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World Youth Skills Day: Pan African Youth Union Head Talks Unleashing Africa's Potential

© AP Photo / Ben CurtisA crowd of supporters in a street cheers as the convoy of opposition candidate Gen. Muhammadu Buhari leaves after validating his voting card, prior to casting his vote later in the day, in his home town of Daura, Nigeria Saturday, March 28, 2015.
A crowd of supporters in a street cheers as the convoy of opposition candidate Gen. Muhammadu Buhari leaves after validating his voting card, prior to casting his vote later in the day, in his home town of Daura, Nigeria Saturday, March 28, 2015.  - Sputnik Africa, 1920, 15.07.2023
Today, 15 July, is World Youth Skills Day, a global observance that celebrates the strategic importance of equipping young people with skills for employment, decent work and entrepreneurship.
According to the United Nations, there are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 15 and 24 in the world, accounting for 16% of the global population. However, many of them face challenges in accessing quality education, training and skills development opportunities.
On World Youth Skills Day, various events and activities are organized around the world to raise awareness, showcase best practices and inspire action on youth skills development. The UN, which launched the day in 2014, is celebrating this year under the theme "Skilling teachers, trainers and youth for a transformative future."

"Equipping young people with quality education, training and skills is essential. This World Youth Skills Day reminds us that teachers stand at the forefront of this great global effort."

Antonio Guterres
UN Secretary-General
According to the UN, teachers, trainers and other educators are key actors in delivering quality technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and fostering lifelong learning among young people.
They need to be equipped with the necessary pedagogical, digital and entrepreneurial skills to adapt to the changing needs of learners and employers.
To mark the occasion, Sputnik Africa spoke to Ahmed Bening Wiisichong, Secretary General of the Pan African Youth Union (PYU), who shared his views on the role of young people in the development of African countries, the skills they need to do so, and the obstacles young Africans face in harnessing the continent's talent.
In the interview, Bening, a Ghanaian youth leader who was elected secretary-general of the PYU in November 2021, highlighted the organization's rich history, objectives, and significance as World Youth Skills Day approaches.

Apex Youth Organization in Africa

Established in 1962 by consensus of African heads of state, the Pan-African Youth Union serves as the top youth organization on the continent. Its creation preceded the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), now known as the African Union, making it a key institution for African integration and the decolonization process.
"The Pan-African Youth Union really is an age long institution that has been part of the struggle against apartheid and colonialism, and also a strong advocate for anti-imperialism," Bening said. "So we are anti-imperialist organization and Pan-African institution."
Ahmed Bening Wiisichong
Secretary General of the Pan African Youth Union
A unique aspect of the Pan-African Youth Union is the existence of executive positions. This privilege is granted due to the existence of national youth councils and related coordinating mechanisms responsible for mobilizing and coordinating youth in member states.
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The African continent stands alone in having a charter solely dedicated to the mobilization and mainstreaming of youth in development processes.
"And so fundamentally we look at the popularization and operationalization of the African Youth Charter, mobilizing regional and national youth councils and other national convention zones, and also providing a basis for young people to scale up advocacy and composition around youth mainstreaming," Bening explained.
Additionally, the organization supports skill development, empowerment, and creating opportunities for the youth population. World Youth Skills Day holds tremendous importance for the PYU as it aligns with their mission to enhance the skills, capacities, and employability of African youth, Bening stressed.

"Africa is the youngest continent. That means that in excess of 70% of the population are below 35 years," he said. "The biggest shortfall in hardness in our demographic dividend is the skills gap relative to what is it that we need as a continent to drive socio-economic development vis-a-vis the kind of human capital and the capacity that they have to drive those processes."

What Skills Do African Youth Need & Why?

Given Africa's abundant natural resources, Bening stressed the urgent need to transform these raw materials into finished products in order to stimulate economic growth, reduce unemployment and address key macroeconomic challenges.
Speaking on the skills that African youth should prioritize, the head of the Pan-African Youth Union emphasized the critical role of vocational and technical skills in unleashing the continent's full potential.
"There are quite a range of skills that we need. Well, vocational and technical skills are extremely important because if you look at the continent now, we have in excess of 37% of the global industrial resource," he said. "So we need all these artisanal skills to be able to transform our natural resources into finished products for the benefit of all citizens."
In doing so, he added, "it simply means that what we'll be doing is creating jobs; What we're doing is reducing inflation and addressing all the key macro and micro-economic shortfalls that we are currently experiencing."
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The interview highlighted the importance of various vocational skills.

