If Africa’s tech-savvy youth are given their basic needs, it will enable them to change the future, according to Microsoft founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates.
Gates was delivering the 14th annual Nelson Mandela memorial lecture at the University of Pretoria on Sunday night.
The theme of the lecture was “living together”.
Sharing Mandela’s love for young people is a reason why Gates is so optimistic about the future of Africa, he said.
“Demographically, Africa is the world’s youngest continent, and its youth can be the source of a special dynamism.
“In the next 35 years, two billion babies will be born in Africa. By 2050, 40% of the world’s children will live on this continent.
“Economists talk about the demographic dividend,” he said. “When you have more people of working age, and fewer dependents for them to take care of, you can generate phenomenal economic growth.”
Gates said young people are important because of the way their minds work. “Young people are better than old people at driving innovation, because they are not locked in by the limits of the past,” he said.
“When I started Microsoft in 1975 — at the age of 19 — computer science was a young field. We didn’t feel beholden to old notions about what computers could or should do. We dreamed about the next big thing, and we scoured the world around us for the ideas and the tools that would help us create it.
“But it wasn’t just at Microsoft. Steve Jobs was 21 when he started Apple. Mark Zuckerberg was only 19 when he created Facebook.
“The African entrepreneurs driving start-up booms in the Silicon Savannahs from Johannesburg and Cape Town to Lagos and Nairobi are just as young — in chronological age, but also in outlook. The thousands of businesses they’re creating are already changing daily life across the continent.”
Gates said the real returns will come if Africa can multiply this talent for innovation by the whole of Africa’s growing youth population. “That depends on whether Africa’s young people … are given the opportunity to thrive,” he said.
“If we make sure the basic needs of Africa’s young people are taken care of, then they will have the physical, cognitive, and emotional resources they need to change the future,” he said.
“Life on this continent will improve faster than it ever has. And the inequities that have kept people apart will be erased by broad-based progress that is the very meaning of the words: ‘living together’.”