“A larger and more productive private sector is a necessity if Africa is to experience sustainable development. Private sector-led growth must create more and better employment for Africa’s growing youth population. Employment will reduce poverty, improve the standards of living for Africans and create the basis for sustainable development and for reaching the Millennium Development Goals.” - Lars Lokke Rasmussen, Chairman of the Africa Commission, Report of the Africa Commission 2009
Africa is lagging behind in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and investment in the private sector and youth presents one of the most promising and sustainable answers, according to the newly formed Africa Commission. The Africa Commission presented its recommendations at a Special Event at UN Headquarters this week, citing the findings of their 2009 Report and sharing concrete recommendations for helping Africa meet the 2015 MDG targets and beyond.
The Special Event
The Secretary General opened the November 23 Special Event on Private Sector Development and the Achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, reiterating the need to act urgently given that gains made have been threatened by conflict, the financial crisis and climate change. He commended the African Commission for its excellent work, in particular its emphasis on youth employment, noting that Africa has the fastest growing youth population in the world, with more than 60% of those unemployed under 25 years old.
The Special Event comes with the 10 year MDG Review Summiton the horizon, planned to coincide with the 65th General Assembly meeting in September 2010, where progress on the MDG targets will be assessed. Africa currently has the lowest income per capita and the lowest life expectancy among developing countries, lagging behind every other continent in the achievement of the MDGs.
The Africa Commission
The Africa Commission, formed in May 2008 by Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen and boasting more than 1,000 stakeholders from academia, the private and public sectors, government and civil society, with the majority from African countries, was created with the belief that “private sector development that creates employment is a must if Africa is to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015” 
The Africa Commission’s recommendations, with a focus on private-sector led youth employment, seek to provide sustainable policy initiatives that would aid Africa’s progress on the MDGs in the face of threats such as the financial crisis, food shortages, volatile energy prices and climate change.
At the UN Special Event, Ms. Ulla Tornaes, Danish Minister for Development Cooperation and member of the Africa Commission, presented the Commission’s five international initiatives [http://www.africacommission." id="nh2">2] . The initiatives are comprised of key areas of concern coupled with concrete actions that works towards the Commission’s overarching aim of finding effective means of creating job opportunities for young Africans through private sector-led economic growth. The Commission’s 2009 Report, “Realising the Potential of Africa’s Youth” details the five initiatives.
The African Development Bank
Dr. Donald Kaberuka, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB) and member of the Africa Commission, seconded the Danish Minister’s calls for increased private-sector investment, stating that the “MDG’s can only be achieved if we attain economic growth of 7%, minimum, for at least 10 years” a target that was derailed last year by the financial crisis. The continent’s GDP grew at an average of more than 6% per year between 2002 and 2007, but shrunk to less than 2% in 2009. 
“A New Paradigm”: Focus on Youth, Sustainable Energy and the Private Sector
Mr. Jakaya Mrisho Kilwete, President of the United Republic of Tanzania and co-chair of the Africa Commission hailed the Commission’s international partnerships and reliance on “African solutions to African challenges,” asserting that “The Commission is providing a new paradigm on international development cooperation with Africa… We are advocating a shift in focus towards enterprise-led development in Africa: Aid in itself will not ensure sustainable development. Improving Africa’s competitiveness will.”
He emphasized the Commission’s focus on youth employment, noting that in some countries young people account for as much as 80% of unemployment, feeding armed groups, criminal gangs and political conflict.
The Special Event’s final panellist, the Ambassador of Uganda Mr. Ruhakana Rugunda, echoed the other speakers’ calls for increased attention on youth, stating that “we must harness the tremendous potential of youth employment” and that investment in the private sector, youth employment and sustainable energy is crucial for the achievement of the MDGs. The twin problems of increased employable youth and shortage of technical skills, he added, necessitate programs that foster youth access to information, start-up capital, and skills training.
The Africa Commission’s Report can be seen here
The AfDB, in conjunction with the Africa Commission has developed a US$500,000 dollar fund which provides loans for youth businesses, as well as an “Access to Sustainable Energy” Initiative. You can read more about these initiatives here
You can find more information about the Millennium Development Goals here
The Secretary General’s statement is available here
This article is available in Spanish.