Wiisichong shared an anecdote about a marine welder from Singapore who was hired in Ghana's oil industry, earning a salary four times higher than his Ghanaian counterparts.

This story emphasizes the urgent need to develop skilled professionals on the continent to fill such positions and reduce reliance on foreign expertise.

"We could be more prosperous than countries in Western Europe if we make the right investment in the right skills to harness what we have at our disposal," Bening argued.

Role of African Youth in Shaping Future

Ahmed Bening recognized the vital role of young people in driving national and continental development. He highlighted the importance of partnerships, the need for a shift in narratives, and the exploration of unconventional alliances for Africa's progress.
Young people, according to Bening, possess a unique blend of innovation and ingenuity that can propel Africa forward. They are eager to contribute to their communities and nations. However, he acknowledged that two key factors need to be addressed to unlock their full potential.

"First is the kind of partnerships that is required between us and our government and the private sector to be able to plow back some investments in for us to be able to do that," the PYU secretary-general stated. "The second is for young people ourselves to really question ourselves and focus attention on national and continental development."

The second factor includes a reevaluation of the prevailing "Eurocentric or Western-centric" definitions of quality of life. Bening emphasized the need to challenge these narratives and refocus attention on Africa's development.
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This shift will require extensive socialization and education efforts, particularly led by organizations such as the Pan-African Youth Union, he said. Young people need to understand that their contributions to sectors such as agriculture, using appropriate technology, have immense value and can lead to a better quality of life than traditional career paths.
Bening also highlighted the limitations of conventional partnerships with entities like the United States and the European Union. According to him, historically, these partnerships have not provided Africa with the platform necessary for sustainable development.
Drawing from past mistakes, he advocated for the exploration of alternative partnerships, particularly with the BRICS fraternity (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).
"I would have said that one of the most productive partnerships that Africa would have moving forward is with the BRICS fraternity of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. This BRICS fraternity is the future for us. Why? Because all the Asian tigers that you have, we all know that the innovative skills that we are currently applying in our countries come from there," he noted.
According to Bening, Africa can benefit from the expertise of BRICS nations, especially in sectors where they have excelled, such as technology transfer and manufacturing. Through these partnerships, African nations can access affordable and efficient technology, enabling them to bridge the development gap, he argued.

Yes, Together We Can!

The PYU official said the current leaders of African nations may have "lofty and brilliant ideas" about how to lead their nations to prosperity, but "they are limited by the kind of support" they would need to move such processes forward.

"We understand that there are geopolitical intricacies and that the imperialist economies want to consistently subjugate and undermine the efforts that we make. But I don't think that explanation alone is enough," Bening said. "We have 54 countries on the continent [...] We are able to rally forces around and say, Look, we're making the decision."

Bening added, "The problem is that we are unable to make a decision because we are divided and because we have full socialization and understanding of how our unit is strength. We have been socialized to think that if we make a defiant decision against Western countries and the current status quo, we are finished."
He argued that the key to driving Africa's development lies in its understanding of solidarity, embracing the Pan-African ideals championed by former South African President Nelson Mandela and his generation, and nurturing unity, togetherness, and a profound appreciation of what is truly essential.
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However, he warned against the dangers of isolation. A significant challenge arises when external forces exploit divisions between African nations, using one country against another to undermine progress. This fractured approach hampers collective development and jeopardizes individual nations' stability.

"Zimbabwe is a clear example [...] the land policy system in Zimbabwe was not bad. Africa betrayed Zimbabwe when they came to solidarity with them," he said. "If you look at [Libya's former President Muammar] Gaddafi and some of the ideas that he espoused, Africa betrayed him."

A Message to African Youth

In conclusion, the secretary-general of the Pan African Youth Union said that young Africans need to understand that no other person will be a driver for Africa's socio-economic prosperity and development except themselves.
"Therefore we need to bring our ingenuity, we need to acquire the needed skills. We need to be able to hold our own African systems accountable, and also make proposals, alternative proposals on mechanisms and architectures that will be able to drive Africa's progress and prosperity," he said.
Addressing the African youth, Wiisichong Ahmed calls on Africans "to be inward-looking," "to be innovative" and "to bring our sense of ingenuity to bear on the progress and development of Africa."