Africa: Energy as a Key Driver to Addressing the Youth Migration Challenge in Africa

The 2019 African Utilities Week at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

As I reflect on the 2019 Ibrahim Governance Weekend which took place in Abidjan in early April, one aspect of the discussions that I would like to elaborate on is the role of energy in addressing the challenge of African youth migration. Energy is critical in stimulating economic growth and therefore a key driver in creating livelihoods and opportunities for the youth in Africa.

According to the 2019 Ibrahim Forum Report, migration of Africans in 2017 represented only 14% of the global migrant population; much less than the share from Asia (41%) and Europe (24%). The report further states three important facts:

  1. more than 70% of the sub-Saharan African migrants move within Africa
  2. the current African migrants are mostly young and educated, and
  3. the main driver for migration among 80% of the migrants is the hope for better economic or social prospects.

This information presents to the continent the entry points for addressing the challenge of youth migration. One thing is certain: energy is critical in stimulating economic growth. With energy, decent livelihoods will be created for the youth in Africa who constitute more than a third of the continent’s population.

There is need for urgent action towards addressing access to energy as key in building the Africa we want. The Africa whose youth will be happy to stay and work in their countries or within the continent. As highlighted in Africa Energy Outlook – a report produced by the International Energy Agency (IEA) – in sub-Saharan Africa, more than 620 million people have no access to electricity and nearly 730 million others continue to rely on traditional biomass for cooking. Energy for cooking and lighting is just energy needed for basic needs at the household level; not energy for productive use. To be having challenges with access to energy for such basic needs despite the continent’s immerse renewable energy resources potential that – if efficiently harnessed – are more than enough to meet its energy needs, is unacceptable.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)’s report – Africa 2030: Roadmap for a Renewable Energy Future, the four key modern renewable energy technologies with the highest deployment potential in the region include modern biomass for cooking; hydropower; wind; and solar, with hydropower continuing to play an important role in sub-Saharan Africa despite its vulnerability to climate change. Moreover, the exploitation of geothermal resources in East Africa will significantly increase energy supply. The deployment of these renewable energy technologies in Africa will address the current energy access challenge, hence stimulate growth in various sectors that the continent’s economies depend on.

One such sector is agriculture, which was highlighted during the Ibrahim Forum, as a critical sector in creating employment opportunities for young people. The involvement of African youth in the agriculture sector has been minimal. According to the Millennial Viewpoints Survey highlighted in the Ibrahim Forum Report, only 26% of young Africans are interested in a job in agriculture. This is attributed to the fact that the sector is seen as outdated, unprofitable and hard work, characteristics that do not resonate well with young people. Therefore, the transformation of the agriculture sector from a low-tech, low productivity, low profit and man-power intensive traditional sector to a high-tech, high productivity, high profit and energy-intensive modern sector is needed. This will make the agriculture sector more attractive to the youth. Such a transformation will require availability of affordable, reliable and sustainable modern energy services.

Thus, the prominence of the role of energy in discussions about Africa’s youth should be given more emphasis as it is critical in addressing Africa’s youth migration challenges.

Download the 2019 Ibrahim Forum Report

Anne Nyambane is an Academy Mo Ibrahim Fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House. Her research focuses on the local realities in the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 7 on universal access to modern energy services in Kenya.

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