Ambassador Baba Gana Wakil (middle), ECOWAS Resident Representative, interacting with Moudjib Djinadou (left), Director, Political Affairs, UNOWAS, at the 2024 Youth for Voices for Change Forum in Accra. With them is Ambassador Francis Njoaguani, Director, ECOWAS Youth and Sports Development  Centre. Picture: SAMUEL TEI ADANO
Ambassador Baba Gana Wakil (middle), ECOWAS Resident Representative, interacting with Moudjib Djinadou (left), Director, Political Affairs, UNOWAS, at the 2024 Youth for Voices for Change Forum in Accra. With them is Ambassador Francis Njoaguani, Director, ECOWAS Youth and Sports Development Centre. Picture: SAMUEL TEI ADANO

Youth urged to harness digital innovation for growth

West African youth have been urged to harness digital innovation to ensure peace, stability and fast-tracking of economic development of the sub-region.

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To achieve those objectives, however, governments need to empower young people to contribute to a more stable, inclusive and prosperous region. The Director of ECOWAS Youth and Sports Development Centre, Francis Chucks Njoaguani, was speaking at the 2024 Youth Voices for Change summit in Accra yesterday on the theme: "Youth digital innovation for inclusivity, regional growth and stability."

It was organised by ECOWAS, supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), the West Africa Network of Peace building (WANEP) and the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel.

Youth delegates and other stakeholders from across the region are attending the two-day event to amplify their voices to influence political decision-making and peace processes.

It is also aimed at fostering youth-led innovations, building partnerships and creating a network of youth innovators to promote conflict prevention and reduce violence across the region.

Youth population

Mr Njoaguani said that 64 per cent of West Africa's population were people under 24 years old, a demographic dividend that presents a unique opportunity for regional development.

He highlighted the need for support programmes that promoted science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, and vocational training to equip young people with relevant skills.

"We must also involve the youth in policy discussions and decision-making processes, because their insights, often fresh and innovative, can lead to better outcomes," Mr Njoaguani added.

He said the ECOWAS Vision 2050 and the African Union's Agenda 2063 prioritised youth involvement in driving positive change, and that the summit aligned with those aspirations.

The ECOWAS Resident Representative in Ghana, Baba Gana Wakil, said with the youth population in West Africa growing rapidly, there was the urgent need to empower them, particularly women, to fully realise their talents and contribute to the development of their respective communities. 

"By empowering them, we are not only investing in their future, but also in the future of our region. Let us work together to ensure that the voices of our young people are heard, their innovations supported, and their potential fully realised," Mr Wakil said.

Threats

The Deputy Director of the National Counter Terrorism Fusion Centre, Daniel Bonsu, said the digital space was where threats were hidden, and that the informal sector was particularly vulnerable.

The Deputy Director of WANEP, Levenia Addae-Mensah, also said that digital technology offered opportunities for young people to connect, collaborate and create solutions to drive regional growth and stability.

For her part, a Senior Regional Peace and Governance Advisor, USAID West Africa, Ina Pislaru, acknowledged the significant challenge posed by the growing youth population in the region. She, however, expressed optimism about the opportunities that come with it.

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