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Harnessing Malawi’s Youth Bulge

Malawi's large and growing youth population does not lack talent or ambition. But how can an impoverished, landlocked democracy deliver the training, resources, and opportunities they need to apply those qualities?

LILONGWE – Malawi is facing a massive youth bulge, with more than half the population under the age of 18 – a share that is growing fast. This can be a boon for development, as a dynamic young working-age population propels the economy into the future. But, if the country fails to provide adequate educational and employment opportunities to its youth population, such a demographic structure can become highly destabilizing.

For Malawi, the risk of the latter outcome is high. A landlocked country bordered by Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zambia, Malawi has ranked among the world’s poorest countries since it gained independence from the British in 1964. In 2016, a staggering 70.3% of the population was living below the World Bank’s poverty line of less than $1.90 per day (in purchasing-power-parity terms). Last year, the country ranked 172nd out of 189 countries and territories in the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report.

Against this background, Malawi’s booming population – which is set to double, from 17.5 million in 2018, by 2038 – poses considerable challenges, as it strains the country’s limited resources, from investment capital to food. The result could easily be widespread unemployment, malnutrition, and conceivably large-scale migration. Climate change will only exacerbate these resource pressures, making mitigation policies all but impossible to implement.

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