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World Population Day-Harnessing Potentials of Africa’s Youthful Population

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With over 40% of its population below 15 years, Africa is by far the continent with the largest global youthful population.  But Africa is also the poorest continent in the world. A contradiction of sorts: A continent with nearly half its population comprised of youth; a land literally dripping with huge mineral and natural resources and a place where poverty seems to have found sublime abode.

Generally, the word youth is synonymous with vigor, determination, inspiration, creativity and handwork.  

“It is not possible for civilization to flow backwards while there is youth in the world,” said American author and political activist, Helen Keller. This quote would sound outlandish in Africa, a continent that has become the “last frontier” for predation and scavenging.

This contradiction should be food for thought to African youth as most of the continent’s countries celebrate half a century of independence from colonial rule this year. It should also be the leitmotif of this year’s World Population Day which is being marked on 11 July 2010 on a rather vague theme: “Everyone Counts-Say What You Need”

The continent’s population was estimated at 1 billion in November 2009, with Nigeria (148 million) Egypt (79 million) and Ethiopia (78 million) emerging as the three most populous entities. 34 out of 53 African countries are among the world's Least Developed Countries (LDCs)

But for Africa, demography is much more than numbers and population growth need not conjure Malthus’s prediction that population would always grow faster than food, dooming mankind to unending poverty and hardship.

Rather, development experts now focus on the challenges and opportunities offered by the continent’s youthful population and what needs to be done to optimize its role in national development.

“This (Africa) is the youngest continent, the fastest urbanizing continent. That means an opportunity. But it is also a challenge, the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group President, Donald Kaberuka, explained recently.

“How do we give the majority of Africans – the youth of Africa hope?” he asked.  “We do so by unlocking the potential of our market,” Mr. Kaberuka added

An African market would drive demand and trigger economies of scale that would have a multiplier effect on critical sectors of the continent’s economic and social development; especially with regards to employment creation, education, health, improved living standards and overall GDP growth.

The AfDB has been in the business of promoting economic, social and human development since it began operations in 1967, in line its statutes and strategies focusing on poverty reduction. Its interventions contribute to poverty reduction by focusing on activities that spur strong and equitable economic growth.

In the social sector, this means focusing on higher education, science, and technology (HEST), with the aim of producing the human capital (scientists, engineers, researchers, doctors, etc.), who will serve in the countries’ centers of excellence and provide Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) to address the skilled labor requirements of the productive sectors.

In 2009, the Bank approved UA 228.6 million (USD 343 million) for 17 operations in the social sectors. Education received the biggest chunk with UA 199.2 million, followed by poverty reduction and social protection (UA 20.7 million), and health, (UA 8.7 million). Its total loan, grant, and other approvals in 2009 amounted to UA 8.06 billion (USD12 billion) compared with UA 3.53 billion (USD 5.3 million) in 2008.

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