Youth Demography and the Test of Leadership

The glory of young men is their strength – Proverbs 20:29

On the 18th of April 2015 a Mozambican, Emmanuel Sithole, put a human face to the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa. Sithole was innocently walking along the road when he was attacked, beaten and stabbed to half an inch of his life. He died hours later in a hospital. Hours after his death, pictures of the incident and his story hit the internet, followed by the arrest of the suspects; all of them aged 18-22. Underpinning the mindless attacks on black immigrants in South Africa is a desperate youth crisis.

Recent statistics put South Africa’s youth unemployment level at 64%, but this, not a problem peculiar to the rainbow nation. Against the backdrop of the violence in South Africa was the death of about 700 African immigrants trying to cross the Mediterranean into Italy, a good number of them, most likely, young people, fleeing the harsh conditions of their existence in search of something better.

A 2014 report by the African Economic Outlook estimates that 53 million of Africa’s 200 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are in unstable employment and 40 million young Africans are out of work. And while 18 million of them are looking for a job, 22 million have already given up. The International Labour Organization estimates that over 77 million youths are out of work globally, hinting at a global youth crisis.

The consequences of this epidemic are evident, not just in xenophobic outbursts in South Africa, but also in the swelling bulge of disillusioned youths that feed the monstrosities of Boko Haram, Al Shabaab and ISIS. And so it is with a renewed sense of urgency that leaders across the continent, and indeed the world, must meet the growing scourge of youth unemployment. Underpinning almost every violent revolution is a dissatisfied and idle youth population.

Incoming governments, federal and states, across Nigeria have promised to hit the ground running post-transition. As they do so, it is worth remembering that the National Bureau of Statistics puts the figure of unemployed youths in Nigeria at over 25million, and millions more will keep emerging from tertiary institutions across the country without the requisite skills and networks to find or create productive outlets for their energies and talents.

The fate of the nation will literally rest on leadership’s ability to convert a potential catastrophe into an economic opportunity. We have on our hands a demographic blessing, a potent source of innovation, resilience and ambition to irrevocably transform our fortunes as a nation and set us on a path to greatness.

The truth is, Nigeria has never wanted for thoughtful plans. What has often been lacking is the leadership will to execute them. It is my firm belief that the incoming government has a definite plan for Nigeria’s swelling youth population. It is our fervent hope that they will put this at the heart of their agenda and pursue it with all the sense of importance and urgency that it deserves.

Generally speaking, any leadership worth it’s salt in the 21st century will make youth development and empowerment a priority. To ignore the youths will be to court a treacherous legacy. The importance of multi-pronged youth development and empowerment strategy that encompasses education, technology, agriculture, financing and entrepreneurship cannot be overemphasized; one that has adequate youth input in its planning and execution. The youths must be challenged. They want to be involved. It was the bestseller author James Michener that said, “For we know that when the young are properly challenged, they will rise to the occasion and they will prepare themselves for the great work that remains to be done.” Nigeria and indeed the rest of the continent can rise to the full stature of its potential. But it cannot do it without the youths.


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