Malawi’s youth, a blessing yet a burden

Blues’ Orators, you may recall that the year 2017, as per the wisdom of our leaders via the African Union (AU), was the Year of Harnessing the Demographic Dividend Through Investments in Youth.

What does this crap mean?

This means AU member states were supposed to critically review and analyse the myriad challenges and opportunities facing Africa’s youth in the fields of skills training, technology, entrepreneurship, agribusiness, advocacy and political activism among others and after this critical analysis, design strategies (where they don’t exist) or improve them (where they are deficient) and expeditiously implement them so that Africa’s youths can evolve into a mammoth economic battalion that can begin the long overdue work of raising Africa to the greater heights dreamt of by the many freedom fighters who died fighting for a free Africa.

How well or to be closer to the mark, how badly did AU member states, especially Malawi perform in this quest?

Without fear of contradiction, I submit that apart from a few events, some speeches and lots of billions wasted lining airlines’ pockets, enriching hotels’ bank accounts and overstretching the teeming wallets of government and non-governmental officials purporting to be ‘stakeholders’ in the livelihood of youths in Malawi; we have nothing to show for that theme.

If truth be told, 2017 was the year when we lost the opportunity to harness the demographic dividend. For people genuinely interested in a developed Malawi, this is cause for migraine.

Ahmad Alhendawi, the former United Nations youth envoy speaking to Africa Renewal, summed it up very well, saying:

“People talk about a demographic dividend for Africa. What we have now in Africa is not the ‘dividend,’ it is just a youth population bulge. A dividend is the result of your investments. If you invest well, you get results. But that doesn’t happen by itself.”

The last sentence is what we should take home: nothing good comes out of doing nothing.

Look here Blues’ Orators, the statistics are on our side. According to UN data, Africa has more people under 18 than on any other continent and our youth population is projected to double by 2050.

Let’s compare and contrast with Japan which, according to the Bloomberg, is the world’s senior citizen.

Decades of investing in good life and falling birth rates have produced a rapidly aging and shrinking population, a demographic shift which is a nightmare for economic planners.

With Japan’s population of 127 million forecast to shrink by about one-third in the next five decades, Tokyo is already feeling the squeeze and as we speak, Tokyo’s job vacancies outnumber applicants by two to one.

Furthermore, the proportion of over-64-year-olds — currently about a quarter — is expected to reach 38 percent in that time frame; a development which will multiply the financial and care burden on the dwindling working-age population.

This is because as we grow older, we become less productive but become ‘heavy maintenance’ in terms of care and support.

The situation is so dire that Japan is even considering resorting to immigration to increase its working population.

True to the saying a fool and his wealth are soon parted, whereas Africa’s growing youth population is a ticking time bomb; in the hands of the Japanese and other developed countries, what Africa is disregarding would be a massive economic asset.

Instead of reaping the youth dividend that developed countries would reap from our untapped youth resource, Africa is grappling with high youth unemployment – the principle ingredient for widespread dissatisfaction, high crime rates, and protests; all which are catalysts of political instability.

The youth’s growing frustration is why some young people risk their lives on perilous journeys in search of a better life in Europe only to end up as slaves in Libya while others become fertile grounds for criminal or extremist groups.

This ticking time bomb Blues’ Orators, can only be neutralised by governments, beginning with ours, investing in the youths.

But let’s be clear: investing in youths is not using youths as agents to deal with real or perceived political enemies.

It requires devising and implementing programmes that can create jobs or enable youth to start their own businesses.

Ours being an agro-based economy, making agriculture more attractive to youth by promoting technology alongside improving young people’s skills and making school curricula relevant to the needs of job markets and entrepreneurship, are the obvious starting points.

But you know what?

Whenever addressing global fora, our leaders frequently claim to be or rather masquerade as ‘Champions’ of this or that youth initiative when the reality is that their only interaction with youth is when the youths are parading, painted or dressed, in political party colours as ‘morale boys’.

When our leaders go through the notions of making youth friendly policies (due to the availability of donor funding for workshops where per diems will be dispensed), the policies are often made with little or no genuine youth participation.

In the end, we have policies that purport to improve the lives of young people when in fact they are devoid of youth’s aspirations but pregnant with ways and loopholes to make the politically connected richer.

Before I wrap up, a couple of questions:

  • If you were in the shoes of our ‘pharaohs’, what would you differently to walk the talk on Harnessing the Demographic Dividend Through Investments in Youth?
  • If you think it’s not too late and our ‘pharaohs’ can still salvage something for the sake of the youths, where would you recommend they start?

My last word, thanks to Friedrich Nietzsche, is the two cents I can impart right away to the young people of Malawi and Africa.

“The surest way,” according to Friedrich Nietzsche, “to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”

Words of wisdom I would say, let those with ears hear!

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