I would like to start by thanking the government of the United States of America for the Young Africa Leaders Initiative. I am truly humbled by this invitation to keynote this important day and to discuss a topic that is very close to my heart, as many I work with would know.
It is Africa Day and Africa Week, a time to celebrate, but also a time to remember. To remember George Floyd and reflect on where we stand one year on. And to remember that youth across the world, and also in Africa, have been at the heart of many protests for liberation, whether we are talking about South Africa’s apartheid or many other areas of bondage. On this day, we also reflect deeply about the history of the United States.
I also would like to congratulate YALI for 10 years. This tenth anniversary virtual summit is more than a validation that need remains and that you have zoned in on Africa’s most precious resource: its young people. Understanding, mobilizing and responding to the needs of Africa’s young people is a passion that truly drives me. And I believe it is the recipe for the continent’s transformation. In there we have all the ingredients. There is not one thing we can do successfully on the continent of Africa today, if it be of impact, without Africa’s youth.
And so I join you in celebrating this great milestone and in challenging all of us to look ahead with promise at the next 10 years, in which we will see a crystallization of the new Africa: an Africa that is driven by its digital natives, its young and determined architects of social justice and social enterprise, who are ready - very ready - to lead. This is what we are finding and this is what gives me so much encouragement and energy to continue on this path. We have a truly distinguished generation of youth on the continent of Africa who are not just out for themselves, but who are thinking of social change, with everything that they have, with their talents.
A program, such as this one, that recognizes it and wants to build on it, is one that we must celebrate. We often speak of youth as leaders of tomorrow YALI recognizes that you are already leading today. Everything in today’s reality tells us that Africa's young people are breaking the ceiling, and they are insisting that their time is now.
What is the role of youth in driving Africa's development is what you wanted me to speak to today. For us in UNDP, youth really constitutes the spine of Africa's development, they are the oxygen as well that feeds it. Let us dream for a second. When you start to gaze into the future and try to imagine what the future of this world will look like by 2030, - which is the year of the SDGs, only nine years ahead of us -, young Africans will make up 42% of the world's youth.They will account for 75% of those who are under the age of 35 in Africa.
Africa is in a unique and enviable situation with this kind of asset of immeasurable promise, if harnessed for its full potential to come through. Africa's youth, I believe, will be the cohort, the generation that broke the commodity curse that we've come to live with in Africa. They will be the generation that break the cycles of poverty that has made Africa a poster child for poverty. This will be the generation that breaks the back of the strong man of inequality. Africa's youth will deliver Africa's promise. This is not far-fetched, in terms of the prospect. We're dealing with an African youth that is empowered, enlightened, more connected than previous generations, and definitely deeply engaged. We're dealing with a youth core that is pressing for representation as citizens that are aspiring for leadership at the very top, pushing for reforms in communities, in local governments, in cities and bringing democratic transitions about. We saw this in several countries on the continent, making changes on that front, led by youth. African youth are leading the fourth industrial revolution from Edtech to Healthtech to Fintech. It is the young people that are creating homegrown solutions for the continent’s unique challenges. For example, thanks to the innovation that we've seen in Kenya’s youth, we now have financial inclusion. We struggled with this in the development world and for decades we couldn't break through. Now, we finally can say we have financial inclusion.
That is also emerging in several other parts of the continent, advancing at a scale we never thought was possible in Africa. With M PESA, of course, as long as one has that mobile phone. They are that much closer to being backed, they can transact, they can pay bills. They can even build a credit score, and savings. It was Africa's youth that led the COVID-19 response in many respects. It is a story that has not been told. They have innovated with tools that allow self-diagnosis and triage, to reduce pressure on weak health systems, creating wooden handwashing machines in villages that had no other materials but the locally available ones, creating oxygen cylinders, robot traffic cops to manage movement amidst the pandemic. UNDP has profiled the stories in our inaugural Africa Innovates magazine, which, if you haven't seen, I would really urge you to have a look at because you begin to gaze into this promise that I described.
There is certainly a success story there, but there is also the less rosy story, the story of betrayal of potential, failing dreams of protracted inequality. There is a part of Africa's youth that fall within the 600 million Africans that do not have access to electricity for instance, as a critical enabler to leverage and digitalization, access to energy becomes a foundational question for youth empowerment. And as the outer digital economy report of 2019 revealed only one in five in Sub-Saharan Africa has access to the internet.
