World leaders address African youth unemployment at U.N. headquarters

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World leaders including Britain’s Theresa May, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Ghana’s Nana Akufo-Addo, and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday used the ongoing annual session of the U.N. General Assembly to speak about the need to make greater investment in the African youth.

The high rate of youth unemployment and underemployment is among the barriers to Africa’s economic development. While leaders in some African countries have devised strategies to tackle the problem, it is not going away. The wave of African men and women in their prime who lose their lives in the Mediterranean in a desperate attempt to find a better life in Europe is only one manifestation of the crisis. During an event organized Tuesday on the sidelines of the ongoing annual session of the United Nations General Assembly, world leaders called fresh attention to the youth unemployment crisis.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated on the occasion that “Investment is crucial to harness Africa’s youth dividend.” He called specifically on the need for “Investments in health and education, and in science, technology and industrialization.” “Not just basic education,” the U.N. chief stressed,

“but in skills that match the needs of present but above all of future labour markets in a world that is changing so quickly.”

Mr. Guterres pointed out that young African women fare even worse than the young men, and noted that “gender gaps in the labour force cost Africa US$105 billion in 2014 alone.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May, for her part, said that Africa “stands on the cusp of playing a transformative role in the global economy,” but she noted that the continent can realize that potential only thanks to greater investment in the next generation,

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Africa has the fastest-growing population on the planet. To keep pace with that high rate of population growth, said the British prime minister, the continent will need to create 18 million new jobs every year between now and 2035. She added that the gain will not benefit Africa alone:

“In our interconnected world, where new jobs in Africa drive new markets, new trade and investment opportunities and greater global stability, these new jobs are important for everyone’s future.”

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda states, like his peers, that the youth are an asset for Africa: 

“Africa’s youth bulge does not need to be a problem for our continent nor for our neighbours. On the contrary, our young people are an asset and a driver of growth and innovation.”

He called on the need to “plan strategically and work together” to instill a sense of hope in Africa’s youth about the vast opportunities to be found right at home.”

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President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana whose country has a sizable population of 30 million, said that 60 percent of the population is under 25, and deplored the fact that the country has not kept pace with the population growth during most of the last decade. He added: “Basically, we have an economy that is not generating jobs and not expanding.”

The Ghanaian leader described the major threat that is youth unemployment: 

“Youth unemployment is the greatest threat to the stability of our country and to our democracy. So finding solutions as to how to grow the Ghanaian economy so that it can produce jobs—that is the biggest single issue confronting our country.”

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