MESSAGE: INVESTING IN AFRICA’S YOUTH MEANS INVESTING IN AFRICA’S FUTURE
Hello everyone — especially to all our young people — the youth of the many great nations of the African continent — joining us at today’s Timeless Conference. When I was preparing for this keynote message all the way from where I live here in New York City, I imagined exactly how I wanted the entire setting to be. I imagined being with all of you, our young people, gathered together in one big, beautiful garden — in Malawi — the host of today’s 7th Annual Timeless Conference and where I dream of visiting very soon. For now though, let’s enjoy our time being together — virtually. So let’s do this!
The thoughts that I will be sharing with you today is around the much-needed call to action on 3 important things:
• Investing in Africa’s Youth
• The need for prompt actions around inclusive youth development across the continent.
• On a personal level: Making decisions that reflect the best version of yourself, your goals and ideals — regardless of your circumstances
As I was going through an article, The African Union’s (AU) African Youth Charter claims that Africa’s youth is its biggest resource — and Africa’s growing youth population offers enormous potential. It also says that improvements in health and education on the continent put Africa’s youth in a more advantageous position than the generations before, offering you, the youth, better conditions for advancing human capital.
However, I know that a majority of you will tell me right now that there is still a long way to go to harness this potential. And you know that I would agree. According to research, Almost 16 million young Africans, around 13.4% of the total labour force of 15-24 year olds, are facing unemployment — as a consequence of lack of jobs. I have friends in the diplomatic and business communities in Africa, some of them parents of young people, who have shared with me the many challenges youth in Africa experience around this persistent, unfortunate reality. Especially the young people who are in marginalized communities with very limited access to any opportunities.
As I learned deeper, read more and spoke to my young African friends on this issue, I know that many of you feel powerless, hopeless a lot of times, because of so many external elements that are outside of your control. There’s just too many economic and social pressures that you have to grapple with all the time. The lack of job opportunities, lack of career and educational advancement opportunities, a dent in a system that sometimes doesn’t really have the best interest of its youth at the core, and all the systemic, deeply rooted barriers that hold you back from realizing your full potential, from pursuing your ideals, dreams and aspirations. To most of you, I know that the distress is all too real. The frustration can really become overwhelming. I get it, I understand that feeling. But this feeling of being hopeless must not stop you. On the contrary, YOU must learn how to stop it.
There’s no limit to what you can do — I know you would tell me, “Janet — it is easier said than done” — I know this. I’ve been there, heard these over and over from my mentors when I was young like yourselves. But this much I can tell you — with the right attitude, perseverance, focus and discipline, coupled with grit and knowing how to act fast and furious — that’s right, fast and furious just like the movie — there is no limit to what you can do to overcome that feeling of hopelessness. I mean it. Tested and proven, from my own life.
So this is the part where I, together with you, the youth of Africa, call on the government, business leaders, educators and other stakeholders from the local, national and regional level to completely take investing in Africa’s youth to the next level. Investments in today’s youth will determine Africa’s development tomorrow— defining the continent’s trajectory, positioning it as a global leader, and creating a thriving, united, and peaceful Africa.
As I quote from a study — among Commonwealth regions, Africa has by far the youngest youth population. In other words, Sub-Saharan Africa will make up a bigger share of the world’s youth population in the coming decades, a trend that will have important implications for economic growth and socio-political stability in the region. In an ageing world, a growing labour force is a highly valuable asset that can help drive growth and reduce poverty.
Now let’s talk about INCLUSIVE YOUTH DEVELOPMENT ACROSS THE CONTINENT. It means recognizing the inherent worth and dignity of young people — and identifying, understanding, and actively removing barriers that exist for certain groups of young people. Here, it is very important to know that data-driven policies and programmes that support inclusive youth development across Africa, are key to expanding opportunities for young people—for the benefit of all Africans.
For those of you who are more passionate about influencing changes in policies for the development and inclusion of Africa’s youth at a governmental level — there’s a very informative report and policy brief that you can easily find online, download and study: Just Google AFRICA’S FUTURE : Youth and the Data Defining Their Lives – This policy brief is distilled from the Status of African Youth Report (SoAYR) released in 2019 by the African Union Commission (AUC).
Don’t worry it’s an easy read, you won’t be bored! As a matter of fact, I believe you will find a lot of relevant, timely and actionable takeaways in the brief that you can use to understand more how YOU can get involved and engaged in designing inclusive youth development channels that represent you and your peers.
Inclusive youth development channels of CHANGE — whether for economic security, social equality, prosperity or simply helping yourself get to that next step to realizing your dreams and aspirations. The collective goal is to create multiple channels for equitable and sustainable economies for all young people in Africa.
There’s also a youth engagement initiative supported by the World Bank in Sub-Saharan Africa — it’s called the Youth Transforming Africa (YTA) It is a community gathering youth leaders and currently with a network covering 38 countries. Again just Google Youth Transforming Africa (YTA). The Youth Transforming Africa vision is to give YOU a seat at the table when development topics affecting you and your peers are discussed. The goal is to offer you, the young people, an opportunity to better understand the challenges facing the continent, and a place to voice your concerns, express your thoughts, and share ideas and solutions. I think that’s really cool — what do you think? Don’t forget to check it out!
So again, this is the part where I, together with you, the youth of Africa, call on the government, business leaders, educators and other stakeholders from the local, national and regional level to COMMIT AND FOLLOW THROUGH ON PROMPT ACTIONS AROUND INCLUSIVE YOUTH DEVELOPMENT ACROSS THE CONTINENT. The strength of African nations depends on the success of the majority of its people — the younger generation. Their knowledge, their innovation, their imagination, their creativity, their drive — their inclusive development.
And now we come to the last part of my message — MAKING DECISIONS THAT REFLECT THE BEST VERSION OF YOURSELF, YOUR GOALS AND IDEALS — REGARDLESS OF YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES.
And with this, I have a challenge for you:
In the next few days, set aside some alone time — and examine who you are as an individual. After you’ve done this and are most comfortable with who you are as an individual — commit to start making decisions that reflect the best version of yourself — of THAT individual. And then as part of the overall African youth collective — commit to start making decisions that reflect the best version of how you want your continent to be, one nation at a time.
And as you do these — always choose that need for action from a more positive perspective. Remember — we can each make a difference in the lives of others simply through our hopes and choices.
YOU are young, dynamic and well-informed — with instant access to tremendous information downloadable at massive volume and lightning fast speed — YOU have the undeniable ability to bring about change. So never be afraid to go forward in pursuit of your ideals. Never.
As I conclude my message to you, our young people of the many great nations of Africa — I wanted to share with each you these powerful words that I have always loved from one of the many great speeches of our former US President Barack Obama:
“Our success shouldn’t be determined by the circumstances of our birth. It’s determined by each of us. It doesn’t matter what you look like, where you come from, what your last name is, who you love — what matters is the strength of your work ethic, and the power of your dreams; and your willingness to take responsibility for yourself but also for the larger society.
With this, I thank you all for this time spent together. I look forward to that day when we all meet in person in Africa. I wanted to acknowledge and thank the entire Timeless Conference team who put together this important event, under the extraordinary leadership of my dear friend and partner, Nyakan June. It’s an honor and privilege to be a part of this collective. Take care everyone and may God bless us all.