Young People’s Potential, the Key to Africa’s Sustainable Development

Africa has the youngest population in the world, with 70% of sub-Saharan Africa under the age of 30. Such a high number of young people is an opportunity for the continent’s growth – but only if these new generations are fully empowered to realise their best potential. It is especially important that young people are included in decision making and given appropriate opportunities for work and to innovate.  

Involving young people in politics and society is not merely a question of inclusion, but one that is vital for economic growth, innovation, peace and security.   

The Africa Regional Review – the regional preparatory meeting for LDC5 held virtually in Malawi this week – has ensured a seat at the table for young people.  

Young speakers from civil society are speaking alongisde ministers and other leaders, and the agenda features a dedicated event on young people’s role in achieving sustainable development.

Crucially the outcome document of the Review will also include dedicated recommendations and priorities from young people.  

“It is important that youth is involved in decision making. It is important that we as young people are recognised as equal partners and as right holders – Not only as victims”, said Nickson Kasolene, the youth and civil society representative of the Coordination Meeting of Youth Organisations (ICMYO).  

Having a young population brings many opportunities for economic growth and innovation, if these opportunities can be recognised and utilised.  

“Engage youth, create a space for them and give them a seat at the table,” Nickson told us in an interview. "Don’t just offer this seat passively, but empower young people to actually use it. Young people have potential and young people have collective power, with the guidance of the government they can use that power.”

In many countries outside of Africa, countries with ageing populations are facing high healthcare costs and a shortage of skilled labour. In Africa, young people face underemployment and lack of opportunities – or, without access to the internet, the lack of information about any opportunities.

Young people are contributing daily to the benefit of their communities and nations across Africa. From providing support to the elderly, to advocating for justice and equality, young people have proven their centrality to building and sustaining healthy communities.

Nickson, who is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, notes that young people have the possibility to drive peace in areas that are already affected by conflict: “Young people are so strong and think, ‘if we decide to do something we will action immediately’”.  

What motivates Nickson in engaging fellow young people is what he refers to as “the duty of development” to achieve better living conditions.  

He concludes, “Being involved makes you feel concerned about the problems in the community – and pushes you to have a positive social impact.”