Accra, 5 April, 2018: The 5th Africa Think Tanks Summit opened in Accra, Ghana, today with a call on African leaders to provide “a visionary and transformative leadership” if African countries want to successfully tackle the youth unemployment issues on the continent.
Making the call at the opening ceremony of what has become an annual event since its inception by the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) in 2014, Prof Emmanuel Nnadozie, the Executive Secretary of ACBF, described the current distressing youth unemployment on the continent as a bomb ready to explode, and urged African countries to show more interest in business leadership and youth leadership as the youth and private sector are the engine of Africa’s socio-economic transformation.
“Today, it is shown that most of the youth in Africa do not have stable economic opportunities,” Prof Nnadozie said. “An AfDB 2016 publication on ‘Jobs for Youth in Africa’ highlights that of Africa’s nearly 420 million youth aged 15-35, one-third are unemployed and discouraged, while another one-third are vulnerably employed (informal, low productivity, low-wage).
“To maximize the demographic dividend, we will have to create high-productivity jobs at an average of about 18 million per year until 2035 to absorb the new entrants in the labor force. Therefore a visionary and transformative leadership is a must if African countries want to successfully tackle the youth unemployment issues,” the head of ACBF said, before asking rhetorically, “do we have the transformative leadership that will tackle youth unemployment?”
The African Think Tanks Summit, a creation of the ACBF, brings together annually more than 40 think tanks across the continent, most of them created and supported by the ACBF, to discuss and proffer solutions to pertinent issues affecting African development.
The Summit has since become an important platform for sharing knowledge and good practices while defining solutions to ensure that African think tanks play their role in supporting the continent’s socio-economic transformation.
The theme for this year’s Summit is “Tackling Africa’s youth unemployment challenge: innovative solutions from think thanks” The aim is to inform decision makers and solution-seekers on how think tanks can and will support the fight against youth unemployment by paying special attention to dimensions around transformative leadership development, and providing a conducive environment for a thriving private sector and the development of critical skills required by the labor market.
Since the first Summit was held in Pretoria, South Africa, in 2014 attended by 50 participants, it has grown today to over 200 participants including not only think tanks but also policymakers, academics, Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and the youth.
In the past four years, the Summit has resulted in building capacities and has come up with policy recommendations on issues related to industrialization in Africa as well as on partnerships for the sustainability of the think tanks themselves.
No wonder the Summit has benefited enormously from the support of a great cadre of ACBF partners, namely, the African Union Commission, the African Development Bank (AfDB), the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency, and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).
This year, because of the importance the Summit has accreted to itself over the past four years, more supporting partners have come on board, in the form of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the Think Tank Initiative (TTI), the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Regional Network of Agricultural Policy Research Institutes (ReNAPRI), and the Alliance for African Partnership.
“We are hopeful that through the African Think Tank Network, housed at ACBF, we will continue to promote think-tanking,” Prof Nnadozie said, adding: “In fact, our gathering today gives me comfort that going forward, all African governments and key continental bodies and development partners will give more support to these strategic institutions given their role in shaping policy and public life.”
Bomb ready to explode
But it was to the welfare and dignity of Africa’s youth that Prof Nnadozie spent much of his opening speech on. “The youth are Africa’s biggest single asset but also its greatest challenge ever,” the ACBF Executive Secretary said. “As indicated in a 2017 ACBF study on youth unemployment in Africa, the continent’s youth population is rapidly growing and expected to double to over 830 million, representing 29% of the total world youth by 2050.
“If properly harnessed, the increase in the youthful population could support increased productivity and stronger, more inclusive economic growth across the continent. But if not properly harnessed, it can become a time bomb, in fact it is already a bomb ready to explode.”
The “great paradox” however is that while there is such high youth unemployment on the continent, leading to the formation of Associations of Unemployed Graduates in some African countries, the continent is yet grappling with serious shortages in key technical skills.
“To put this in proper context,” Prof Nnadozie said, “ACBF study on the capacity requirements for the implementation of the first 10 years of Agenda 2063 indicates that Africa currently has only around 55,000 engineers but needs an estimated 4.3 million engineers, hence [the continent] needs to produce over 300,000 each year until 2023.
“The continent currently has only around 21,000 geologists but needs an estimated 174,000 geologists, meaning we need to produce 19,000 each year until 2023. The continent currently only has around 82,000 agricultural scientists but needs an estimated 152,000, so [the continent] needs to produce over 8,000 each year until 2023. The question is then why are the young people unemployed?”
The Head of ACBF therefore called for clear action plans to support think tanks to be sustainable so that they can provide effective contribution to the implementation of the AU Agenda 2063 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and also better support African countries and provide home-grown solutions to the continent’s development plans.
“We at ACBF are committed to making African think tanks strategic intellectual partners and reliable institutions in the provision of home-grown solutions to youth unemployment challenges for Africa’s socio-economic transformation,” Prof Nnadozie promised. “I hence call upon all continental key stakeholders and African governments to provide the necessary political and financial support toward ACBF (which is the African Union’s Specialized Agency for Capacity Development) and the African Union Commission (especially its Human Resources, Science and Technology Commission) to coordinate and work with the think tanks on the proposed initiatives and strategies aimed at tackling youth unemployment in Africa.”
Support Think Tanks
Prof Nnadozie’s clarion call for the support of African think tanks was shared by the keynote speaker, Honourable Ken Ofori Atta, Ghana’s Minister of Finance, who said given their important contribution to the socio-economic transformation of Africa, think tanks needed to be trusted, utilized and supported.
“Today, as we are shaping our future and taking our own destiny in our hands, African governments are called upon to mainstream the use of local think tanks to deliver on the various Agenda and development plans,” the Finance Minister said. “Think tanks in Africa can and should make significant contributions to the design, implementation and monitoring and evaluation of innovative economic and social policies.
“For instance, in every country think tanks should be leading in advising on the adequate fiscal policies for long-term and inclusive economic growth, the required policies for financial sector regulations to prevent crises yet conducive to promoting needed financial innovations, and the effective ways for public sector management,” Hon Ofori Atta added.
Turning to youth unemployment, Ghana’s Finance Minister bemoaned the fact that while 10 to 12 million youth enter the workforce each year in Africa, only 3.1 million jobs are created, leaving vast numbers of youth unemployed.
“Consequently, we see hundreds of thousands of young people leaving the continent.” Hon Ofori Atta said. “Migration and related challenges are indeed caused by discontent with the social situation and a lack of decent job opportunities.
“Overall, the World Employment Social Outlook 2018 shows that the share of people willing to move abroad remained the highest in sub-Saharan Africa, at 32.1% in 2016 (against 30% in Latin America). While African governments are under pressure to resolve the youth unemployment challenges given its criticality, think tanks should also be under the same as per their mandate and function.”
The Finance Minister therefore called on all development partners (starting with African governments and private sector) to support ACBF in its efforts to coordinate the building of human and institutional capacities, including the efforts for tackling youth unemployment challenges (which includes coordinating a critical skills development program) based on its extensive 27 years’ experience.
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