Joseph M D Johnson, have an opportunity to participate in the 3 days African Youth and Governance Conference, in Accra as an African Youth Advocate, 10th – 12th August 2011.
The conference was initiated by the Youth Bridge Foundation and will bring together over 300 youth delegates from across Africa will be present to represent their organizations and countries.
AYGC 2011 will further have an introduction of “The African Youth Economic Forum”(AYEF) to be broadcast live and the strategic
collaboration and participation of respectable institutions such as the UNFPA,UNECA, UNDP, UNV, IBM ,Google Foundation, Business and Financial Times, Joy Business and the live online streaming as part of the package, you cant afford to miss it.
PLENARY/PS1A: AFRICAN YOUTH ECONOMIC FORUM – DAY 1
The last few years have witnessed a population explosion the world over. This burgeoning population growth is more alarming in developing countries of which the African continent has its fair share. With the highest birth rate of any continent, Africa’s population is projected to grow to two billion by 2050 with majority of the population aged between 15-24 years. Currently, over half of Africa’s population are under 25 years and 36% of the working-age population are made up of young people between the ages of 15-24 years in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).
Because of the youth Bulge in Africa, the number of young people looking for work and other life supporting opportunities such as quality education, good health, proper housing among others is expected to increase by 28 percent in the next 15 years, equivalent to about 30 million people. This therefore puts enormous pressure on policy makers to develop policies that can take advantage of this youth bulge to propel the development of the continent.
Failure to address youth employment issues will have serious consequences for Africa’s economies and societies. Without opportunities for young people to earn a living, intergenerational cycles of poverty will persist, further affecting a continent already made vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, food insecurity and violence.
Indeed, several countries in the region have identified youth employment as an important challenge in their development agenda, particularly as these relate to the issue of skills development, the growth agenda and empowerment agenda. In response to this peculiar issue, the continent has developed a youth charter and introduced other policy initiatives to address the problem. For example, 37 countries have signed the African Youth Charter and 24 countries have ratified. Also, in 2008, the African Union declared a Year of the African Youth and in 2009 a Decade of Youth Development in Africa 2009-2019. Recently, the AU Head of States Summit on the theme: Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development called on African governments to advance the youth agenda through elaborating policies and mechanisms for creating employment, technical/vocational education, ICT and agriculture. Empirical evidence across the continent however suggests a big gap between policy rhetoric and practice. In spite of the continental policy focus placed on addressing youth development, unemployment among young people are as high as 65% in some countries while the social indices for young people continue to show very little improvement.
The 3rd African Youth and Governance Conference (AYGC) dubbed the African Youth Economic Forum under the UN 2011 International Year of Youth theme: Dialogue and Mutual Understanding: Our Year Our Voice, seek to provide a platform for auditing the African Youth economic development. The Conference will evaluate five economic development focus areas: education, ICT, natural resources and environment, employment and entrepreneurship and agriculture which have been identified as key catalyst for sustaining growth and prosperity. As a short term outcome, the deliberations and recommendations at AYGC 2011 will be submitted for considerations at the October 2011 African Economic Forum in Addis Ababa with the support of the UN Economic Commission for Africa.
Panelists for the opening session are expected to tease out the key challenges to taking advantage of Africa’s youth bulge and ways to address it. Panelists can sketch the challenges and opportunities around the five focus areas of the conference and as well speak to the AYGC Pillars of policy development, youth participation and empowerment and mobilization of young people.
Guest of Honour / Opening Statement:
HE John Dramani Mahama ( Vice President Republic of Ghana )
SEMINAR 1/GS1A: EDUCATION IN AFRICA – DAY 1
Education has been acknowledged as one of the ways through which poverty and all other forms of deprivation can be eliminated. According to the World Bank (2005), each year of schooling increases a person’s earnings by a worldwide average of about 10 percent. As a result, governments and policy makers all over the world have been exploring ways through which the promised benefits of education can be harnessed. Seen not only as “the key to sustainable development,” education is “a fundamental human right (Bruns et al, 2003).
Again, as an empowerment right, education is the primary vehicle by which economically and socially marginalized adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty, and obtain the means to participate fully in their communities. None of the civil, political, economic and social rights can be exercised by individuals unless they have received a certain minimum education (UNESCO, 2000).
