In the recent Fifa World Cup match between Nigeria and Croatia, the commentators repeatedly talked about the youthfulness of the Nigerian team and how they hoped that, because the majority of its players were under the age of 25, the team would use its youthfulness, energy and agility to score against Croatia.
In the end, Nigeria did not score. The commentators asked why this young team did not use the energy that comes with being young to its advantage. Was it a lack of experience? Was it a lack of strategy? What went wrong?
Anyone who follows world population trends knows well that it was not surprising that many of the Nigerian players were under the age of 25. Africa is home to more than 1.2-billion people, and 60% of this population is below the age of 25. And this population is expected to double by 2050.
Like the football commentators, I could not help but wonder: Is Africa’s youth using all the advantages that come with being young to help to build a prosperous continent? Are they taking their youth for granted? If people from other countries can see the young players’ potential, do they realise they have what it takes to succeed?
If not, what can African leaders and other stakeholders who are preparing this youthful population do to ensure that they know first that they have what it takes to succeed?
Furthermore, how can we ensure they have the tools, resources, knowledge and any other strategies they need to take the lead in helping to develop sustainable and creative solutions to Africa’s biggest challenges, including food insecurity, youth unemployment and climate change?
The truth is that, although many of the youths are doing their best, as seen in the many thriving startups, industries and technologies around Africa that have been built by them, there is room to do more. There is room for African youth to improve. There is room for stakeholders to help the youth to develop winning strategies with which tackle everyday Africa’s challenges.
What are some of the areas into which the youth can jump and pour their energy into — energy that would translate into impactful solutions that could help to put Africa on the right trajectory?
The paradox is, although Africa has the largest proportion of young people, it has the highest prevalence of hunger and food insecurity. Many of Africa’s young people live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihood.
African agriculture continues to face many challenges, from unpredictable weather patterns caused by a changing climate to invasive insect pests, expensive irrigation technologies and the lack of sustainable food preservation technologies.
Youths must be encouraged to put their energy into helping to create innovative and smart solutions to transform the continent’s agriculture, from building smart cellphone apps that help farmers predict changing weather patterns to finding unique markets to sell their products and developing food storage technology to cut down on spoilage. Helping farmers to solve their problems is a win-win situation, because the youths can generate income from selling the technologies they develop.
If the current youthful African population can put all their energy, creativity, tech-savviness and entrepreneurial spirit into agriculture, Africa would produce abundant, safe and healthy food that both meets the continent’s needs and produces extra to export.
Although many African countries have continued to ensure that their citizens receive an education, there is still a huge gap between the level of education in rural and urban areas. Also, the quality of education in many developing countries unfortunately remains poor.
This youthful population can develop creative solutions, including smart and accessible technologies or cellphone apps, to ensure that every African child, irrespective of where on the continent she or he lives, has access to a quality education to allow them to compete with the rest of the world.
Above all, Africa’s youth need continued guidance, mentorship and help in building strategic individual plans — plans that will allow them to make the most of the resources and opportunities that will continue to present themselves in the coming decades.
Africa and all its stakeholders must take a chance on the continent’s youth and help them to channel their youthfulness, energy and creativity into building and rebranding the continent.
Their energy should not only be celebrated and mentioned in World Cup matches but also in other sectors and disciplines, including agriculture and education. African youth can! We should all help to realise their potential and discover that they can be the generation that builds a prosperous Africa.
Esther Ngumbi, PhD, is a distinguished postdoctoral researcher at the department of entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, a World Policy Institute senior fellow and Aspen Institute New Voices Food Security fellow