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Implication of Youth Population of Africa: Demographic Dividend or Burden

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African Heads of State pose for a group photo ahead of the start of the 28th African Union summit in Addis Ababa on 30 January, 2017 AFP

By Tsegaye Tegenu, PhD


Today, 30-01-2017, the 28th ordinary session of the assembly of the African Union, launches the theme “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investments in the Youth”. It is very gratifying to see AU finally discusses on the demographic dividend and/or burden of the youth bulge in Africa.

The region of Sub-Saharan Africa has the most youthful population in the world. Of the forty-six countries and territories where at least seventy percent of the population is under the age of 30, only seven are not in Sub-Saharan Africa (Leahy et al. 2007). The crucial role of policies has been too often overlooked in the discussion of population growth problems in Africa. AU deserves credit for addressing this relevant issue affecting the future of Africa.

The AU is now looking for cases for evidence-based policies: “innovative initiatives that are being undertaken at institutional, country and continental level, with regard to harnessing the demographic dividend”. For the purpose of constructive policy debate I will try to summarize the recent academic research on the subject. Among scholars and policymakers, government interventions have been conceived, debated, and evaluated using three approaches.

The first approach focuses on national population policy programs. Population policy refers to government programs and actions intended to influence population growth, size, distribution, and composition. The programs include family planning, reproductive health, education and economic outlets for women (Leahy et al. 2007). The aim of the population policy is to get the country’s population to a level that the government feels is optimal for the economy. Population policy does not address problems of economic growth mechanism (problems of technological change) to solve realities of huge economic backlogs and pace of population doubling.

The second approach focuses on finding solutions to youth problems, particularly programs of reducing youth unemployment through massive government interventions: providing quality of basic education and training to improve young people’s productivity, removing current obstacles that hinder progress in agriculture, household enterprises, and the modern wage sector and raising productivity in the informal sector. (World Bank, 2014). The attempt to finance a fragmented economy is not however sustainable in the long run. Assessment of Millennium Development Goals shows that financing fragmented economic programs is not sustainable in the long run unless the economy mobilizes its own domestic resources.

The third approach focuses on economic transformation, namely industrialization-led transformation, which is the main driver of resource creation in sub-Saharan Africa. Industrialization stimulates growth in other sectors. Performance assessment of the industrial development in Africa, identifies structural constraints (physical infrastructure and human development), institutional factors related to markets and entrepreneurship development, factors related to backward and forward linkages, and factors related to regional production networks. At the continental level, the AU has to find solution to regional factor problems. In the absence of flying geese paradigm similar to East Asia production network, AU has to find solution to problems of compensation issues, political commitment, policy harmonization, lack of diversification and poor private sector participation.

The burden or bonus of youth bulge in Africa depends on policy choice and measures of governance, such rule of law, freedom of speech and civil liberties. In countries of very young and youthful age structures, policy choices (particularly policy positions based on ideology or political considerations) and bad governance undermines national security. “Between 1970 and 1999, 80 percent of all civil conflicts that caused at least 25 deaths occurred in countries in which 60 percent or more of the population was under age 30. During the 1990s, countries with a very young structure were three times more likely to experience civil conflict than countries with a mature age structure. Nearly 90 percent of countries with very young structures had autocratic or weakly democratic governments at the end of the 20th century.” (Leahy et al. 2007).


For comments I can be reached at Tsegaye.tegenu@epmc.se

Further references

World Bank, Africa Development Forum Series, (2014), Youth Employment in Sub-Saharan Africa

Leahy, Elizabeth, with Robert Engelman, Carloyn Gibb Vogel, Sarah Haddock, and Todd Preston. 2007. The Shape of Things to Come: Why Age Structure Matters to a Safer, More Equitable World. Washington: Population Action International.

“Structural Transformation of the Ethiopian Economy: A Population Growth Perspective”, in Ethiopian Business Review – magazine, September 15, 2016, No. 42. Addis Ababa.

“What Does the Ethiopian Economy Want”: industrialization-led structural transformation, retrieve from http://uu.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:938663/FULLTEXT01.pdf

How to create jobs quickly for all young people of Ethiopia, retrieve from http://uu.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:938700/FULLTEXT01.pdf

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