By Mary Kate Cronin.

“I do not see the countries and peoples of Africa as a world apart; I see Africa as a fundamental part of our interconnected world – partners with America on behalf of the future we want for all of our children. That partnership must be grounded in mutual responsibility and mutual respect.”

-President Obama, U.S.- Africa Leaders Summit 2014

Today the African continent is home to the largest youth demographic on the planet- that is, 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24, according to the 2015 African Economic Outlook report. The International Monetary Fund predicts within the next five years Africa will be home to eight of the ten fastest growing economies in the world (although it is already home to six). This favorable demography, combined with rapid economic growth, indicates that the continent once dubbed “hopeless” by The Economist magazine in 2000 is at the foothills of a major, promising upturn.

Yet there remains a great disconnect between Western perceptions of the African continent and the quickly-changing realities present on the ground. The common stereotypes about Africa offer simplistic images and stories of destruction and death while overlooking the continent’s embrace of globalization and prosperity.

There’s no question that young Africans face numerous challenges in relation to their economic development and rapid demographic shift- for example, employment opportunities. Conversely, the size, energy, and innovation of these young people are assets that can be harnessed with appropriate policies to further development and adequately deal with the issues facing them.

In addition, these young people are driving the development of a new class of entrepreneurs that African countries need to prosper. Young, innovative African leaders are fighting for positive change and using technology to enhance education and solve problems presented by poor services, lack of infrastructure, and political stagnation.

The important role African youth play in global development cannot be overemphasized. It is crucial that leaders and young people alike partner with one another to strengthen the hold of democracy and human rights, expand economic opportunity, and support those who seek peace in areas where conflict has festered.

In every village, town, city, and country around the world, there are young people with the power to transform their communities and our world. Young people are the key to resolving the entrenched problems facing our generation. Employment, education, health, violence, and climate change- these are all global issues. The inclusion of youth from every corner of the world, I believe, is essential in fighting these challenges at both the local level and the global level.

Author Biography: Mary Kate Cronin is a senior studying Political Science and International Studies at Northwest Missouri State University. After a semester spent studying in Ghana, she has taken special interest in studying the political, economic, and social challenges facing Sub-Saharan Africa. After graduating, she hopes to earn a Master’s in International Development and return to West Africa to serve in the Peace Corps. In her free time she enjoys watching Rachel Maddow, browsing Pinterest, and drinking tea. She is excited to work as an intern with the Global Issues Team this semester and contribute to the growth of AMP Global Youth!