Beijing World Youth Development Forum Should Inspire Africa and its Young Population

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Last week, the world commemorated this year’s World Youth Development Forum (WYDF). The event featured many ambitious, motivated and skilled youth vying for the opportunity to discuss our planet’s future and offer up solutions to global issues. The forum took place in Beijing, China against a backdrop of crises of Covid-19, climate change, large scale military conflict, inflation and the threat of a global recession which all pose a direct threat to youths’ future.

WYDF main goal is to achieve a shared future through promoting Sustainable Development with youth and for youth. The event featured thematic forums for climate action and green development, employment and entrepreneurship, digital economy, inclusive and equitable quality education. Initiated by the All-China Youth Federation, the event attracted nearly 2000 youth representatives from over 100 countries.

The WYDF is especially relevant today for countries like Uganda and the African continent as a whole. Globally, United Nations statistics indicate that the biggest concentration of youth is on the African continent and particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa with 70% of the region’s population under the age of 30.

Behind Niger, Uganda is the world’s second country with the youngest population with the countries’ 56.9% and 55% respectively made up of 18-year-olds or younger. Chad, Angola, Mali, Somalia, Gambia and Zambia also host a large majority of young people.

Having a lot of young people is good for any country because it implies a vast potential for growth and this dynamic should favor Africa in the long run only if the young generation are fully empowered to realize their full potential. Therefore, the bell rings loud for Uganda and the African continent, leaders must step up and engage in initiatives that focus on empowering youth on a global stage to meet the challenges of the day and be active stewards in saving the planet, after all it is their future inheritance when the old inevitably fade away.

China, one of Uganda’s and Africa’s leading development partners is taking the issue of her youth seriously and is actively spearheading youth initiatives both locally within China and at the global stage within the United Nations (UN). During the WYDF, Wang Xiqin, President of Tsinghua University called upon the youth to be guided to form a sense of contributing to the building of a community of the Chinese nation, a community with a shared future for humanity, and a community of life for humans and nature. Wang’s call should be echoed by every leader on the African continent, which possesses a valuable resource of young people, voices of change ready to be guided in creating a just world for tomorrow.

One of the themes of the forum was employment and entrepreneurship. This theme is a challenge to the African continent where a majority of youth are unemployed and many business projects started by young people do not reach maturity. The youth have limited access to public funds to sponsor their ventures mainly due to corruption and government bureaucracy. The skills needed by young people in most of Africa to start up competitive ventures on the global market are largely lacking. This is due to limited government investment in such projects and a scarcity of institutions with the technical know how and technological prowess to impart such knowledge on the youth.

The world is headed steadfast to a global digital economy, a world that operates on technology. Many African youth understand this reality because they exist in an information age. However, there is still a large group of people on the continent and particularly in Uganda that have no or limited access to the benefits of technology especially in rural areas where 74.8% of the population lives. Technology has affected many youths in Uganda but it has benefited very few. According to DataReportal, the number of internet users in Uganda increased by 1.5million (14%) between 2020 and 2021, also the number of mobile connections increased by 1.1million (+4.0%) people in the same period. Total number of mobile connections is over 28million people in January 2021, an equivalent of 60.3% of the population.

However, most businesses in Uganda operated by the youth are Small, medium and Micro enterprises (SMMEs) and on the continent, youth led SMMEs make up almost 99% of business firms and generate 60% of the jobs. If critically analyzed, they do not require sophisticated technology to operate. In developing countries, most youth lack the education and skills-based training necessary to enable them operate complex digital tools. Many use technology as a means of communication and socialisation through the various social media sites and a few are capable of employing technology in creating sustainable business ventures.

Therefore, the World Youth Development Forum should serve as a strong catalyst for African leaders to recognise the potential of their majority populations and base their public policy and a big part of foreign policy establishing a gateway through which the youths are provided with the necessary tools to be capable and innovative leaders of tomorrow. The new Pan-Africanism should be young, creative and bold. It should aim at reforming Africa to meet the standards of the rest of the world through increasing the value and potential of the youths. African youth must not merely copy and paste development models that have worked for other countries, they should not stop at building upon innovations made by others, instead they must come up with unique ideas and solutions that work for the continent and offer a shared prosperity to the rest of the globe. Asia and the west have proven to be ahead of the curve in shaping their youth into global leaders for sustainable development, it is high time Africa took the proverbial bull by the horns and invested massively into the biggest chunk of the continent’s population because the future depends on it.

Moshi Israel is a Research Fellow at Development Watch Center.


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