• Friday, June 21, 2024
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Youth empowerment to unbridle Africa’s growth potential, says Bill Gates

Bill Gates

To exploit the potential of the world’s second largest continent, empowering its teeming youth population must take pre-eminence, says American philanthropist and entrepreneur, Bill Gates.
Speaking at the 2016 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture at the University of Pretoria, South Africa,  61 year-old Gates shared his optimism about the future of Africa and the role of its young people in moulding it.
With 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 (the youth bracket), Africa has the youngest population in the world, and the current trend indicates that this figure will double by 2045, according to an African Economic Outlook report.
“Africa’s youth can be the source of a special dynamism,” said Gates. “The most important thing about young people is the way their minds work.
They are better than old people at driving innovation, because they are not locked in by the limits of the past. The real returns will come if we can multiply this talent for innovation by the whole of Africa’s growing youth population,” Gates said.
Explaining the choice of Gates as this year’s distinguished speaker, Nelson Mandela Foundation board member, Nikiwe Bikitsha said, “Gates has had a significant impact on the issues facing the poor and marginalised through the extraordinary efforts of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.”
The three years in a row Forbes richest man, with a net worth of $75 billion, used the platform of the 14th Nelson Mandela Foundation’s flagship programme to honour its founder, Nelson Mandela, and to raise topical issues affecting South Africa, Africa and the rest of the world – to lay out his vision of how to create a better world. The theme of his speech was “Living Together”.
Gates said he admired Mandela, whom he had met on many occasions. Recalling that “one topic that Nelson Mandela came back to over and over again, was the power of youth.
“There is a universal appeal to the conviction that youths deserve a chance. I agree with Mandela about young people, and that is one reason I am optimistic about the future of this continent,” said Gates.
He observed that to exploit Africa’s potential, its young people needed to be given every opportunity to thrive.
According to the African Economic Outlook, on average, more than 70% of Africa’s youth live on less than $2 per day, the internationally defined poverty threshold.
Mthuli Ncube, chief economist at the Africa Development Bank (AFDB), says this reality is unacceptable on a continent with such an impressive pool of youth.
Alexander Chikwanda, Zambia’s finance minister, puts it succinctly; “Youth unemployment is a ticking time bomb,” which now appears to be perilously close to exploding.
Against this backdrop, Gates says the world must come together to smooth the path for Africa’s youth, that they may seize all of their potential.
“If young people are sick and malnourished, their bodies and their brains will never fully develop. If they are not educated well, their minds will lie dormant. If they do not have access to economic opportunities, they will not be able to achieve their goals.
“But if we invest in the right things to make sure the basic needs of Africa’s young people are taken care of, then they will have the physical, cognitive, and emotional resources they need to change the future,” Gates said.
Health and nutrition, education, productivity and governance; were the areas the co-founder of software giant, Microsoft, identified as priority areas to ensure Africa’s youth thrived.
He said health and nutrition were top priority because “when people aren’t healthy, they can’t turn their attention to other priorities. But when health improves, life improves by every measure”.
Next was education, without which children cannot develop the knowledge and skills to become “productive contributors to society,” said Gates.
Then, Africa’s youth needed to have the “economic opportunities to channel their energy and their ideas into progress”. But Gates said good governance was vital to ensure that this happens.
“All of these things – advances in health, education, productivity, and governance, can only happen in the context of governments that function well enough to enable them,” he said.
Gates concluded his lecture by insisting he believed that Africa could achieve the future it aspired to. He said Africa’s young “believe in their selves, and they believe in their countries and the future of the continent”.
“The priority now is to make sure they have the opportunity to turn those beliefs into action. And our duty is to do it now, because the innovations of tomorrow depend on the opportunities available to children today,” he concluded.