WINDHOEK – Southern Africa’s youth hold the potential as an engine for growth for the region and are key to achieving the region’s overall objectives, with prospects to bring innovative ideas and solutions. During the introductory remarks at the official opening ceremony of the 38th Ordinary Summit of the SADC Heads of State and Government on Friday, SADC Secretary General, Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax, said the summit’s theme calls on stakeholders and partners to catalyse infrastructure development so as to leverage industrialisation while taking advantage of the demographic dividend offered by the youth that constitute more than 75 percent of the region’s population.
This year’s summit was hosted under the theme “Promoting Infrastructure and Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development” to take forward the SADC industrialisation, and economic transformation agenda. The theme is anchored on three main elements, namely, infrastructure development, youth empowerment and sustainable development, which are catalysts and in tandem with the SADC industrialisation agenda.
Current estimates project the SADC combined population at close to 342.3 million, 60 percent of whom, are under the age of 35. “With such a large and increasing youth population, the region is sitting on a gold mine, which needs to be taped. The numbers not only offer substantial labour and market for goods and services, but also offer a demographic dividend that will ensure prolonged sustainable socio-economic growth and development of the region. May I, therefore, call upon member states (public and private sectors) to take advantage of this year’s theme and harness the demographic dividend that the youth offer,” said Tax.
She noted that on the economic front, the region has continued to pursue policies and programmes towards enhancing economic performance. “This notwithstanding, the region has experienced dampened economic growth, that has affected some sectors, including the financial sector as indicated by the rising of non-performing loans. While inflation has slowed down, it remains high with some member states still in the double-digit levels. Depreciating currencies continued to influence price movements in some of the member states. In the fiscal sector, public revenues have remained low, in the face of increasing public expenditures. It is therefore important for member states to remain vigilant in implementing policies aimed at diversifying their economies to ensure resilience,” said Tax.
She added that after the 2014 Extraordinary Summit in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, during which SADC took a decision that the region will have to frontload industrialisation for technological and economic transformation, the region has remained on course with the implementation of the SADC industrialisation agenda.
Tax further encouraged the private sector to use the SADC private sector engagement mechanism platform to forge smart partnerships with the public sector. “As directed during the 37th Summit last year, progress was also made in establishment of the regional gas mechanism, which is to promote the inclusion of gas in the regional energy mix, with a view to facilitate universal access to energy and promote industrial development,” she stated.
Tax also cautioned that the global industrial landscape is fast changing with the deployment of new technologies, collectively known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, whose technologies include artificial intelligence, robotics, advanced material science, additive manufacturing (3D printing), block chain technology and the use of drones and other unmanned autonomous vehicles. These new developments, she warned, cannot be ignored as SADC implements its own strategies, especially the industrialisation strategy.
“SADC needs to catch up with the rest of the world concerning the disruptive reality of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Our schools, training institutions, workplaces and factories will need to urgently transform in order to adapt to this new phenomenon. Whilst there has been initiatives at sectoral level, the region needs to have an integrated strategy and do more. On behalf of SADC, may I call upon member states, working with the Secretariat, to double our efforts in order for the region to be a competent participant in the digital economy. Going forward the Secretariat will endeavour to mainstream elements of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the relevant programmes,” Tax said.