Based on this recognition that education is both a right and empowerment process, nations of the world have invested a lot of their resources into the sector to create opportunities for all to access education. Public spending on primary education in sub-Saharan Africa for instance rose by 29% in real terms from 2000 to 2005, mostly because of strong economic growth. In fact, in 2007, half of sub-Saharan African countries with data devoted 17.5% or more of their national budgets to education. These huge investments have improved enrolment levels and gender disparities in education unfortunately however; this has not translated into quality. The increase enrolments have meant that without a corresponding investment in infrastructure overcrowding of classrooms and fewer trained teachers have led to a decline in the quality of education.
With such a situation and burgeoning youth population, it presents a major challenge to the continent’s development agenda. In addition to these constraints to quality education are issues related to the quality and relevance of syllabuses at various levels of education in relation to the modern demands of the job market. Year in and year out, universities are releasing on to the job market graduates who do not have the relevant skills set which meets the requirements of employees thereby requiring higher investments in retraining for new graduates making Africa’s firms less competitive.
This discussion forum seeks to address the challenges associated with improving both the quality and quantity and of education as a strategic development agenda for accelerate growth and prosperity for all.
Panelists are expected to address the following questions:
- How can African countries sustain education financing to improve both access and quality?
- How can African countries improve enrolment rates at tertiary levels?
- What are the constraints to technical and vocational education and how can it be overcome?
- How can African countries improve teacher-pupil ratio and the quality of teaching?
- How can African educational institutions improve the employability of graduates?
SEMINAR 2/GS2A: ICT FOR DEVELOPMENT – DAY 1
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are one of the most important and potent forces that continue to shape the 21st century, impacting the way people live, learn and work. ICT application continues to transform the fields of medicine, engineering, commerce, governance and even agriculture. It has provided the means to leapfrog some the infrastructure challenges that Africa faces in linking up communities for development. Yet the majority of today’s young people in Africa still live on the wrong side of the digital age. Internet penetration is still relatively low though mobile phone access has improved significantly in the last decade. Increasing the penetration of Internet services for all segments of the society especially among the youth and in rural communities will in no doubt increase their critical thinking abilities as they are able to peer learn with youth across the globe. This will also connect places of low development to places of massive development to learn measures that work and those that do not work in developing youth empowerment policies for their full integration in the development process.
In fact the MDG 8 Target 18 which links the private sector and new technologies like ICT to developing nations’ ability to participate in the global knowledge economy argues that enhancing the capacities of developing counties is to generate new products and improve their competitiveness. In this connection, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in developing countries will play a crucial role. With available and affordable computer hardware and software, knowledge accessibility through the Internet, and robotics and modern instrumentation, product research and development can-be carried in any SME anywhere focusing on innovation leading to profitability. This paradigm shift will mostly occur in SMEs with young professionals in charge as they are without the traditional baggage of caution, conservatism, and the gender and generational inequity of the business community .
Notwithstanding this recognition is held by most governments, the formulation of policies that aims at guaranteeing and providing access to ICT infrastructure at best has been very ineffective. The urgent challenges facing today’s young people demand far- reaching interventions, new, creative and innovative partnerships and development models aimed at expanding the reach of ICT to the youth who are most in need of it. These collaborative and holistic efforts among public, private and civil societies play an important role in strengthening and scaling up educational and employment opportunities for the youth.
Panelists are expected to address the following questions:
- How can African countries accelerate the development of ICT infrastructure?
- What are the benefits of scaling up the use of mobile applications to address development and are there limitations?
- In what ways can the youth of Africa participate and exploit the ICT revolution?
PLENARY/PS2A: YOUTH IN AGRICULTURE – DAY 2
Agriculture in Africa accounts for more than 35% of the continents GDP. In addition, about 40-60 % of the continent’s labour force is engaged in the agric sector. The agriculture sector constitutes 16% of all products and services exported from the West African region, and provide 80% of its food needs. Urban dwellers, who account for half of the continent’s population, obtain their food from local markets. Even so, the continent is not self-sufficient in food and although exports surpasses imports, there are a few regions or countries that still rely on food imports and food assistance, and about 21% of the population is undernourished . While the region has vast agricultural potential, much of the region’s arable land is underutilised. With small farm holding and dependence on rains and old-technology, the agric sector in Africa is characterised by low incomes and glaring poverty. This has contributed in making agriculture less attractive the youth even though it presents a real opportunity for employing a large number of unemployed at the same time. Consequently food production on the continent have not been able to match up with the increase in population forcing governments to invest a lot of its resources in the importation of food to supplement local production. With an increasing population, this practise is not sustainable if practical measures are not done to attract some of Africa’s army of young people into agriculture.
