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OPINION September 6, 2018

Youth Key to Strengthening Africa's Future

China has devoted billions of dollars to development in almost all African countries, making it one of the continent's largest investors. Much of this investment has been in education both in Sub-Saharan Africa and at home.

In fact, China has become an important destination for African students studying overseas.

It comes as no surprise then that education and skills development will take center stage during this week's Investing in Africa Forum in Changsha, Hunan province. The reason is simple: nowhere is the focus on strengthening people's knowledge and skills more critical than in Sub-Saharan Africa, home to the world's youngest population.

The youth are the future workforce of the region, with about 11 million young people expected to enter the labor market each year for the next decade. While there has been growth in formal wage jobs in some countries, most of these young people are likely to work in informal jobs such as household enterprises or on family-run farms, often for very low wages.

But technology is rapidly changing the employment landscape, generating jobs that demand a range of digital skills. If young Africans are to compete for high-tech, higher-paying jobs-and take advantage of increasing opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship-digital skills training must be at the core of continued education and training.

To that end, the World Bank Group recently launched several initiatives designed to increase technology skills and connect young Africans to the global digital economy. XL Africa, the World Bank's business acceleration program, was launched in 2017 and has already provided startup capital to 20 of Africa's top digital entrepreneurs. The World Bank is working on a regional digital economy initiative which will help countries to build the foundation needed to realize the immense potential for digital impact in Africa.

Since 2015, China has been an investor in the Partnership for Skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology and is poised to do more. During last year's Investing in Africa Forum, China's Ministry of Education and Ministry of Finance, together with the World Bank, committed to collaborate on Technical and Vocational Education and Training, to expand vocational training opportunities. This year, they plan to take the partnership forward, by collaborating on TVET and higher education under the auspices of PASET, ensuring that as the African economies grow, so too does the earning potential of Africa's youth in sciences and technology.

Consider this: Currently, less than 10 percent of African students are enrolled in higher education, and of those that pursue post-basic education, less than 30 percent major in science, medical care, information and communications technology, and engineering. China's experience-and that of other Asian countries-of building scientific capacity and improving global rankings of universities, offers important examples that can be applied throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.

When considering a digital future, we cannot ignore technology's potential in agriculture, which is a key driver of jobs and central to African countries' inclusive and sustainable growth. Farming alone currently accounts for about 60 percent of total employment in the region, and significantly more when jobs across the entire food value chain are considered. In Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, for example, the food system is projected to add even more jobs between 2010 and 2025 than the rest of the economy, and technology can increase the number of jobs in agriculture even more.

The continent is full of promise, and as we start our discussions, we do so knowing that Africa's young people are its most valuable asset. It is a region of entrepreneurs and engineers, students and scholars, farmers and future leaders eager to help transform Africa.

For the China-Africa partnership to progress in a way that is most beneficial to the region's young people, it is imperative for both China and African countries to redouble their efforts. African leaders must provide a strong digital infrastructure, and remove legal, regulatory, procedural and institutional barriers to business and foreign direct investment. Conjointly, the youth must be at the center of further Chinese investment, by creating more jobs for young people while preparing them for the future of work.

(First published on China Daily)