Head-to-head: Is Africa’s young population a risk or an asset?
Africa has more people aged under 20 than anywhere in the world and the continent's population is set to double to two billion by 2050.
Two analysts put forward rival arguments about what this means for the Africa.
Researcher Andrews Atta-Asamoah believes it poses a major challenge unless properly managed, while below economist Jean-Michelle Severino argues it is a massive potential work force that can drive development.Andrews Atta-Asamoah:
End Quote Andrews Atta-Asamoah
Even within a peaceful environment, a rapidly growing young population presents a major challenge”
Walk into many cyber cafes in West Africa and you will see scores of young minds running sophisticated counterfeiting schemes aimed at making money by defrauding innocent people.
They blame unemployment and lack of opportunities for driving them into entrepreneurial criminality.
Their stories are similar to those of the young people who wait at secret North African ports for an opportunity to reach Europe by boat.
They are also similar to those who have ended up in the ranks of the Somali Islamist group al-Shabab, because they were promised salaries by their recruiters when there were not any more conventional job offers.
Such realities illustrate the threats associated with Africa's growing young population.
Sub-Saharan Africa is a region where people aged between 15 and 29 will continue to constitute about half of the population of most countries for the next three to five decades.
Currently, the estimated median age in sub-Saharan Africa is under 19.
There is a strong case to be made that a young population, or a poorly managed young population, leads to instability and civil conflict.
The terrors of the Mungiki sect in Kenya; al-Shabab's blood-thirsty young fighters in Somalia; the horrors of Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria and the emergence of several Islamist groups in Mali and its neighbours.
Young in South Africa: Case study
Ncebakazi Ngqwane, 25, graduate, Cape Town:
Even though I'm battling to find a job after completing my diploma in public management two years ago, I am still confident of finding paid employment soon - I am positive about being able to make a contribution to the future of my country.
I wanted to do public management because it deals with all spheres of government, particularly local government. I've always been interested in working with people and even though I'm not really into politics, I can easily see myself becoming a politician one day. For the moment I am working as a paid intern in a provincial government department.
It is very difficult for young people to find jobs, which can be demoralising - particularly because I know I've worked very hard to complete my studies. I think government should do more by starting projects which will create employment for young people, while also helping local communities. Most companies are looking for people with experience so some sort of a youth wage subsidy which would encourage them to employ young graduates.
I have many friends who studied with me who are experiencing difficulty in securing work. I also know many [unemployed] young people, mainly in the townships, who have turned to crime.
These are all groups essentially driven by young people.
The civil wars across West Africa during the 1990s and early 2000s were also fuelled by disproportionately young populations with not enough to do and not enough money.'Lawless enclaves'
Violent crime in South Africa is among the highest in the world, alongside youth unemployment.
In contexts where the growing youth population have suffered political exclusion and economic marginalisation, as was the case with the Arab Spring in North Africa, the situation can even be a recipe for revolution.
Even within a peaceful environment, a rapidly growing young population presents a major challenge.
In cities such as Ghana's capital, Accra, Nairobi in Kenya and Nigeria's economic hub of Lagos, the impact of the continent's growing young population is noticeable.
Living in the city is fashionable among young people - but the consequent rural-urban rush has resulted in unmanaged settlement characterised by mega slums such as Kibera in Nairobi, Sodom and Gomorrah in Accra and Makoko in Lagos.
Such settlements are often lawless enclaves where police presence is limited and service provision an afterthought.
A growing young population promises opportunities.
But it is increasingly becoming clear across Africa that unless political leadership offers young people something to live for, social stresses such as unemployment can make them easy prey to those who offer them something to die for.
It is therefore important that in seeking to harness Africa's demographic dividend, the right leadership and prudent policies are prioritised.
At the moment, in too many countries, that is not the case.
Andrews Atta-Asamoah is a senior researcher for the Institute of Security Studies in South AfricaJean-Michel Severino:
Does demographic growth work for economic growth? Yes.
End Quote Jean-Michel Severino
Urbanisation is one of the most powerful growth engines the world has ever experienced”
Or at least, at some specific moments, one of which Africa is experiencing now.
This continent's path is unique in the history of humankind for the speed at which it has enjoyed the growth of its population, and probably, the speed at which it will experience its decline.
For more than 50 years, up to the late 1990s, birth rates exploded in what was an empty continent and the impact on economic growth has been severe.
The weight of the young generation on the shoulders of the relatively few adults dragged down economic growth rates.
Limited domestic demand and lack of infrastructure prevented the growth of strong local markets.
The collapse of raw material prices in the early 1980s created a huge burden of debt for the continent, as well as dependency on aid and raw material exports.
But this is changing.
The decline of fertility rates following a period of rapid growth presents huge economic opportunities and has started to launch Africa on a very long-term growth pattern.
Young in Ghana: Case study
Charles Oppong, 25, school graduate, Accra:
I sell car accessories like safety triangles, mats and car jacks along a motorway. I live with my uncle in a single room.
The plan is also to mobilise funds to pay for further studies. I want to become a graphic designer. I have the basic knowledge; in fact that was my area of study in high school. I make some art works called mosaics, made of egg shells. I do the designs on my free days. If I am able to get through my education I think I will make it in less than five years as a successful graphic designer.
My parents are dead and I was looked after in an orphanage, which took care of my studies up to senior school level.
It is very difficult to get a job as a senior high school graduate. They ask for three to six years' experience or further qualifications. I have also noticed getting a job is not about what you know or your qualifications but who you know.
We pray government will expand the economy and introduce more jobs, especially jobs that can absorb young people with lower qualifications. I am looking at opportunities to train on the job.
This very specific period, known by economists as the "demographic dividend", is Africa's moment.
Each year, the increasing number of working-age adults carries the weight of a relatively diminishing proportion of children, whilst elderly dependents remain few.
This favourable moment is compounded by the energy of a youthful population.
It is also multiplied by other important trends, all linked to this specific demographic moment.Surge in domestic firms
The higher density of the population allows domestic markets to be created, demand to emerge and local firms to develop in an economic environment that is more business-friendly than 20 or 30 years ago.
The relative cost of infrastructure declines.
The proportion of the population living in cities also increases, with all the productivity gains this carries.
Urbanisation is one of the most powerful growth engines the world has ever experienced.
Of course, the impressive economic growth rates the continent has enjoyed since the turn of the century are still insufficient to really catch up with high-income countries.
Of course, economic growth in Africa remains linked to the price of commodities.
That said, many land-locked countries with few natural resources have enjoyed fast growth in the past decade - and commodity prices do not entirely explain the surge of domestic firms that one sees across the continent.
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Telecom services and improved education have also played an important role in boosting the productivity of the economy.
Of course this will have an end.
There will come a time, which Europe and Japan are experiencing now and so too will China, when a smaller and smaller proportion of working-age adults have more and more elderly dependents to support.
This is an age when economic growth is more difficult to maintain.
Africa will enter that time, for sure - but possibly not for another century.
Jean-Michel Severino is a former head of France's international development agency, the Agence Francaise de Developpement and author of Africa's Moment.