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The flags of China, SA, India, Brazil and Russia. Picture: BLOOMBERG
The flags of China, SA, India, Brazil and Russia. Picture: BLOOMBERG

Africa’s large and burgeoning youth population is considered one of this continent’s greatest assets, with a central role to play in shaping development.

The AU’s Agenda 2063 states that: “The creativity, energy and innovation of Africa’s youth shall be the driving force behind the continent’s political transformation.” 

Multilateral platforms such as the AU, through its African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), and the Brics bloc have what it takes to tackle the challenges faced by the continent’s youth by creating more jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities. Youth unemployment is central in Brics engagements and discussions this year, when SA occupies the Brics chair. 

Brics countries have continued to strengthen their presence on the continent, and as such have increased opportunities for trade and industrial development. As a result they have created employment opportunities for the youth. 

Our Brics partners have been particularly useful in terms of finding innovative ways of linking SA youths with potential employers and investors. For example, through the Brics employment working group initiative a number of Indian companies operating in SA have taken concrete steps to transfer skills to our youth. India has been taking unemployed IT graduates from SA to India for six-month internships, thereby giving them international work experience.

There are also initiatives between China and SA to cultivate future leading scientists through exchanges with research institutes and universities in China. The National Research Foundation runs the China-SA Young Scientist Exchange Programme in the areas of biotechnology, ICT, space science, astronomy and transport technology. China has also hosted an SA-China job fair to connect unemployed SA youths with Chinese companies such as Air China, Huawei and Hisense. 

Within the context of the Brics memorandum of understanding on co-operation in science, technology and innovation, SA organised the 11th Brics science, technology and innovation ministerial meeting under the theme “Brics and Africa: enabling inclusive and sustainable development in a changing world through knowledge partnerships”, held on August 4. This was preceded by the eighth Brics young scientist forum, which debated the role of science in responding to climate change and environmental sustainability.

SA also organised the sixth Brics young innovator prize under the theme “modernising the manufacturing, agriculture and mining industries and exploiting the circular economy.” The young scientist forum and the young innovator prize provided a valuable platform for the development of scientific, innovative, educational, cultural and friendship links. 

There is a strong correlation between youth unemployment, the SA education system and the lack of skills development. We are working to reform our education system to prepare our young people for the jobs of the future. Through Brics initiatives SA has benefited from investment in education, intra-Brics exchange programmes, job creation, foreign investment and increased trade relations. Brics has been working with the International Labour Organisation on improving skills for workers in the informal economy to promote decent work.

The full implementation of the Brics action plan for innovation co-operation (2021-24) is pivotal to promote technology transfer, innovation and entrepreneurship. Progress has been made by the Brics science, technology & innovation entrepreneurship partnership working group to provide support for the Brics incubation training & network, the Brics technology transfer training programme, and the Brics start-up forum. 

As part of the deliverables of SA’s chairship, a Brics centre of excellence in Africa will be established, which will evolve into a Brics energy agency. The agency will drive increased collaboration, enhanced research and innovation in energy, the provision of skill development and capacity building, the tracking of energy trends, and collaboration with international organisations. 

Today African youths make up about 60% of the continent’s population, and by 2030 they are expected to make up 42% of the world’s youth population. Sixty-five percent of the continent’s population is under the age of 25. Yet Africa’s largest demographic remains one of the most underrepresented in decision-making roles in governance. For leadership to thrive and be responsive in a democracy, the inclusion of our youth is non-negotiable.

It is for this reason that during our chairship we have prioritised representation and participation of young people in the Brics structures by ensuring that youth from the SA Youth Council and the National Youth Development Agency addressed the Brics leaders at the summit to share their perspectives.

Furthermore, one of the critical outcomes of the summit was the endorsement of the establishment of the Brics Youth Council, a structure that aims to formalise youth participation across all three pillars. This builds on the success of the annual Brics youth summit, which reports to the ministers of youth.

Our youth must be sensitised to the opportunities the AfCFTA offers, and we must fortify youth networks and business support organisations, while boosting investments in education and skills development. African governments need to improve access to finance for young entrepreneurs so that we can grow and develop the small, medium and micro enterprises’ sector. Increased capital investment towards youth development programmes can be used to create platforms to identify possible market linkages between young people and potential investors in the form of internships and jobs. 

The AfCFTA promises to be a game-changer for the continent’s economic and employment creation prospects, but its success and legacy will depend on across-the-board participation by the continent’s youth. Manufacturing stands to benefit the most under the AfCFTA, creating up to 16-million new jobs, according to the Brookings Institution. Young Africans will benefit as growth in this sector will help bridge the youth unemployment gap.

SA is participating in the work on the finalisation of the protocol on women and youth in trade, aimed at integrating these demographics into the African market and realising their financial and economic inclusion, in line with the spirit and the aspirations of the Agenda 2063. 

Youth have a great deal to say and contribute in terms of finding solutions to the challenges they face, including lack of access to finance, barriers for small businesses, and tensions arising from intraregional and international migration. It is imperative that our youth participate in such discussions and drive the agenda for the future.

• Monyela is spokesperson for the department of international relations & co-operation.

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