Thursday, 31 October 2013

The youth, new technology and Africa’s transformation

1383263359n3While addressing participants at the just concluded Transform Africa 2014 Summit in Kigali, this week, the Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Dr Hamadoun Touré, disclosed a new fond name world technology enthusiasts have bestowed on the host–President Paul Kagame.

At the ITU, he said, Kagame is referred to as the ‘Digital President.’

Considering how technology development is being prioritised in the country, in addition to being an ardent user of the latest technology and all that comes with it, the Digital President reference is definitely apt.

The Transform Africa Summit 2013, which sought to push for a major ICT revolution across the continent, attracted more than 1,500 delegates, and was graced by seven Heads of State, among other high-profile personalities, including chief executives of some of the most su ccessful tech companies in the world.

However, beyond the ongoing technology developments, what stands out is how Rwanda has embarked on a drive to encourage the youth to leverage the existing infrastructure to shape a better future for themselves, as well as their nation.

Among the highlights of the four-day summit were the special sessions with the youth. One of sessions saw 500 young men and women from across the continent interact with President Kagame.

One may argue that paying special attention to the youth is inevitable as, by virtue of their age, they are tech savvy. But, looking at the global trends, it is smart to open the gates of opportunity for the youth while tapping into their potential.

In Rwanda, youth between the ages of 17 and 35 account for about 60 per cent of the population. The statistics are similar across the African continent and the World Bank projects that by 2015, the youth population in sub-Saharan Africa would be well over 75 per cent.

African leaders must take advantage and invest in this generation that is bound to transform the continent. Having a youthful population is a great opportunity, but if misused presents a threat to stability and growth that Africa is experiencing.

Over the last five years, Rwanda’s economy has grown at an average of eight percent. The target for the next five years is 11.5 per cent, and, looking at the national strategy to spur growth, the role of the youth has been well-factored in. But they, too, need to understand that their input is key.

Tips from Digital President

While meeting the youth at the Technology Summit, the Digital President shared tips on how they can achieve their dreams and make it in life while also keeping the continent on course for prosperity.

“True success requires a lot of hard work and dedication. You must put all your energy, mind and spirit into what you are doing in order to become successful,” Kagame said.

Of course, making it big in tech remains a challenge for many globally. Competition is cutthroat and there is no definite formula on how to breakthrough in the ever evolving field. However, one sure thing is hope; those who hang on, end up making it.

“True success is a long journey that requires focus and commitment. If you are not successful today, you should not give up. If you fall, you should not stay down but, instead, you should get up and try again. If previous methods did not work, try a new approach and in the long run, you will become successful,” President Kagame added.

The President’s special attention on the youth fits in well in the overall agenda of investing in human capital as the engine for African economies to sustain and improve on the growth rate.

For Rwanda—and other African countries—to catch up and become more competitive regionally and globally, they will need professional and skilled workers and entrepreneurs who are currently in short supply. Fortunately, the ICT wave that is sweeping across Africa presents opportunities to expedite the ongoing transformation process.

Acknowledging Africa’s new momentum is not to mask the problem of unemployment.

The 2012 African Economic Outlook jointly produced by the Africa Development Bank, the UN Economic Commission for Africa and UNDP, noted that 60 per cent of the continent’s unemployed are aged between 15 and 24 years, with the number of youth expected to double by 2045. The statistics make it a matter of urgency that if not attended to now, the opportunity presented by the young work force can easily be lost and the continent’s achievements put to waste in a short span.

In the 1940s, South Korea was in similar situation. The Asian country had a very young population and built its economy on the backbone of this labour force.

They, for example, developed a programme dubbed “Education for Economic Growth” that focused on investing in skills and education for the youth to power industrial revolution and economic growth. Their economic success is largely attributed to investing in their young labour force.

By all estimates, Africa is a continent of young people, and it is getting younger. If properly harnessed, the youth can turn the continent into one of developed countries within this generation.

The youth, new technology and Africa’s transformation


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