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You can’t manage what you can’t measure: How to transform the youth policy environment in Africa

If governments are serious about a sustainable world in 2030, youth angles, perspectives and voices must be central to their plan of action.

According to the United Nations, there are an estimated 1.8 billion young people aged between 10 and 24. They contribute to the economic and social development of our present and future and are critical change agents for achieving the sustainable development goals. As such, it is mainstreaming youth development is critical for all country policies and programs.

One of the biggest challenges facing governments in Africa is improving development outcomes for young people. Africa’s youth population is expected to grow in the upcoming years while the youth population in other parts of the world declines. It is also the youngest continent in the world with roughly 70 percent of its population aged 30 years old or younger.

With 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, young people in Africa are at risk of lacking the capabilities to attain decent lives and contribute to the social and economic development of their countries. This is partially caused by the quality of education which has resulted in a skills gap among young people. Though young people today are better educated than their parents, they remain about twice as likely to be unemployed than their elders.

In order to realize the opportunities available in the continent, African governments need to implement youth policies that support the development and inclusion of the young generation. Youth employment challenges in Africa are mostly perceived to be caused by rapid population growth rates, which make it difficult for governments to harness their potential. Actually, it is not the numbers of young people that has led unemployment, but an ineffective youth policy environment caused by three main issues.

Firstly, there is a lack of political will to invest in adequate data collection. This delays the measurement and monitoring of progress which can provide insights to the opportunities and barriers African youth face in accessing resources and opportunities for their development.

Secondly, knowledge-sharing on the development and implementation of youth policies in Africa are hard to find, even when you factor in the variation in the youth policy environment across the continent. Poor monitoring and evaluation systems make it difficult to promote a learning culture that can improve the quality of programs and policies tailored to young people.

Finally, lack of reliable data leads to a misdiagnosis of the barriers affecting young people and can be ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst. Simply put, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Limited data availability is further worsened by lack of mainstreaming of youth policy into national development plans. With such a high population rate in the continent, youth mainstreaming is imperative if countries are to create a sustainable approach to development.

The key recommendations arising from these issues focus on the importance of improving the quality of youth policy development across the continent in the following ways:

1. Improve the quality and scope of data collection on youth population in Africa

2. Mainstream youth policy in national development plans which also includes creating robust monitoring and evaluation systems that foster a culture of learning

3. Create knowledge-sharing platforms between youth policy planning ministries across the region.

A final recommendation is to ensure that gender assessments are incorporated in the youth policy environment to understand better how gender affects development outcomes of young people in Africa.

For many African countries, issues such as poverty, political instability, unemployment and environmental deprivation are huge challenges to meeting the 17 global goals in just 15 years.

As the European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica said, 'the focus is also to questioning how these goals should be implemented. How do we secure the appropriate means of implementation, the right national policies, an enabling environment, and the necessary resources to deliver such a far-reaching, ambitious agenda?”

If governments are serious about a sustainable world in 2030, youth angles, perspectives and voices must be central to their plan of action. The future of Africa depends on how we invest on youth.


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