One of the major attractions when investing in Africa has been the continent’s young and energetic population. According to the African Economic Outlook, a growing youth population comes with energy, creativity and talents which are also the key to its future prosperity. Research has also shown that an increasing working age population is a major opportunity for economic growth.
The UN World Population Prospects Report also weighed in saying Africa will have the second largest population by 2050 making it an attractive destination for capital.
The World Bank also estimates that this demographic dividend could generate 11-15 percent GDP growth between 2011 and 2030. It further says that if Africa is able to take advantage, and provide adequate education and jobs, $500 billion a year could be added to its economies for 30 years.
According to research done by South Africa’s Leigh-Gail Petersen the presence of a young population means there is a working population, meaning more income which leads to better support for citizens and more improvements in the country’s development.
But this is a tough time to be young in Zimbabwe. The touted potential might come to naught in the case of Zimbabwe if measures are not taken to take advantage of this young population.
As it did with the commodities boom as well as the scramble for Africa, Zimbabwe risks losing out on the touted benefits of a young and energetic population.
In 2006–2008 and then again in 2010–2011 commodity-exporting economies hit the mother lode when commodity prices boomed.
The then brisk pace of global economic activity and rising demand from emerging markets drove up commodity consumption and prices. And the boom, in turn, boosted growth and fiscal balances for resource-rich countries. Sadly Zimbabwe missed the boat.
Between 2006 and 2008, the country was going through a turbulent time with a spiralling hyperinflation which relegated proper policies to the periphery in favour of survival kind of policies as implemented by former RBZ governor Gideon Gono.
As a result the country did not benefit much in terms of the boom.
The next boom was between 2010 and 2011 also came out at a time Zimbabwe introduced a controversial indigenisation laws, meant to empower the disadvantaged. Unfortunately the implementation of the law was controversial and drew negative publicity on the country.
There is now serious risk that Zimbabwe might not benefit from the new investor attraction; a young and energetic population.
Despite producing more than 30,000 graduates from its universities annually, the country has not been able to create enough jobs for these graduates.
The school-leavers at the end of this year are likely to be competing for jobs with most of the school-leavers who left last year, the year before that and most of the years before that.
Many 35-year-olds have yet to be properly employed for the first time. There lies the risk, what kind of future is awaiting them and their children?
But all hope is not lost.
The answer lies in revamping the education system.
There is need to revise the country’s education curricula to include skills and enterprise development. Young people need genuine education and skills training but crucially their ambitions need to be matched by opportunities.
Governments need to provide job-focused training to help the millions of young unemployed people on the continent.
The Brookings Institution argues for a focus on manufacturing, because it is “the industrial sector most closely associated with employment intensive growth among other sectors that employ young people such as construction, tourism and agriculture”.
Investment in infrastructure and subsidy for sectors with potential for creating jobs for example can also be one way of dealing with the crisis.