KIOSSI, CAMEROON —
Youth ministers from the Commonwealth of Nations -- the former British Commonwealth -- have ended a meeting in Cameroon on how to prevent young people from being tempted to join terrorist organizations. The ministers agree that two of the biggest factors are massive unemployment and the failure to involve young people in decision-making processes.
The deputy secretary general of the Commonwealth, Deodat Maharaj, said Africa is the world's most youthful continent, with 65 percent of the population below the age of 35.
Ten to 15 million people enter the African labor market each year. Maharaj said this is potentially dangerous for a continent that is poor and facing challenges of war, disease and terrorism.
"People don't have jobs, they don't have livelihoods, they don't have education, they don't have services where they live, they may do other things. What we want to do is to provide the best possible technical perspective and analysis for the governments to decide, based on national ownership, which option is the preferred option," said Maharaj.
African youth leaders, including Namibian-born Katjikuru Pauline, said the greatest problem with Africa is that youths who constitute a majority of the population are often not listened to before policies are drafted.
"One of the biggest thing that is going to suppress the voice of the African youth is that there is no consultation between youth and seniors. How do you unite people from different backgrounds, people from different cultures, people from different perspectives? You engage and you consult. Don't speculate, don't come up with things that you think is going to benefit the African youth," stated Jatjikuru.
Jean Marc Afesi Mbafor of Cameroon's National Youth Council said young people in Africa continue to face daunting challenges, because educational systems do not give them the opportunity to develop their full potential.
"We have to reform our educational system, to equip the youth with the skills necessary -- not to wait for jobs, but to be able to create jobs for themselves. We have to move from that educational system when we just had our independence and we needed to form administrators to form civil servants to nurture this young nation," said Mbafor.
Afesi Mbafor added that young people have a hard time obtaining loans from financial institutions.
Zambian Minister of Youth and Sports David Musonda said terrorism -- especially the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria -- is partly driven by chronic, pervasive unemployment.
"That does not give the young people the mandate to go into illegal activities. Governments are concerned, the Commonwealth is concerned, the world is concerned about the youth," Musonda said. "We have a relatively huge young population across Africa and these are very productive, they have the energy, and to go and join terrorist groups does not provide a solution to the unemployment challenges that we have."
The youth ministers said they can defuse the unemployment time bomb by working with the private sector and government to create safe, decent and competitive employment opportunities. They said they will encourage multi-national companies investing in Africa to use African labor.
They also reiterated calls on African countries to invest in agriculture. That sector employed 70 percent of African youths before 1985, but doesn't attract young people today due to lack of government support.