in Africa are employed, many of the jobs are lacking in dignity, decent pay, security and social protection.  Young people are more affected by this as they constitute the majority  of the population, and also have fewer opportunities for jobs with dignity. .

Adding to that, the continent is worst affected by food insecurity as hunger, and malnutrition rises persistently across many  sub-regions. This high rate of youth unemployment can make countries less stable and prone to conflict. Put together, rising hunger and joblessness could mean that Africa is nurturing a generation of economically deprived, hungry and angry young people, who are vulnerable to become agents of conflicts and violence, 

Therefore, Africa’s future and stability depends strongly on the creation of a decent productive employment for its burgeoning youthful population. Failure to generate sufficient jobs with dignity for young people will increase migration and global security challenges. [1]

Africa has the youngest population with a median age of 18 compared to 42 in Europe, 31 in South America, 35 in North America and 31 in Asia.  It is predicted that by 2050, African youth will account for a quarter of the world’s population. Despite what many have referred to as a ‘demographic dividend’, youth in Africa continue to be marginalized and evidence suggests that this demographic dividend is not being harnessed. 

Although the numbers may look bleak, hope lies in the African youth! Africa’s journey to 2063 as a prosperous continent can be achieved by harnessing the talent found in this large pool of young innovative, motivated and change-makers. It is important to empower them with the platform and tools they need to create the type of development and change our continent deserves

The Africa Youth Charter, adopted in 2006 by African Union member States, is the political and legal framework which is intended to enshrine the rights, duties and freedoms of African youth. Specifically, the Charter seeks to ensure the constructive involvement of youth in the development agenda of Africa and their effective participation in the debates and decision-making processes in the development of the continent. The Charter sets a framework to enable policy makers to mainstream youth issues in all development policies and programmes.  It also provides a legal basis for ensuring youth presence and participation in government structures and fora at national, regional and continental levels.

However, despite being signed by 43 member states of the African Union and ratified and deposited by 39, there has not been a genuine commitment to it and little uptake.  In 2019, young Africans remain conspicuously absent at decision-making tables. There is a lack of representation of young people and especially young women, as the continent and its key institutions continue to be governed by leaders who do not represent the largely young populations they serve. This means current leaders are not drawing on the large talent pool to help them co-create solutions to Africa’s most pressing challenges, especially unemployment. From a sustainability perspective, this can be considered dangerous.  Young Africans do not understand the systems and institutions that define their future.  How then will they inherit structures and processes that they do not understand?

This World Poverty Day, is important for African Union member states and policymakers to recommit to bringing in more young people into the various structures and institutions that determine the future of the continent.  Young people don’t just want to be seen. They want to be heard.  They dont’ just to be led, they want to lead and contribute to their countries. 

How can they contribute if the spaces and platforms are closed and excluding them? Opening these spaces and earnestly implementing the African Youth Charter that many African Union member States signed, would be a good start!

Furthermore, it must be noted that the future of work in Africa relies heavily on agriculture and food system development especially because the majority of youth- about 63%  live and work in rural areas, mostly engaged in agricultural related activities. Therefore, agriculture  remains an important source of employment and income in  Africa, for the next decades.  Currently, the level of youth engagement in this sector is, at best, just for survival and these young workers  are not at the table to co-create the necessary solutions that would make this sector more attractive and viable for youth.

Moving forward, we need to ensure that African youth are, in fact, the demographic dividend,.   The inaction of our leaders could be a path to famine and a decline in our prospects for development as a continent.   In the hands of this generation of youth  lies  our hope to see the realization of the Africa we want . For Africa to rid itself from the shackles of poverty, our leaders must  include youth at the table, not just as spectators, but as co-innovators and co-leaders. Let’s shake things up!

[1] Failure to generate sufficient formal-sector jobs for young people will increase migration and global security challenges. , pg 18

Related Content

COVID-19 is the perfect opportunity to ‘reset’ Africa – UBA Chairman Tony Elumelu

At a Roundtable discussion on Wednesday made up of several African leaders, organised by the New York Forum Institute, Chairman of the United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc Tony Elumelu stated that the global COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity to ‘reset’ the African continent.

Op-Ed: Africa’s people-led approach to combat COVID-19 shows signs of progress and leadership

In its fight against the spread of COVID-19, our continent faces a massive challenge that requires unprecedented levels of unity and coordinated action. These are the actions the African Union is taking to fight the pandemic.

COVID-19 worsens Zim’s economic challenges

According to the World Bank 40 to 60 million people worldwide will experience extreme poverty in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The estimates show that 23 million people that will be hit by poverty will be in Sub-Saharan Africa and 16 million in South Asia. Joining CNBC Africa to unpack Zimbabwe’s Covid-19 response is Batanai Matsika, Head of Research at Morgan & Co.

How COVID-19 impacts SSA remittances

The World Bank says it expects global remittances to drop by 20 percent this year, over the economic crisis brought about by shutdowns initiated to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Michael Kent, Founder and CEO of Azimo joins CNBC Africa to discuss the implication for sub-Saharan Africa.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up for free newsletters and get more CNBC AFRICA delivered to your inbox

More from CNBC Africa

Central Bank of Nigeria cuts benchmark lending rate to 12.5%

Nigeria’s central bank cut its benchmark lending rate to 12.5% from 13.5%, the central bank governor said on Thursday.

How COVID-19 impacts access to sustainable energy in SSA

The World Bank says despite accelerated progress over the past decade, the world is expected to fall short of the SDG 7 target. In its just-released 2020 edition of the Energy Progress Report, the World Bank says under current policies, an estimated 8 per cent of the global population will not have access to electricity by 2030, and 90 per cent of them will be in sub-Saharan Africa. Makhtar Diop, the Vice President for Infrastructure at the World Bank joins CNBC Africa to discuss the findings of this report.

How Africa is hooking up the wilderness with the universe to help NASA in the space race.

Work at the Deep Earth Station is likely to see the biggest influx of people and equipment into Majtiesfontein since the Anglo-Boer War when it was home to British 12,000 troops.

Nigeria’s MPC cuts benchmark rate to 12.5%

In a surprise move, Nigeria Monetary Policy Committee cut its main policy rate by 100 basis points to 12.5 per cent and maintained other parameters constant in its third meeting of the year. Bismarck Rewane, CEO of Financial Derivatives and Muda Yusuf, Director-General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry joined CNBC Africa’s Wole Famurewa for a post-analysis of this decision....

Partner Content


May 2020 -- Six months ago the vision for vivo in South Africa was just beginning to...

Building Africa’s Biggest Digital Classroom

An enduring lesson learnt throughout our 175-year existence is that, while things rapidly change around us, the things that truly matter don’t!...

Trending Now


May 2020 -- Six months ago the vision for vivo in South Africa was just beginning to...

Dubai gives the green light to reopen gyms, movie theaters and other non-essential businesses as lockdown lifting continues

Key Points: The Dubai government announced new measures to lift restrictions on businesses, allowing gyms, movie theaters, leisure...

India is set to report a sharp slowdown as the pandemic hits its economy — and things could get even worse

Key Points India is set to report growth numbers for the first three months of this year, and...

Zuckerberg defends Facebook from Trump’s crackdown and everything else you missed: CNBC After Hours

CNBC.com’s MacKenzie Sigalos brings you the day’s top business news headlines, and what to watch as the coronavirus pandemic continues to keep most of America on lockdown. On today’s show, Mark Zuckerberg tells CNBC why Facebook is not an “ar
- Advertisement -