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Global_17

Inbox OUT OF AFRICA Anver Versi Africa’s youthful population could drive it forward – given the right opportunities While projecting Africa’s (so far) glowing prospects, analysts purr over what many consider the continent’s greatest future asset – its demographic dividend. Africa is already the world’s youngest continent in terms of the average age of its population; by 2030, Africa will have the lowest dependency ratio of any region – in other words, the largest ratio of working-age population to the total – while the trend will go in the opposite direction in Asia and Europe. By 2040, Africa will have more than 1.4 billion people of working age – more than China or India. Since, generally speaking, economic growth follows youth, it should be the case that, come the end of this century, Africa will gallop off into the sunset trailing brilliant clouds of prosperity and wealth behind it. That is economic theory and a comforting one if you are African. However, the theory assumes that these billion and a half able-bodied, intelligent young people will have suffi cient work to absorb their vast collective energy and turn it into a cornucopia of goods and services for the benefi t of all. There is another, not so comfortable, theory which says that a large body of restive youth with no productive outlet for their skills and energies and with little realistic hope of achieving their dreams will turn destructive and, given their youthful power and determination, make a thoroughly effi cient job of it. Witness Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, to mention just a few countries that have been turned on their heads by a phalanx of young people that are better educated, more informed and better fed than ever before in their histories. For the rest of Africa, this should be the danger signal that cannot be ignored. Unemployment in Sub-Saharan Africa, on average, is well over 50 per cent. Seventy to 80 per cent of Africans are still involved in either basic or primary agriculture and the continent’s current biggest income earner, natural resources, is not a great generator of jobs. Africa has had irtations with industrialisation but has found it easier to export its raw materials and buy in nished goods As the economic history of the world shows, jobs are created in processing agricultural or other products, making things and distributing them – in short, in industrialisation and services. Africa has had fl irtations with industrialisation but has found it easier to export its raw materials and buy in fi nished goods. Europe and Asia have never had that luxury, so they had little choice but to industrialise. Now Africa also has little choice, for different reasons, but to industrialise. What it does have as a competitive advantage is an abundance of natural materials on which the world’s potentially most productive workforce can get to work. But the clock is ticking… Anver Versi is the editor of London-based African Business and African Banker magazines global f i rst quar ter 2014 www.global -br ief ing.org l 13


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