Africa is the world’s youngest continent, with almost 60 per cent of its population under the age of 25 according to data from various sources including the UN.
And the UN’s demographic projections in 2019 showed that the median age in Africa would be 19.8 in 2020.
By 2100, projections show that Africa’s youth population could be equivalent to twice Europe’s entire population. Therein lies a huge problem if it is left unaddressed but a great opportunity if governments harness resources to empower this burgeoning population.
On a greater scale, Africa will soon be home to more than two billion people making up one-third of the global population.
While population growth in Africa’s sub-Saharan countries continues on an upward trend, the region remains the poorest in the world. There are many issues including violent conflicts which have hampered development, weakened civil society and diminished the prospects of young people.
The big youthful population could help many African countries build on a robust economy buoyed by the abundant natural resources. Africa’s young and growing population offers great potential for sustainable development.
To tap into the potential of these young people, sports remains one of the key aspects the governments can focus on to bring wholesome economic growth as well as improving the welfare of the young population.
The great enthusiasm for sport on the continent creates opportunities for governments to reach development goals such as in education, violence prevention and the promotion of health among other aspects yet sport remains underutilised.
So enormous is the potential in sports that the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has invested in a multi-country project including Kenya, Ethiopia, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Namibia and Senegal. The project which is running through 2022 began in 2019 on the background of Africa lacking sports grounds and targeted educational sports measures for personal, social, economic and social development.
On the economic front, sports have a unique way of bringing people together regardless of physical and psychological borders. With the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) opening trading borders, sports consumer population projections will also grow since generally, the continent will have a combined consumer and business spending of US$6.7 trillion by 2030. With such numbers, there is not a better time for African governments to focus on sports for solutions to the continent’s economic woes than now.
Germany’s Sport for Development in Africa (S4DA) Regional Project began establishing sport as a tool for achieving development goals in selected African countries in 2014 when the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH was commissioned by the BMZ.
S4DA develops and uses standardised products which include implementation concepts for the S4D-approach of partners, sport-pedagogical handbooks for the practical implementation of the S4D-approach in training, and standards for the rehabilitation and construction of sports grounds and for the procurement of sets of sports equipment (training sets).
These standards are developed collaboratively by local partners, the project itself, other experts and German development cooperation, and are applied in all project countries. This procedure enables to transnationally use experiences and makes a substantial contribution to the economic efficiency of the measure. This approach forms the basis for sport increasingly being used as a tool to achieve development goals.
Africa is a continent of opportunities, dynamic development and under-empowered youth.
For this young generation to be a driver of sustainable development, it needs peace, access to education and prospects. The young generation often only has limited access to qualitative, participative formal and non-formal education offers and development opportunities.
GIZ notes that sport is an effective means to promote education, peace, violence prevention, gender equality, and health. Young people engaging in sports acquire important life skills such as communication, collaboration and leadership skills that increase their confidence and better qualify them for the labour market.
Sporting activities have a wide range of benefits ranging from improved personal health, income-generation and job creation among others. These benefits have a ripple effect in that healthy people require less time away from gainful activities these economies will not lose incomes from lost man-hours. In addition, health budgets for these economise are reduced enabling them to reinvest the savings elsewhere.
For the potential of sports to be fully realized across the continent, countries have to forge stronger partnerships between sports associations and the private sector. This will help promote sporting activities and improve sports infrastructure.
African governments have to change their attitude toward sports and come up with realistic policies that will help make sporting a rewarding venture.
Many African countries have talent that performs very well on the international sporting stage but they lack structures that can help nurture these back home. This means that they fail to reap the benefits of such performers with global acclaim who could be good for promoting tourism and investment opportunities.
Integrating sports into the mainstream national development agenda is essential and it is the first step towards developing the sports industry. This will enable it to serve as a catalyst for increased productivity and performance leading to improved standards of living for the African people.
The African Youth Charter by the African Union (AU) claims that Africa’s youth is its biggest resource which also offers enormous potential. By improving health and education, Africa’s youth is in a more advantageous position than the generations before it because these improvements offer them better conditions for advancing human capital.
As of 2019, almost 16 million young Africans representing around 13.4 per cent of the total labour force of 15-24-year-olds, were facing unemployment.
Youth unemployment is the consequence of a lack of jobs according to the 2019 Ibrahim Forum Report.
Young Africans, especially in sub-Saharan African countries, have limited access to programmes that prepare them for the school to work transition. Only 1.1 per cent of 15-24-year-olds in the region participated in a vocational education programme in 2017.
With the likes of GIZ, investing in African youth means that they are better placed to realise their full potential. Sports is one of the avenues whose importance to the continent’s economic growth cannot be underestimated.
The UN notes that the continent’s youthful population presents a powerful opportunity for accelerated economic growth and innovation while other world regions face an ageing population with subsequent issues such as high health costs for elderly care and high demand for skilled and qualified labour.
This demographic, according to the global body, also presents economic and social challenges, as well as implications for peace and security. Thus, the continent should become innovative to curtail the possibilities of this disenfranchised generation becoming a problem due to lack of gainful resourcefulness.