Africa’s potential in the global context has been highlighted yet again – this time at the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting. In May of this year, the WEF held its first in-person Annual Meeting since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. Themed “History at a Turning Point: Government Policies and Business Strategies”, Davos saw delegates from across the globe, including those from selected African countries, attend the long-awaited, in-person event. Among the prominent issues that were raised, which included rapidly rising food and fuel prices, the war in Ukraine, climate change, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,[1] one stood out – the potential of Africa’s youth and, by extension, that which must be done to unlock their potential and the likely consequences of inaction.[2]

Africa is the fastest-growing continent with the youngest population, and it is estimated that, by 2035, more young Africans will enter the workforce each year than in the rest of the world combined.[3] While a young and fast-growing population may present many opportunities, it may also pose several challenges. Thus, various prerequisites must be satisfied. Most prominently, human capital investment, energy poverty alleviation, technological advancements and private sector growth are musts. While the opportunities include higher employment rates, a higher standard of living and increased state revenue collection (which could result in further investment and a further improved business environment), the challenges could be dire.[4]

Without the abovementioned conditions, many school-leaving youths will be inadequately trained or not have the expected employment opportunities even if they are adequately trained. On the lower end of the scale, the absence of the above reforms, in conjunction with rapid population growth, results in joblessness, lowered living standards and a potential increase in petty crimes. On the higher end, it could see unemployed youth, out of financial desperation, affiliate themselves with terrorist organisations or “throw themselves in the ocean and try to immigrate somewhere.”[5]

Whether on the higher or lower end of the scale, the potential impacts will not bode well for countries of the continent, surrounding regions, and the world’s entirety. While leading economies and prominent entities have supported Africa’s development, more must be done. A greater intensity of relief initiatives from multilateral groups and institutions, such as that on debt repayments, must also be extended. This is of necessity, especially, within the context of the post-pandemic recovery and the Russia-Ukraine war, as a failure to do so could see many developing countries, including those in Africa, to face the prospect of economic collapse.

This blog is, therefore, a call, however small, for country leaders, the political elite, multilateral institutions, and captains of industry to invest in Africa. Not to make pledges or promises, and, especially, not to offer loans in exchange for natural resources and proceed to claim critical infrastructure should one default on repayments. Instead, the continent needs transparently conditioned investment in energy, technological advancements, human capital and the private sector to unlock potential via its youthful population. This will not only benefit the continental context, but countries of the world will be able to enjoy greater access (market or otherwise) to a peaceful, stable, and economically growing Africa.

[1] Business Standard, ‘WEF 2022: Ukraine conflict to climate change, here’s what happened at Davos,’ https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/world-economic-forum-wef-2022-ukraine-conflict-to-climate-change-here-s-what-happened-at-davos-122052700400_1.html

[2] World Economic Forum, ‘Preparing for Africa’s Growing Global Role – Original,’  https://www.weforum.org/videos/davos-annual-meeting-2022-preparing-for-africa-s-growing-global-role-original

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid. 

[5] Ibid.