The future is bright for Africa thanks in part to one major asset: its youth. In contrast to major cities in Europe and Asia where aging populations are leaving a glaring gap in the workforce, Africa has the highest youth population in the world with approximately 200 million people aged 15 to 24. As the world’s fastest growing younger generation, this figure is set to rise to 330 million by 2034.
According to a recent Ernst & Young report, countries such as Nigeria, currently the continent’s largest economy, will be buoyed by a youthful population, many of whom will have the skills and knowledge to keep the continent on a path to success.
“Africa’s young people have the potential to be a powerful engine for development,” said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund, at a conference last year. “But to realize this potential, we must invest in them, address their particular needs, include them in decision-making, and empower them to become agents of change.”
The United States supports the next generation of African leaders through expanding programs such as the Young African Leaders Initiative, providing funding to 500 high-achieving African youths. Part of the government’s commitment to strengthening relations between the U.S. and Africa, the program provides resources to foster entrepreneurship, strengthen leadership skills, and create relationships between emerging young leaders and their American peers.
While Africa still faces development challenges, such as a lack of infrastructure and insufficient energy supply, the continent’s youth has the power to overcome these hurdles. Investment in science and technology fields for youth has also been cited as a crucial way in which to create sustainable progress in all areas of development on the continent.
Africa’s many universities are beacons of hope for the younger generations. South Africa is unarguably a higher education leader, with the University of Cape Town (UCT) ranked as one of the world’s top 200 universities according to Quacquarelli Symonds, a British education research company.
UCT was ranked the top and the best in Africa. The university has 416 National Research Foundation-rated researchers, including 33 A-rated scientists, and offers a host of courses for students to choose from. Wits University in Johannesburg also ranked highly, suggesting that South Africa produces many of the continent’s future leaders.