Jessica Shelver

Jessica Shelver: #YouthDay Message on How Young Africans Can Contribute to Civic Engagement

Africa’s youth population boom means that they cannot be left behind in civic engagement because whatever decisions made matters on their future, hence the need for African youths to actively participate in civic engagement.

We spoke with young people from around the continent about the world they want, especially how young people can contribute to Africa’s development.

In this mini-series which will begin and end today as part of the International Youth Day (IYD), I will be sharing the opinion of young leaders across the African continent on the theme of this year’s International Youth Day: “Youth Civic Engagement.”

The first episode of this IYD series  is from Jessica Shelver, a young Democratic Alliance leader and who is also the Spokesperson to Provincial Minister (MEC) for Education Western Cape (South Africa), Debbie Schafer.

Here is Jessica’s thought on how young people can contribute to Africa’s development:


To understand the challenges that the youth on our continent face, one needs to put themselves in the shoes of a sixteen or seventeen year old young adult living in a rural Africa. He or She is full of hope, full of promise, full of desire. But there is little opportunity to apply it.

Africa as a continent is on the rise and it is our youth that will take us into the future. But our continents future depends on our ability to improve access to and the quality of our youth’s education and skills development opportunities.

The focus needs to be on education, education, education…and entrepreneurship.  The youth across Africa face an opportunity divide – a gap between those who have access to the education, skills and training, and those who do not.

The youth are hungry for innovation, technology, opportunity, experimentation and are willing to take risks to get there.

The barriers to resolving the challenge lie in a complex knot of Third World problems and structural societal gaps.

Inequality, inadequate education and skills development opportunities, corruption, lack of access to technology and mentorship, entrench youth melancholy.  But the greatest barrier is leadership. All these problems can be addressed by visionary and committed leadership. Africa needs young futuristic thinkers and doers who can imagine new ways of dealing with old problems.

One of the greatest challenges facing South Africa is the “problem of the youth”. South Africa’s youth have little hope. As the generation watching the sun set on the ideal of the ‘rainbow nation’, stark realities confront them: rising unemployment figures coupled with a climbing cost of living, skills development without the access to opportunities, corruption, lack of leadership and role models, failing infrastructure, HIV/Aids, anger and disillusionment. In 2013, approximately 3.4 million or 32.9% of the 10.4 million youth aged 15-24 were not in employment, education or training – a huge indication of vulnerability and disengagement from work and education (StatsSA, 2013: xvi).

Despite these challenges, I am an optimist and I choose to see things differently. I have hope. There is a saying that goes “A good man apologises for the mistakes of the past, but a great man corrects them.” I am African, a futuristic thinker and doer and I am committed to my country, my continent and to the people of Africa. I am committed to correcting the mistakes of the past and I am committed to being a good leader, and a loyal servant. I am committed to embracing new ways of thinking and developing young leaders who have promise and hope for our continent.

Africa may be mineral rich but our greatest asset is our youth. We need to educate and enable our youth to be productive members of society. We need to unlock their potential and empower them to create employment opportunities, for them to employ and to be employed. We need to ensure that Entrepreneurship forms an integral part of our youth’s education and we need to prepare our youth to be competitive citizens in their field of choice.


You can connect with Jessica on twitter via @JessicaShelver or follow the conversation via the hashtag #YouthDay or #YouthPower


Busayo Sotunde is a prolific writer with special focus on Business, Entrepreneurship, Reproductive Health and other development issues in Africa. Her articles have been published by different outlets including Investing Port and She has a penchant for reading and sustainable development. Follow Busayo on Twitter @BusayomiSotunde

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