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Robots’ll claim 2bn jobs by 2050, UN warns

…Visiting special envoy, Kikwete, tasks Nigeria, others to invest in skill-based education

By Cosmas Omegoh

Visiting United Nations (UN) special envoy, Mr. Jakaya Kikwete, has declared that an estimated two billion jobs would be lost worldwide by 2050, warning Nigeria to brace up to the rising challenge of robots and machines. He said only massive investment in education of youths would stave off the impending calamity.

“African youths now need skills that will help them become self-employed, skills that will enable them establish their own businesses and earn income. They have to acquire these skills now because, as the situation is, by 2050, an estimated two billion jobs will be lost to machines. It is only youths who have higher skills that will have the cutting edge. This will happen to young people. So, if we can invest in their quality education now, when that time comes, young people in Africa will be able to compete favourably in the global market,” he said.

Kikwet, the immediate past president of Tanzania, and the country’s one-time foreign minister, expressed the UN’s concern over the encroachment of machines and robots in many countries. He said that the global body was worried that, if the challenge was not addressed now, the future of the youth might hang in the balance, and the only way to address the emerging trend was to ensure that the younger generation acquired skills and self-sustaining education that would help them become entrepreneurs.   

Kikwete disclosed that the UN was alarmed by the dwindling fortunes of education around the world and now wanted some action to halt the slide. According to the special envoy, it was on account of this that the UN last week sent him to Abuja to discuss with Nigerian authorities on the ways of salvaging the situation. He added that, in his private capacity, he was seeking collaboration with non-state actors in the area of youth empowerment, because he was passionate about the future of youths. 

On arrival in Lagos, Kikwete and his entourage were received by his long-time friend, Emperor Chris Baywood Ibe and former Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Odein Ajumogobia, among other dignitaries. Kiwkete later flew to Abuja to discuss the UN’s concerns with the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

When he returned to Lagos, Kikwete shared his experiences with newsmen. He said: “I’m here to see the Vice President, Mr. Yemi Osinbajo, and to discuss ways of saving the future of education in Nigeria and Africa.

“I’m a special envoy of the International Commission on Financing of Global Education Opportunity. It is a commission that was set up in September 2015 to do an indepth study of the state of education in the world.  In September 2016, we presented our report to the then secretary-general of the UN, Mr. Ban Ki-moon. The five leaders who were members of the commission included the Prime Minister of Norway, President of Chile, President of Malawi, President of Indonesia and the Director-General of UNESCO.

“The commission had 27 members. Africa had eight members in it. Out of the eight, Nigeria had two members: Aliko Dangote, and Madam Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

“Already, we have finished our work and now we are at the stage of telling the leaders of the world the work of the commission because we have to start somewhere. So the commission decided to start with 14 countries in Africa. We call those countries pioneer countries; Nigeria is one of them. That is why I came here to see Mr. Osinbajo, to discuss with him.”

He disclosed further that “the conclusion of the commission is that the world is currently facing an alarming education crisis, which is more pronounced in the lower and middle-income countries. These countries lag far behind developed countries in terms of education development and achievement. We are 70 years behind the developed countries. So the commission is looking at how these countries can catch up with the rest of the world because we have to catch up. What the commission is saying now is that this catching-up game has to be achieved within a generation. That is why we call the vision ‘millennium generation vision.’

“The other aspect is that the commission looked at access to education, the students completing their education, and the third is the learning outcome.”

Kiwkete described his meeting with Osinbajo as ‘fruitful’ saying that “the Vice President is on top of the state of education in Nigeria. He was appreciative of the work of the commission and the advice it has so far given. He assured us that Nigeria was ready to play its role as a pioneer country in the implementation of the recommendations of the commission.”

He also expressed the hope that the future of African youths was inspiring, but added that “the first thing that the youths need is now is education, education that will give them the necessary skills required in the job market.

“The future of African youths is challenging but there are a lot of prospects. The youths of Africa should not give up as long as the issues militating against their growth have been identified and there is readiness to do something; I think there are a lot of prospects.”

Kikwete noted that, in the course of empowering the youths, there was need to work with some non-governmental organisations: “In the work of the commission, we are talking to governments first because they have the responsibility of investing in their young people. But when it comes to working with the NGOs, it is an important recommendation of the commission that government should also work with non-state actors in the provision of education and development of the youths. And when you are talking about non-state actions, you are talking about civil society organisations and faith-based institutions and organisation.”

The commission would seek to collaborate with credible non-state actors with a track record of working with the youth and genuinely empowering them for sustainable development.

Kikwete stated that in Tanzania and in a few countries in East Africa, his Jakaya Kikwete Foundation was already working to improve the lot of the youth, in what he described as a duty he owed them.

“I’m also here to see how we can work with non-state actors. We have identified the Baywood Foundation pioneered by Emperor Chris Baywood Ibe, who is my brother and friend. Definitely, his group and others involved in youth empowerment will be playing some significant role in that regard.

“His NGO has been working and investing in young people in the past 20 years. One of the things he has been doing borders on education. We are definitely going to see him as an important partner in the work of the commission.

“I also run a foundation, the Jakaya Kikwete Foundation, in Tanzania. We target education and youths, youth education, youth leadership and mentorship,” he said.

Ibe thanked the UN envoy for his work for the youth, which he said was heart-warming. He recalled that young people were the future of the world, so that equipping them with requisite skills to prepare for the future had become imperative.

Ibe, who spoke extensively about his concern for the youth, said: “We are planning a one-million-youth rally in Abuja soon to draw attention to the plight of youths. We want government to do something fast to ameliorate the suffering of youths, who are the hope for the future.”

In his remarks, Ajumogabia, former minister of state for Petroleum Resources, commended the UN envoy for his visit. He expressed the hope that the collaboration would immensely benefit Nigerian youths, and urged him to carry the country along in his programme.

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