Realizing the Demographic Dividend in Africa

A lab debate of opportunities and challenges at the #EDD17

Lab debate "Investing in Africa’s Youth to Harness the Demographic Dividend"

Are the potential economic benefits of demographic change in Africa ready to be seized? At the 2017 European Development Days GIZ brought this question to the fore in a lab debate, taking a closer look at the opportunities and challenges of the Demographic Dividend.

‚Investing in Development‘ was the motto of this year’s European Development Days (EDD) on June 7 and 8 in Brussels. Hosted by the European Commission, the event has attracted more than 6.000 participants from the international development community every year since 2006 and is thus Europe’s leading forum on development.

At this forum, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH organized a lab debate entitled “Investing in Africa’s Youth to Harness the Demographic Dividend”. In partnership with the African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP) and the German Federal Institute for Population Research, it assembled a high-level expert panel with speakers from the African and European Union, the African youth network AfriYAN and AFIDEP to tackle the question: How can the young generation of Africa become the driving force for economic development?

The Demographic Dividend: The African Union’s theme of the year 2017

The African Union has declared the Demographic Dividend the theme of the year 2017, releasing a detailed roadmap for it and moving it up on the international political agenda. But what does ‘Demographic Dividend’ actually mean? It describes the economic benefit which can be generated in societies with a large proportion of young people reaching working age. Where these young people are granted access to education and healthcare, especially sexual education and family planning, and where jobs are created for them, countries’ economic and social development can reap considerable benefits from this demographic phenomenon.

Germany in a pioneering role

Demographic change is happening worldwide. Populations constantly change in size, composition and geographic distribution, a dynamic that influences nearly all dimensions of society and directly influences the lives of individuals. The Position Paper “Population dynamics in German development cooperation” of Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) acknowledges the central role of demographic change in national and international development and strategically positions it as a cross-sectoral issue in development cooperation. With this paper, the BMZ positions itself as a pioneer in the field of population dynamics. One of the three main areas of intervention listed in the paper is the fostering of youth via investments in a demographic dividend. 

Investments in the future are needed today

The panelists

Many African countries have only just begun to make the transition towards the described potentially beneficial age structure. The interest in the economic benefits is vast, as was also evident from the large crowd attending the Lab Debate on the second day of the EDD. There is no doubt, however, that investments must be made today to seize the opportunity before it is too late. Dr. Eliya Zulu, director of AFIDEP and consultant for more than 15 African governments on the demographic dividend and its implementation, emphasized that the time frame for action might be as short as 40 years. Efficient use of all available resources, he argued, is all the more critical to success.

Integrated development might be the answer

All experts were in agreement that integrated development is key when it comes to transforming the Demographic Dividend from an abstract concept into meaningful policies, particularly in the education, employment and healthcare sectors. Tikhala Itaye, youth representative of AfriYAN, convinced the audience that good governance was indispensable if the benefits of investments were to reach all of African youth. Tilman Nagel, Head of GIZ’s Section Education, TVET & Labour Markets, also stressed the importance of an integrated approach based on cross-sectoral political coordination and significant budgetary commitments so that the needed investments could be realised in all relevant sectors.

The Demographic Dividend bears an enormous potential for the economic and social future of the young African generation. On behalf of BMZ, GIZ’s Sector Initiative Population Dynamics, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, together German-supported projects in partner countries, will continue to work towards its realization.

Lea Gernemann, June 2017

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