There is that gender question that is always in there: that Africa's young girls are even more disproportionately affected. And even when a seemingly neutral catastrophe like the COVID-19 pandemic results in school closures, we see the impact on the girls. We know, for example, that the pandemic may force an additional 11 million girls out of school. Many will not be able to return, with a snowball effect on their lives for years to come. And as we look at the future leadership of the continent, it has to be with the women, with the young women coming along. But we must write some of these wrongs that are that we're seeing now, to be able to get there. There are also those youth in conflict affected regions, for whom the promise of self-actualization is a distant prospect. It is up to all of us to change these realities. How can, for instance, the public sector harness the power of youth to transform Africa? This is why, at UNDP, we are completely devoted and dedicated and we have taken the decision that development programming that has no youth spine will not be rolled out by us. This is the next generation UNDP which recognizes that, on the continent of Africa, particularly, 75% of people cannot just be ignored and left behind. We're listening, and we're ensuring that the listening posts transform action as into catalyst. Any development programming that is not attuned to the needs of Africans youth that is not youth informed that is not youth relevant, it's actually not relevant. This is not an ideological issues, ladies and gentlemen, it is one of ultimate necessity, especially because the structure of Africa's economy is not endowed with natural invitations to for young people's engagement, you know, young people in Africa usually are not really listened to. Usually you know you have to wait until you grow up. They have many, many fences to scale. Their economies relatively small if taken individually have not been designed with the drawing young people into agriculture, into industry, or into services. And so, it will take, doing what the youth are very good at, disrupting the status quo, pushing the doors, bringing your chair with you, and sitting at the table of solutions.
Time is over, four finger pointing, you know that famous saying that when I point my finger at my neighbor, you can just try it out, three more points back at you. This is when we look at ourselves and say “What are we bringing to the table? And if we're not at table, we do what it takes to get there.
Public policy approaches must do three things:
· One, accept that with youth we do not have all the answers, but that such state of being is not necessarily bad. We must let them innovate, while learning what the appropriate regulatory approach is. These regulatory sandboxes are critical to ensure that we are facilitating and not penalizing innovation. We still have far too many regulations out there that actually act as an obstruction to innovation, as a de celebration rather than acceleration of development.
· The second is that we must make engagement in productive sectors. For Africans to overcome structural impediments, we have to get agricultural productivity up, we must add value to Africa's commodity and mineral wealth, and we must create industries to meet the demand of Africa’s 1.2 billion people, we have to create environments for Africa’s services sector to be competitive, offering diverse portfolios of products, and expertise for the One African Market just launched. Doing this successfully means drawing in young people.
· Thirdly, we must maximise digitalization as a tool to facilitate and expand production in Africa. Africans’ use must be facilitated, ladies and gentlemen, to build the continent’s food industry. Its clothing industry, its medical industry and its creativity industry. It is not a luxury, as COVID-19 has demonstrated to us the risk of offshoring, the continents basic supplies has survival implications. It is not impossible as Africa’s human capital is at its highest. We are now in a market with some of the most educated people in the world, thanks to long-term investment in public education. There will be need for technology, and perhaps for sharpening vocational skills, and this is where partnerships with advanced economies like the United States, under the YALI program, can be particularly helpful.
As I start to close: what are some of the opportunities I see? There is an opportunity to reduce the scale of forced migration by enhancing opportunities to fulfill dreams on the continent in Africa. We have to invest in such a way that we trigger African youths to scale the ladder of hope, rather than skill the fences that make them end up in the Mediterranean Sea.
A recent UNDP report - “Scaling fences: voices from irregular migrants to Europe” - confirms that African young people are leaving in droves, not because of lack of jobs but because their ambitions and aspirations have outpaced, what is possible at home, they are therefore scaling metaphorical fences, including dangerous seeds to get to the idea of a better life. We also know that most of this population movement is within the continent of Africa. And so this makes it even more urgent to ensure that a continent-wide approach is taken to create opportunities in Africa. Critics argue that not everyone can be an entrepreneur. At UNDP, we believe entrepreneurship is an important part of the solutions mix for youth empowerment. We're working with Africa philanthropists, we're working with African governments, businesses, with creatives, and we want to reach as many youth as possible,. And we want to do it with others, like, USAID, and others who are working on maximizing opportunities in the intra-area.
I cannot end this statement without mentioning AfCFTA and matched opportunities to grow the African youth and their role in Africa's development by 2050. Africa's population will have doubled to 2.5 billion people, with a $7-trillion combined GDP. This is your opportunity to make Africa, to be the architects of those made in Africa products that the market is about. UNDP is working hard to support the rollout of the AfCFTA and I invite all of us to shape the youth component of this One Africa Market.
You know, I invested five years of my life after college into a voluntary service that enabled me to travel the world, where I earned no salary in those five years. Those were the most fundamental years of my life because I learned how to live without money, how to live simply, with a verb, that was a literal that I had, and how to open my mind to the world. I traveled Africa. I traveled the world, at that time, as I had the opportunity to do so. It helped me to connect with what was possible in Africa and that's why I'm here in the position that I am in today. Because of that glimpse of the possibility of the potential and the beauty of the richness of the continent, and the belief that it could be realized. and my mind life could somewhat contribute to what was important.
So I leave you with a few last words: to never stop picking opportunities where you are volunteering and learning and building character that makes you incorruptible, in whatever positions that you end up, You learn the discipline, you learn the flexibility you learn what it means to be a global citizen. And these are all ingredients for leading Africa today and in the future.