‘Where Africa is going lies in the hands of its youth’

The land of poverty, high unemployment rates and failing economies – that is how the story of Africa is often told and seen by many.

But this is only half the story. What is often omitted is that Africa is also taking strides in lifting multitudes out of poverty with six of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world being African. What is also excluded is that, where Africa is now is largely because of what happened in the past.

Where Africa is going, however, lies largely in the hands of its youth. The continent has the world’s youngest population, with more than 60% of its people under the age of 25.

By 2050, Africa’s population will double, according to projections, and make the continent home to one in three of the world’s youth (15-24 years) and one in four of the world’s young adults (25-34 years).

Young Africans, therefore, will overwhelmingly determine Africa’s growth trajectory and its overall impact on the global economy. This large cohort of young people offers a critical opportunity for engagement and economic transformation if their talents and skills are developed and channelled into productive employment.

Conversely, chronic and pervasive unemployment and-or underemployment among such a youthful labour force could lead to disillusionment and spill over into social unrest.

It, therefore, makes sense that we have conversations around the youth and the future of Africa.

Elizabeth Mwambulukutu, a youth leader, tackled this subject in a recent Alliance for African Partnership (AAP) public dialogue titled ‘Pathways to Resilience: African youth and Africa’s transformation’.

An African lens

Mwambulukutu is a fellow of the Young and Emerging Leaders Project whereby she is nurturing ‘a new breed of socially responsible leaders in Africa’. Her project seeks to equip youth with African lenses to shape African youth perspectives on African issues and idea of leadership.

She, like me, believes that the image of Africa needs to be told from a balanced perspective and that, “Africa’s fullest potential must be unlocked through one headline and one storyline at a time.”

Mwambulukutu is not only advocating for the Africa we want but also offering ‘an alternative approach to storytelling that places storytelling at the centre of the development agenda’.

“I want to encourage youth to educate themselves and invest in learning African history, culture and identity and to embrace the heritage that makes them African,” said Mwambulukutu, while making submissions at the dialogue.

She urged the AAP, a consortium of Michigan State University and about 10 African universities, to help young people to build their capacities and influence from where they are and to engage youth as pioneers for the ‘Africa we want’.

From my perspective, the most interesting submissions at the AAP public dialogue came from Anastacia Mamabolo, a senior lecturer at the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science, who spoke about the role of African higher education institutions in strengthening entrepreneurial ecosystems in Africa.

The projected doubling of Africa’s population by 2050 means that the more than 1,200 universities in Africa have their work cut out for them.


Mamabolo recommends the establishment of compulsory final-year courses in entrepreneurship for all programmes (she cited Botswana, where some institutions are already doing this). She also suggested that institutions should introduce bachelor degrees in entrepreneurship.

It so happens that I did my undergraduate degree at a university in Zimbabwe which offers compulsory entrepreneurship courses, with the only difference being that the courses are done during the first year of study. (I think that taking the courses in the final year is a better option, though.)

I found the courses interesting and they changed how I looked at the world of work and business. I have reservations about such a system, though, because I don’t think it should be made compulsory.

Even though it is such a noble idea, not everyone will be interested and willing to take the courses and it would be unfair to force those individuals to go against their will.

Instead, Mwambulukutu’s storytelling methods should be used to encourage students to take the courses and to highlight the stories of those who have succeeded after completing such courses.

Mamabolo also spoke about formalisation of start-up support structures such as incubation hubs and technological hubs and methods of financing the start-ups.

“Universities should invite alumni to form a network of investors, establish university crowdfunding options, encourage mutual benefits and saving societies . . . and facilitate partnerships with local, international, government and private stakeholders,” she stressed, adding that there should be strong university-industry-government collaboration.

I believe that these are highborn submissions, but a lot of work will need to be done for their implementation and success.

Some of the challenges undermining the attempts to unlock the power of the youth could be governments’ policy inconsistencies, corruption and the looting of available resources by the elite.

This commentary has been written by Prince Gora. He is a 25-year-old Zimbabwean final-year chemical engineering student at the Harare Institute of Technology (HIT). Gora is a former student leader who served as the HIT student representative council’s secretary general from 2018-19 and as the national chairperson of the opposition political party Movement for Democratic Change Students’ Council from 2019-20. He is currently the national secretary of the alumni organisation for the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Zimbabwe Youth Leadership Training and the national coordinator of Project Vote 263, a citizens’ voting platform. Gora is also a blogger and a regular contributor to University World News and the Student Academic Freedom Regional Advocacy Programme newsletter on higher education.

This report was updated on 19 June.