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4 August 2011

Advantage youth

Africa's most important resource are its people, and especially its young people, say Mohamed H.A. Hassan and Daniel Schaffer in a recent 'TWAS Newsletter' article examining the future of science and development in Africa.

Advantage youth"With more than 40% of its population under the age of fourteen, the future of Africa lies with its youth", say Mohamed H.A. Hassan, former executive director of TWAS, and Daniel Schaffer, the Academy's public information officer. But this potential can only be fulfilled if the continent's young people receive "the education and training they need to compete in the global knowledge-based economy of the 21st century."

As the populations of Europe and the United States age, and as China seeks ways to overcome the consequences of its one-child policy, "Africa's demographic profile", the authors observe, "holds great promise to be its strategic advantage in the years ahead."

Yet, the authors caution that demography is not destiny.

They maintain that fulfilling the promise of Africa's youth will take enormous investments in education, starting with primary school and continuing through postgraduate studies. It will take increased funding for building classrooms and laboratories where students can learn. It will take adequate salaries and career-long training for teachers to help guarantee that instructors have the incentives and skills to do a good job. It will take continued investments in information and communication technologies to ensure that the information and data that researchers need to succeed is easily accessible. It will take targeted aid from external sources to supplement the investments of Africa's governments and pan-African institutions. And it will take a long-term view of a better future, bolstered by political stability and efficient and innovative administration that puts the people's welfare first.

"What happens in Africa is first and foremost of consequence to the people of Africa. Yet, the authors add that "what happens in Africa is also of consequence to the rest of the world."

Africa, which is larger than China, India, Western Europe and the United States combined, is home to nearly 1 billion people or nearly 15% of the world's population. The population, moreover, is currently experiencing an annual growth rate of 2.5%, which makes it the world's fastest growing continent. Its population, in fact, could double by 2050.

Providing adequate levels of education and creating a sufficient number of secure and rewarding jobs for Africa's youthful population is critical to the future of the continent. "Six of the top ten counties with highest percentage of emigrated citizens are in Africa," Hassan and Schaffer note, adding that "there are more medical doctors of Ethiopian origin practicing medicine in Chicago, Illinois, USA, than in Ethiopia itself."

Education and jobs are not only a moral imperative, the authors conclude, but serve as fundamental building blocks for a better future.

Find the full TWAS Newsletter article below.

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