The youth in Africa are considered to be the continent’s biggest resource as they make up a significant percentage of the African continent’s population, it is estimated that almost 60% of Africa’s population is made up by young people under 25 years old., making Africa the world’s youngest continent.
However, youth participation in the African economy, more especially, in cross-border trade and governance matters is still very limited. Young people on the continent are confronted with many challenges ranging from economies that grew but could not create sufficient employment prior to the global economic crisis, to insufficient security, education and poor healthcare systems.
Across many African countries, youth unemployment is a significant problem that is most stringent for young females; with young women and minorities being disproportionately affected. Statistics show that just over one in five youth were not employed, in education or training (NEET) in 2019. This state of joblessness has been steadily growing since 2012 mirroring the trends in the global rate. While education alone is not enough, it remains a vital ingredient for empowering the youth.
Given the high unemployment and vulnerable employment rates for youth, young African leaders deserve to be part of policy discussions that seek to address the challenge of youth participation on various platforms ranging from trade supported by trade governance, economic participation, policy reform discussions and social justice issues thus contributing to reducing inequalities by distributing benefits equally across all segments of society. There’s a significant gap between those deciding policy and those who have to weather its effects as most African leaders are 55 years old or older. It is imperative that young people take up space and reinforce constitutional accountability from organisational levels right up to the presidential level, with this being said, the integration of technology and the access to new technologies coupled with self-organisation is important for the implementation of youth led programs and policies.
The development of the ‘African Continental Free Trade Agreement’ as a continent wide Free Trade Agreement (FTA) for Africa, is set to integrate 55 sovereign States that are at very different levels of economic development throughout the continent. The FTA requires that these states comply with a wide range of obligations and regulations in order to liberalise trade. Despite the challenges that have been presented in integrating 55 sovereign States with different economic disparities; progress in many areas has been impressively swift. The AfCFTA, if properly implemented, could provide more, and better jobs that are sorely needed for Africa’s sustainable development. Political will and a commitment to reform will nevertheless be necessary to tap into the huge potential of Africa’s young labour force and ensure that the gains from economic integration are distributed fairly across the continent.
Meaningful participation by all groups of society including marginalised groups such as women and youth in trade and policy making processes can contribute to achieving inclusive sustainable growth and development for the African continent, as well as social stability. ‘If the energies and ambitions of Africa’s youth continue to be wasted, they could become serious destabilising forces, threatening not only just future progress, but rolling back the gains of recent years.’(Mo Ibrahim Foundation)
Therefore, in order to be drivers of international trade, the youth should take heed to the lessons and experiences learnt from gender mainstreaming in trade in order develop and adapt tools to assess the impact of trade policy on young people.