Delegates attending the 2023 African Development Bank Group’s Annual Meetings in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, celebrated Africa Day on Thursday amid hopes for better prospects for the continent and its youth.
The commemoration, which marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the African Union, allowed for retrospection by member countries on how the continent can surmount its challenges toward achieving prosperity.
The Bank’s Secretary General Vincent Nmehielle presided over the event.
The audience included Egyptian government ministers and businesspeople who joined the Bank Group’s governors to celebrate the milestone.
Addressing the event, African Development Bank President, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, said the occasion must provide the impetus for the continent to rise, challenges notwithstanding.
“Africa should lift itself economically, financially, and politically to surmount every hurdle in its way,” Adesina said, stressing that the continent has abundant resources that, if well-managed, can help move it forward.
“We have great sunshine; we have water… we have 65% of the arable land left to feed 9 billion people worldwide by 2050. We have minerals and metals – 80% of the world’s platinum is in Africa, 50% of the world’s cobalt is in Africa, 40% of the world’s nickel is in Africa,” the Bank chief reiterated.
He said there must be consistent efforts to bolster peace and security to attract foreign investment and expand trade.
He called on political and business leaders to put resources at risk behind Africa’s young people, who he said, are very innovative.
“Africa has young people that can grow bigger than Bill Gates; that can grow bigger than (Mark) Zuckerberg,” Adesina said, adding that the youth’s potential is evident in the fintech industry, which young people dominate.
Adesina cited various human capital support programs being implemented by the Bank to prop up startups. These include its YouthAdapt program, initiated jointly with the Global Center for Adaptation.
Adesina said the Bank is also setting up youth entrepreneurship investment banks across Africa to support young people’s businesses. “Africa can have youth-based wealth, and to have that youth-based wealth, we need financial institutions around them.”
Africa should lift itself economically, financially, and politically to surmount every hurdle in its way
He mentioned some celebrated African professionals who have excelled abroad in diverse areas, saying the African diaspora is replete with talent that must be attracted to play a role in the continent’s transformation agenda.
In his opening speech, Dr. Albert Muchanga, African Union Commissioner for Economic Development, Trade, Tourism, Industry, and Minerals, paid tribute to African heroes who sacrificed to see the continent progress.
He noted that the continent’s progress over the 60 years has been mixed.
“As we look at the road traveled 60 years ago, we can celebrate some achievements, and one key achievement is continental unity; we can also not deny that there have been setbacks, and one of the key setbacks is unconstitutional changes of government,” Muchanga said.
He said all is not lost, adding that there are high hopes for the new generation to drive the continent’s future. “The youth are the innovators, and they are able to take advantage of emerging technologies.”
He said the AU had instituted schemes across all its departments, including a Junior Professional Program to equip young graduates. It also has a start-up program that complements youth initiatives implemented by partner organizations such as the African Development Bank.
Dr. Muchanga mentioned the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area to foster trade policy harmonization and eventually transform the agreement into a common market that will lead to adopting a single currency union.
The event featured a panel of selected youth entrepreneurs from the continent who shared their experiences about their challenges while seeking financial support for their startups.
Thursday’s celebration showcased rich African culture through music and dance as proceedings were interspersed with traditional and pan-African pop music, drawing attendees, including scores of youth, to the floor.
In an illustration, Egypt’s Minister of Youth and Sports, Ashraf Sobhy, shared the successes of various initiatives implemented by his government to build the capacity of the youth. These include leadership programs involving the youth across the continent in partnership with the African Development Bank and Egypt’s central bank.
Sobhy called for further feasibility studies to assess the needs of the youth to provide the right environment for them to initiate critical projects for the continent’s transformation.
He said the Bank Group’s 2023 Annual Meeting recommendations would be essential to carving a path for the youth, whom he described as “the tree of life for our continent.”