To shape Africa’s future, ramp up investments in youth education and leadership

Investing in the leadership potential of young Africans, especially women and girls, is a step towards establishing Africa as a formidable and influential force on the global stage, says former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

The African continent is poised for transformational growth and change. With over 60% of the continent’s population under the age of 25, its demographic dividend is a beacon of hope and a promise of a prosperous future. Investing in the leadership potential of young Africans, especially women and girls, transcends beyond empowering individuals. It is an investment in holistic growth and a step towards establishing Africa as a formidable and influential force on the global stage.

Africa’s youth are not just seekers of change; they are its creators. My exchanges with young people prove they are talented, informed, educated, and ambitious. Already, they are redefining innovation, championing social causes, and spearheading climate action. Young voices featured prominently in the recent UN COP28 negotiations. This is a welcome shift, given that African nations and their young people will bear the brunt of climate change. They are ready to shape a rapidly evolving world that requires fresh perspectives and bold leadership.

However, realising this potential demands a strategic shift in our approach. Placing youth at the centre of our developmental agenda, especially in addressing global challenges like climate change, can usher in unprecedented growth and influence. This is a collective imperative, not just the duty of the young. The responsibility extends to all of us, across generations and borders, to collaborate for meaningful change. It is time we recognise that Africa’s transformation is inextricably linked to the empowerment of its youngest citizens.

Youth leadership is also the key to tackling the challenges to multilateralism, which underpins democracy, equity, the rule of law, and global peace. Giving young people the opportunity to access and ascend to leadership roles is a powerful way to give the African continent a powerful say in how global decisions are made, how multilateralism is protected and enhanced, and how global challenges are addressed. As a result, Africa will be able to lead the charge in creating a new world order, where global institutions – for peace, security, and economic growth – are no longer dominated by a small number of rich and powerful nations, but where those most affected by their policies are an integral part of the decision-making process.

By 2050, Africa’s population is projected to double, while remaining the youngest region globally. This demographic surge – paralleling our growing global footprint – necessitates ample opportunities for our youth. Such opportunities must be ingrained in decision-making processes at all governance levels, enriching local, national, and regional policy. Furthermore, we must ensure young Africans have access to spaces where their voices influence public and private institutions and policy-making, fostering a landscape where inclusivity and equity are not just concepts but practiced realities.

The cornerstone to nurturing ambitious and determined youth leadership is education. Through the opportunities to access quality education, training, and skills development, young people can attain the leadership roles that turn them into agents of transformative change.

Education has been a crucial building block in my own journey. Tracing the path from the classrooms of Liberia, where I first dreamt of making a difference, to the hallowed halls of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, my educational journey has been both a source of empowerment and a catalyst for my evolution as a woman leader.

To be effective, however, education also needs to be equitable. Women and girls must be offered equal access to quality education, employment, and training opportunities that put them on an even footing with their male counterparts. Through quality education and training, leadership roles in all spheres of life can be attainable goals for African women and girls.

This commitment to leadership and autonomy is mirrored in Africa’s proactive approach to human capital development. The African Union’s decision to declare 2024 the year of education indicates the willingness to take action to shape education’s future and chart a transformative path by investing in the continent’s demographic dividend through education.

Africa is also already using its voice to help shape the global agenda, making decisions regarding the use and distribution of global resources, contributing to preparedness and response strategies for global challenges and crises – such as pandemics and climate change – and taking action to drive the preservation of global peace and security. In fact, the UN Security Council recently adopted a Framework Resolution on financing African-led Peace Support Operations. This landmark development underscores Africa’s growing agency in directing peace and security on the continent, ensuring sustainable funding, and fostering autonomous leadership.

The future of Africa depends on those who are most capable of creating change – the continent’s youth. Young leaders, and particularly women leaders, will be the engine of future growth, sustainable development, and prosperity on the condition that we give them the tools, opportunities, and space to do so. Africa’s voice on the global stage and its promise as the continent of the future will be determined by the extent to which it gives its youth the quality education and life skills to fulfill their potential and attain leadership roles.

To shape Africa’s future, ramp up investments in youth education and leadership

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