This plenary session will look at the key constraints to Africa’s youth participation in Africa’s green revolution and ways to overcome them.
Panellists are expected to address the following questions:
- What are the key constraints to young people participating in agriculture?
- How are governments addressing these issues and how effective are these policies?
- How can Africa generally improved access to credit for farmers and in particular young farmers?
- What models of private/ government/PPP are working and how can they be replicated and scaled up?
SEMINAR 3/GS3A: ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND YOUTH EMPLOYMENT – DAY 2
A 2007 World Bank Development Report observed that by age 24, almost all youth in developing countries might have left school and entered a new stage of life – some begin wage work, some engage in home enterprises, some form households and raise families, and others engage in a combination of activities legal and illegal. While this assumption holds true in some instances, the evidence suggests that for the majority of the youth, this transition from school to work is much more complex than it used to be some decades ago.
In general, many young people are unable to realize this conventional expectation. Unemployment and underemployment among most of the continent’s youth population in member countries have assumed alarming proportions. At present, global youth unemployment is estimated at 13.5 per cent, compared to 6.4 per cent for the overall global unemployment rate, and 4.5 per cent for the adult unemployment rate. As such, youth unemployment is generally 2-3 times higher than that of adult unemployment rates and this figure is even worse in Africa where the private sector is very small to absorb the excess youth populations who have been failed by the government in terms of creating sustainable and profitable employment opportunities.
Within a time lag of a decade, it is estimated that the next generation will mainly constitute of young people because of the interplay between rapidly falling fertility rates and the inertia in population growth. Accordingly, the number of young people aged between 12 and 24 is expected to increase with 90 per cent of this population found in developing countries.
This discussion forum aims to identify and propose ways of overcoming the key constraints to engendering youth entrepreneurship and employment creation.
Panelists are expected to address the following questions:
- What are the key constraints to employment creation for young people in Africa?
- What are the key constraints to engendering entrepreneurship?
- How can we improve access to credit for young entrepreneurs?
- How can we sustainably finance youth employment programs in Africa?
- What models of government/PPP/private youth employment and entrepreneurship programs work and are they transferable and scalable?
SEMINAR 4/GS4A: NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENT
With oil, gas, timber, diamonds, gold and bauxite, Africa is home to some of the largest deposits of natural resources in the world. Revenues from their extraction should have provided funds for the badly needed development; instead these have fuelled state corruption, environmental degradation, poverty and violence. Rather than being a blessing, Africa’s natural resources have largely been a curse . In most of its countries these resources have often been the cause of political instability and underdevelopment.
Young people in mining, oil and timber towns have resorted to militancy and violence in an attempt to extract a return on the exploitation of natural resources in their communities further exacerbating the development problems in resource rich communities. In the context where more Africa countries are intensifying the exploitation of their resources, coupled with an increasing demand for Africa’s natural resources and an increasing youth population, policy response must be swift and effective to forestall an increase in local conflicts and agitation and more degradation of the environment that would stifle investment and deepen poverty.
A key issue for young people in this regard is the development and implementation of local content policies. Often, local people in these areas specifically the youth do not get the opportunity to benefit from the exploitation of the resource. Thus if governments want to empower the youth, efforts should be made to train the youth to acquire the necessary skills to be employed in these industries. In addition, governments should strengthen the laws concerning local content in Foreign Direct Investments to make it more responsive to local needs. In addition, policy must find a proper balance between resource exploitation, land use and the protection of the environment. Sustainability should also be factored into all deliberations concerning resource exploitation in order not to erode the opportunities for future generations.
Panelists are expected to address the following questions:
- Are there models of local content policy and laws that work for young people in the oil, mining and forestry sector and can they can be replicated and scaled up?
- What models of local content for young people managed by private sector or in partnership with government or communities work and why?
- How can governments balance environment protection with resource exploitation?
Joseph M D Johnson, a Liberian youth advocate shortly studying at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration – GIMPA and a certified African Union Youth Volunteer highly involve in youth empowerment activities. Johnson also participated in the 2nd AYG Conference 2010, representing Liberia as the only delegate present! Johnson says, “I participate actively in development processes at continental, regional and national levels and help engage leaders at these levels to prioritize youth development issues, youth participation, governance by advocating for the ratification, implementation and monitoring of the African Youth Charter.”