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Malawi President commits to championing youth development and the demographic dividend in Malawi and across Africa
23 July 2015
Author: DIANA WARIRA
Students in class at Matunduzi School, Malawi. Education is one of the key pillars for harnessing the demographic dividend. Photo: Erik Törner

In his capacity as UN Champion for Youth and Demographic Dividend, President of the Republic of Malawi, H.E. Prof Arthur Peter Mutharika, has pledged to mobilise other African leaders and the African Union to prioritise investments that will help African countries harness the demographic dividend (DD).

The President made the commitment at a meeting held at Sanjika Palace in Malawi on 20th July 2015, with a UNFPA-led delegation, which included AFIDEP’s Executive Director, Dr. Eliya Zulu. The meeting was convened to discuss how Malawi can harness the demographic dividend to accelerate socioeconomic transformation and economic development.  The meeting also discussed initiatives that the President seeks to pursue in his capacity as UN Champion on Youth and the Demographic Dividend. President Mutharika is also Champion for Higher Education in Africa.

The demographic dividend is the accelerated economic benefit arising from a significant increase in the ratio of working-aged adults relative to young dependents, which results from sustained declines in birth and death rates. In his presentation to the President, Dr. Zulu explained the demographic dividend concept and how various countries had benefitted from it. He noted that in order to open the window of opportunity for harnessing the demographic dividend, the starting point is to accelerate decline in fertility through sustained investments in family planning, child survival and schooling of girls, which will delay early marriages and teenage childbearing. The decline in fertility will open the window of opportunity for harnessing the DD; however, in order for the country to earn a maximum DD, simultaneous investments need to be made in in education, skill development, public health, governance, and inclusive economic growth and job creation. Dr. Zulu also briefed the President on the ongoing Malawi National Study on the Demographic Dividend, which will be completed in October 2015. AFIDEP is providing technical leadership in conducting the study, which is led by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning and funded by UNFPA.

During the discussions, President Mutharika said he was looking forward to seeing the final results of the Malawi DD study as he expects it to guide his government on how it should sustainably tackle youth development and employment challenges. “It is very important and urgent to figure out how to fit the big population of young people in the country’s political and economic structures,” he noted.  President Mutharika also indicated that his party’s manifesto highlights youth development as a key component of Malawi’s development. In addition, he noted that for the country to plan for the DD, there was need for long-term development planning and his government was planning to establish the National Planning Commission to facilitate such long-term and integrated planning processes.

The President was also optimistic that some of the current government policies will assist the country towards achieving a DD.  For instance, he expects massive foreign investments in labour-intensive industries such as construction that will create jobs for young people.  There is also planning to inject substantial investments to ignite development of small and medium enterprises.  Other interventions that his government is working on include the community college programme that seeks to develop productive skills of young people, the Malawi Rural Development Fund and the Youth Enterprise Development Fund. President Mutharika also called for strengthening of the country’s family planning programme in order to urgently reduce the country’s high birth rate as he was concerned that the country was sitting on a time bomb as far as high population growth was concerned.

In his capacity as a UN champion on youth and DD, President Mutharika will mobilise other African leaders to be DD champions and catalysts in their countries. For example, he will host a meeting of several African heads of state at a side event of the UN General Assembly meeting on the Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015 in New York. In addition, the President will advocate for the African Union theme for 2017 to focus on youth and the demographic dividend. The President will also lead mobilisation of technical and financial resources to help Malawi focus on youth development and the demographic dividend. President Mutharika’s role fits well with his role as a champion for higher education in Africa.

The UNFPA Country Representative for Malawi, Ms. Violet Kakyomya, commended the President for his commitment in championing youth development issues and the demographic dividend. She noted that while Malawi had made some progress in improving contraceptive use among Malawi adults, more should be done to satisfy the high levels of unmet need for family planning for youth. She noted that the results of the Malawi DD study were timely as they would feed into the development of the next development strategy. She committed continued support of UNFPA and other UN agencies in helping the government’s work towards harnessing the demographic dividend and achievement of other development goals.

The Minister of Youth, Honorable Grace Obama Chiumia, noted that among key plans for mobilising youth’s development potential, her ministry is planning to reactivate the former Malawi Young Pioneer Training Bases into training centres to improve skills of young people in agriculture.  Part of this will be to focus on agro-industries and value addition. She commended the President for prioritising youth issues in his government.

 

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