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Africa’s Defining Challenge

By 2055, Africa’s youth population is expected to be more than double the 2015 total of 226 million. The success of African governments’ efforts to change a largely inhospitable environment for young people will be the single most important factor determining whether the continent prospers or suffers in the coming decades.

ADDIS ABABA – Africa has the youngest population in the world, and it’s growing fast. By 2055, the continent’s youth population (aged 15-24), is expected to be more than double the 2015 total of 226 million. Yet the continent remains stubbornly inhospitable – politically, economically, and socially – to young people. The success of African governments’ efforts to address this will be the single most important factor determining whether the continent prospers or suffers in the coming decades.

A business-as-usual approach would risk exposing Africa not only to economic underperformance and a brain drain, but also to criminality, political and social unrest, and even armed conflict. But Africa can thrive if its governments act now to tap the energy and dynamism of the burgeoning youth population. What is needed is a comprehensive policy agenda, comprising demographically informed measures that address political, cultural, and economic exclusion in a synchronized manner.

This will be no small feat, not least because of the massive age gap between Africa’s young majority and their leaders: the average age of an African president is 62, while the median age of Africa’s population is 19.5. That is the world’s largest age gap between governors and the governed, and it raises concerns about how well decision-makers understand the needs and aspirations of young people.

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