Investing in Africa’s next generation of leaders and professionals to unlock a sustainable future

In the TICAD Advocacy Dialogue Series "AFRI CONVERSE" held in Kobe on August 24, 2023, the role of the next generation of leaders and professionals in Africa was discussed.

October 15, 2023

panel discussion during the session

Photo: UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa

Africa's youthful population offers vast potential for economic growth, but to fully capitalize on this demographic advantage, it is crucial to provide young people with the necessary skills and meaningful job opportunities. Japan has identified Africa as a strategic partner and has taken steps like the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) to promote investment in human capital and quality growth. TICAD 8 reaffirmed Japan's commitment, and TICAD 9 in 2025 will continue to drive investment in Africa's future.

Against this backdrop, the role of the next generation of leaders and professionals in Africa was discussed at the AFRI CONVERSE event, the dialogue series advocating for TICAD, held in Kobe, Japan, on August 24, 2023. The event, co-organized by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the Kobe Institute of Computing (KIC), united panel members to examine opportunities, gaps, and potential partnerships for African youth's growth and leadership development.

At the event, Mr. Toshiyuki Nakamura, the Special Advisor to the President of JICA, highlighted the development challenges in Africa, including the adverse impact of climate change, economic regression, and food crises. However, he also emphasized Africa's immense potential, with a quarter of the world's population and an average age of 25 by 2050.

"JICA supports Africa's development through vocational training, education, and technology, respecting African ownership. Initiatives like spreading the KAIZEN approach and 'Home Grown Solutions' project that supports emerging African enterprises in addressing social issues have been implemented." Mr. Nakamura also emphasized the mutually beneficial relationship between Africa and Japan, given Japan's aging population and market challenges.

Ahunna Eziakonwa, the Regional Director for Africa at UNDP, stressed Africa's important role and potential in finding global solutions. She acknowledged challenges like unemployment and underemployment, emphasizing the need for skilling and supporting emerging opportunities for Africa’s vibrant youth. “They want equity, not aid. They want impact, not process. So let us join them by investing precious resources to advance their hope, and their ambitions, and aspirations.”

Eziakonwa also highlighted the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) as crucial for economic transformation and stressed UNDP's commitment to youth and women empowerment, including the Africa Young Women Leaders Fellowship Program, through which UNDP, in partnership with the African Union, provides opportunities for promising youth to work in the UN system to nurture their growth as global leaders. 

“Simultaneous growth, in terms of both human capital/skills development and the country's economy, is imperative and a key priority for UNDP. We also focus on renewable energy and technology, sectors that can thrive with great partners like Japan." stated Eziakonwa.

In the subsequent panel discussion moderated by Mr. Tomoyuki Naito, Vice President and Professor at the Graduate School of Information Technology, Kobe Institute of Computing, the education system's shortcomings in Africa were stressed, underlining the significance of partnership programs investing in youth. The benefits of African students studying abroad were also discussed, with a focus on African Business Education Initiative recipients enhancing their skills and businesses, thereby creating opportunities for others.

“Having purpose and self-understanding is crucial for the African youth who were seeking careers in Japan, as it would help them overcome hardships and move forward,” stated Ms. Akemi Aota, the Chief Executive Officer of the Awaji Youth Federation and the Executive Officer of Pasona Group Inc.

“It is essential to focus on both the quantity and quality of programs on the continent, as this will be key in producing African leaders. Additionally, there is a continued need for youth inclusion, enabling ownership in turn,” stated Kudakwashe Chingono, a Coordination Analyst of the UNDP Africa Young Women Leaders Fellowship Program.

The need for support, recognition, and encouragement to nurture truly successful leaders was raised by Ms. Delphine Mukahirwa, a participant of the African Business Education Initiative for Youth (ABE Initiative) studying at the KIC (Kobe Institute of Computing). Mukahirwa also stressed the importance of mentorship, which enables the application of skills and knowledge and supports individual progress. She also underscored the significance of networks in Africa, which could be utilized to allow youth to meet with leaders and learn from them.

Lastly, Eziakonwa highlighted that the negative perception of the continent hinders Africa’s development, not the lack of money or capacity. “Despite some negatives, there are young African generations who are social entrepreneurs and agents of change for the better. Therefore, TICAD 9, as a partnership forum to facilitate and establish various partnerships between Africa and other international actors, would be the ultimate goal,” stated Eziakonwa.

With emphasis on vibrant youth and its transformational power put forward by the session moderator Mr. Naito, all the panelists agreed that TICAD 9 would be a significant opportunity to enable African youth to acquire knowledge and contribute to the development of Africa.  

The event was closed by Dr. Izuru Kimura, Director General of JICA Kansai Centre, who expressed hope for the younger generation in Africa and the potential for strengthening opportunities between African youth and Japanese companies. 

Group photo with Ezakonwa (fourth from the right), ABE Initiative participants and stakeholders.

Photo: UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa