World Population Day: “Is Africa’s Sustainability Tied to Her Youth Demographic?”

By Ejiro Gray   

“A world of 8 billion: Towards a resilient future for all – Harnessing opportunities and ensuring rights and choices for all”

“… There are six billion people in the world, more or less, and it makes me feel quite small, that you’re the one I love most of all…”, goes the lyrics of the 2005 song by Kate Melua.

That was as far back as 2005. Today, UNFPA statistics puts the world’s population at approximately eight billion people. In Africa, the population is estimated at 1.4bn people. This translates to over 16% of the total world population. According to, Africa is the second largest and second most populous continent on earth with annual population growth rates in excess of 2%, in most African countries. Reports from indicate that Africa is also considered the youngest continent with over 70% of the population below 30 years old with a median age of 19.7 years. Africa has been the fastest-growing continent in terms of population growth since the year 1967. But fastest growing by population, does not necessarily translate to a commensurate GDP or rate of development and therein lies the problem. When you consider the favourable youth demographic in this part of the world, the question to ask, becomes “Are we maximizing this advantage that we hold?” The answer seems apparent to you and me.

Population Demographics as a Driver for Sustainability
There are myriad issues which are inherently connected to various dimensions of population discourse and, the subject of sustainability. These issues include – opportunities for women and the girl-child in any society, availability, and quality of healthcare for society’s most vulnerable, financial, and educational inclusiveness, resource efficiency, the growth of circular and regenerative economies to address growing needs, energy demand rising to meet population growth and urbanization etc. These are all pointers as to how well a society/country has addressed the risks and maximized opportunities presented by its population demographics.

There is a growing focus on Africa’s development aspirations, the need to close the energy access gap, the need to develop and utilize our resources efficiently to advance development and progress energy transition in an inclusive and pragmatic manner. There is also rising discourse on the opportunities that the global energy transition presents for the mining industry in Africa, as the continent is a significant resource base for much of the materials required to boost the proliferation of technological advancement in the area of renewable energy solutions. But none of these will be achieved without the necessary human and intellectual capital required to drive the desired infrastructure development. We will continue to struggle to play catch up with the rest of the world, if we continue to neglect the population demographic that will be primarily responsible for harnessing the opportunities and facilitating a permanent seat at the table where global decisions and policies are being engineered.

Brain Drain – A Different Kind of Pandemic?
The benefits of Africa’s favourable population demographic (over 70% below the age of 30) daily remains largely uncultivated due to inadequate concrete action in empowering her youth population. Failure to adequately invest in qualitative education and create an enabling environment for entrepreneurship to thrive, has led the continent to this point in history, with a lot left to chance and happenstance. In Nigeria for instance, the country is already suffering from a massive brain drain through economic migration of our youth population to countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom which appear to present better opportunities for the standard of living desired and required for a progressive society. Whichever the method or country of emigration, the underlying theme remains a desire for better opportunities and consequently, a better life. This problem has persisted since the 1980s and is set to get worse if we continue the path of failure to prioritize youth empowerment in various forms: Education (including structured and formalized apprenticeship systems), economic empowerment, financial inclusiveness amongst others.

What ought to be a major advantage has become an avenue for loss of significant resources required to tackle the enormous challenges being faced across the continent. If no significant remedial action is taken, we will continue to be at the mercy of foreign assistance and thereby increasing the risk of debt distress which is a material threat to sustainability. In the same vein, those left behind (from the brain drain) may not be adequately equipped to deliver at the required levels if the quality of education they are exposed to, fails to measure up to standard.

The raw creativity and energy of the African youth is enormous potential that must be tapped and channelled in the right direction through investment focus on human capital development. It is the only way to build enlightened, inclusive, and progressive societies for the sustainable development of the continent. It is the only way to build a resilient future for the continent of Africa. On this world population day, the central message to Africa and Africans is, “Africa may not realise her potential if her youth population cannot realise their potential”. If we truly are to exploit opportunities for growth and development of the continent, we must revisit the plan for Human Capital Development, and find ways to harness the human energy potential for the benefit of all.

Bringing Energy to Life, Responsibly
At the Sahara Group, Education and Youth Empowerment remain a pivotal to our personal and corporate social responsibilities (PCSR) and Human Capital Development strategy. Over the years, the Sahara Group through its PCSR vehicle – the Sahara Foundation has touched over two million lives and counting, through various schemes aimed at restoring the competitiveness and positioning of African Youth on the world stage. These schemes include the Sahara Social Impact Fund, The Sahara Technical Regeneration Programme geared towards equipping at least 200 potential employers of labour with various technical skills, the Sahara STEAMERS Programme aimed at raising smart technologists from secondary schools across Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda, in partnership with the STEM Café (a non-linear learning centre) nd various scholarship schemes. The Sahara Group’s Graduate Trainee Programme (general and sector specific) birthed fifteen years ago and successfully implemented across West Africa, also continues to serve as a veritable platform for building critical skills required to drive innovation and thought leadership in today’s world and the future of work.

Gray is Director, Governance and Sustainability at Sahara Group

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