East Africa: Region’s Youth Hold Key to Regions Growth

East African Business Week, December 20, 2010

By Frederick Njehu

The United Nations reports that Africa has over 200 million youths who make an average of 25% of the total population. Well, this sends a signal of how catastrophic this group could find themselves in if they lack opportunities and information.

Ignoring the voices and participation of the youth in all circles of development would mean ignoring a quarter of Africa’s population.

Coming closer home, the EAC provides a platform for the youth to rise up and reap and benefits from the recently launched common market.

The voice of the youth has thus been recognized as an important dynamic in the evolution of EAC regional strategies and youth involvement in the process of seeking solutions is increasingly considered vital because the decisions made now will have an effect on the decisions of the future leaders.

They have been dubbed as the prospective movers and shakers for the region, and such terms should be bait for them to proactively get involved in matters concerning the region. But one would ask whether the youth are even aware of any benefits that the EAC common market provides?

In the treaty establishing the East African community, the youth are categorized as a marginalized group. Nevertheless, the common market acts as an entry point that could offer numerous opportunities for the growing population of the youth in the region. The liberalization of services as well as free movement of persons and labour offers abundant opportunities for the youth to seek and exploit the regions’ wealth.

The mutual recognition of education and professional qualifications offer students and professional the potential to study and ply their trade in five countries. Information technology is one of the key areas where great opportunities lie ahead.

With the proliferation of fiber optic cable one of the major benefits is the use of business outsourcing skills to compete with other countries that have effectively used outsourcing as an engine to spur youth employment and wealth creation such as India.

Professional Services – since the services sector in East Africa is booming at the moment and there is great demand for professional services;

Small and medium business – since the establishment of the EAC Customs Union has provided for the free movement of goods within the region and education.

Having a skilled youthful workforce is vital for the successful and sustainable development of the region. It is therefore vital that there be right structures and institutions in place to support and develop this skilled workforce. East African governments are undertaking a number of initiatives to equip and engage the youth.

Improving the business climate through trade facilitation and foreign direct investment has the potential to have a trickledown effect that the youth can tap into. As much as all these opportunities exist for the youth, there are no proper mechanisms of integrating them in the EAC regional integration.

There should be strategies that could focus on building youth confidence in the EAC; empowering the youth groups to represent their views, and to make choices on how they would like to shape the EAC.

All said and done, it is up to the youth to shape up or be shaped out. Although the EAC youth are still struggling with lack of awareness on EAC integration, rural unemployment and underemployment, rural to urban migration, poverty, pregnancy, crime and limited access to current affairs, there are vast opportunities they can tap.

The writer is a Trade Analyst, CUTS International, Nairobi

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