Africa's Youth the African Development Bank and the Demographic Dividend: As Much as a Third of East Asia's Economic Miracle Was Due to Demographic Change

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AFRICA HAS THE FASTEST-GROWING and most youthful population in the world. Over 40% are under the age of 15 and 20% are between the ages of 15 and 24 (the definition of youth). These statistics present a serious challenge. Can Africa seize the opportunities being presented, or do Africa's youth constitute a ticking, demographic time-bomb?

Despite sub-Saharan Africa recording an average annual economic growth rate of 6% or more, this rapid growth has often been non-inclusive and it has become increasingly clear that insufficient attention has been paid to the creation of employment opportunities for young people. The current demographic trend only compounds the problem as the pressure to create new jobs will increase markedly over the coming decades, unless what is known as the "demographic dividend" is realised.

One definition of the demographic dividend is "a large workforce that creates a window of opportunity to invest in the education and health of their children, increase economic outputs and invest more in technology and skills to strengthen the economy."

It is a stage that the most successful developing economies experience. Indeed, as much as one-third of East Asia's economic "miracle" was due to demographic change.

It is with this in mind that the African Development Bank (AfDB) has decided to put youth and employment as a top priority ans has started by using its technical and financial leverage, as well as its operational strengths, to promote socio-economic developments, giving priority to those that will constructively address youth unemployment issues in Africa.

It is working alongside its development partners - among others the African Union, the International Labor Organisation (ILO) and the United Nations Economic Commission (UNEC) for Africa - in line with an inter-agency agreement made in Johannesburg in October 2011. This initiative does not solely focu

This initiative does not solely focus on the formal sector, but also gives appropriate attention to the many young people who may be working but are underemployed - working shorter hours than they would like, or reaping little economic gain from their activities.

This represents something of a new vision for the AfDB as the remit is broadening to take in aspects such as precarious or poor employment terms, the quality of working environments, and the provision of social protection for young workers through supporting innovative social safety nets that help weather economic and social shocks.

It is also widely recognised that, with the dearth of formal opportunities, many African youths are forced into the informal economy. They are beyond the range of official employment statistics and this makes the problem of both youth unemployment, and underemployment, very difficult to measure.

Furthermore, as with adult literacy rates, youth literacy rates in sub-Saharan Africa are the lowest of any region in the world.

Paradoxically, there is a lack of jobs for the increasing numbers of graduates that Africa is producing. This is most pronounced in Northern and Southern Africa where the AfDB reports that there is "an obvious and growing quantitative overproduction of higher education graduates compared to what the labour market can absorb".

Responding to this mismatch, in a fascinating development, the AfDB is proposing to establish jointly with Unesco and the ILO a Virtual African Higher Education Observatory - its purpose is to focus on developing employability training in higher education institutions. …