By Biodun Awosusi (a submission for the BlogActionDay #BAD2012 event on the #powerofwe)
There are 200million people in Africa between 15 and 24 years of age. This represents about 20% of the population. According to the Population Research Bureau, Africa has the fastest growing and most youthful population in the world. Over 40 percent of its population is under 15. Africa’s high fertility rate is responsible for this. This demographic finding portends challenges and opportunities. The challenges are economic and social; both are highly connected. As the population expands, jobs must be created. If these jobs are not enough, there will be many young people who are unemployed. According to the International Labor Organization, 3 out of 5 unemployed people in Africa are young people.
The World Bank 2008 Report titled ‘Youth Employment in Africa: the potential, the problem and the promise’ notes that youth employment is more prevalent in urban areas. Worsening conditions in the rural areas lead to rural-urban migration. This compounds the unemployment challenge in the urban centres. This is clearly evident in many big cities in Africa including Lagos, Ibadan, Aba, Zaria, Accra, Darkar, and Johannesburg, just to mention a few.
Effects of Youth Unemployment
Unemployed youth are therefore readily available for anti-social criminal activities that undermine the stability of society. An unstable society increases the risk of the market. This scares investors. Jorge Saba Arbache of the Africa Region of the World Bank says ‘unemployed and underemployed youth are more exposed to conflicts and illegal activities-many of them fall prey to armed and rebel conflicts’.
In Nigeria, the unemployment rate is worrisome. It has consistently increased in the last few years. Former presidential aspirant and business mogul Prof Pat Utomi wonders why Nigeria experiences rising rate of unemployment despite its rating as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The situation is no different in the other 6 countries listed in Africa listed as one of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world. Zambian Minister of Finance Alexander Chikwanda once said that the youth unemployment is ‘a ticking time bomb for all of us’.
Response by African Leaders
In response to this challenge, regional and continental governments have met severally to discuss solutions to youth unemployment in Africa. On 18th February 2009 in Addis Ababa, African heads of state declared 2009-2019 as the decade of youth development in Africa. They resolved to advance youth development and ensure increased investments in youth development programmes at national levels.
The declaration was reviewed two years later. On 1st July 2011, the heads of state and government met in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea to discuss the need to ‘accelerate youth empowerment for sustainable development’. They reinforced the Addis Ababa 2009 declaration and promised ‘creation of safe, decent and competitive employment opportunities’. In July 2012, the African Development Bank facilitated a policy dialogue on youth employment for the Southern African region, chaired by its Vice President Prof Mthuli Ncube.
Let’s see what this led to. In Ghana, the government created the National Youth Service for its graduates and also the National Youth Employment Program (NYEP) to secure jobs for the unemployed. Mauritius has a National Human resource plan that provides framework for technical and vocational education. Zambia introduced the National Youth policy and Youth Enterprise fund to reduce poverty and create jobs. The Nigerian government introduced Skill Acquisition and enterprise development into the National Youth service corp, and a business plan competition for young people tagged ‘YOUWIN’ program. These efforts have not clearly resulted in significant reduction in youth unemployment.
The AfDB chief economist Prof Ncube says ‘it has become clear that there are no quick fixes to ensuring that all Africa’s young people get off to a good start. Stronger job creation mechanisms grounded in a deliberate strategy for inclusive growth and social development is needed’.
Addressing the youth unemployment in Africa requires an integrated holistic approach. Shortcuts will not work. The World Bank 2008 report advocates for a comprehensive model that caters for rural development, rural-urban migration, preparation of young people for the labor market and investments in agriculture.
The aim of every government should be to create enabling environment to promote investments. This includes provision of power, maintaining law and order, and adequate security. The justice system must also be strong to facilitate strong contracts and protect mutual trust. Regional organizations such as ECOWAS must ensure that policy for economic integration is not just on paper but clearly implemented in real terms, across the borders. Minimum standards should be set for products that will cross borders. Free movement of people and goods should be allowed, within the limits of regional and international trade treaties.
Education curriculum must be immediately revised to incorporate skills and enterprise development. A special program should be designed for low-skilled youth in vocational centres. Incentives should be provided to SMEs that promote student internships. The current state of youth unemployment in Nigeria and the rest of Africa require shared responsibilities to tackle it. It will take the ‘Power of We’ to solve it. Businesses will thrive in a safe and secure society. Government can implement developmental programs only in an atmosphere of peace of security. It is therefore incumbent on government to work closely with the private sector to promote internships, graduate trainee programmes, and community-based projects that create jobs for young people. Social Enterpreneurship is a viable tool that can create jobs for many young people.
Agriculture is a viable source of investments for young people if it is made attractive. There should be a swift transition from subsistence to commercialized farming. Farm and non-farm activities should be better packaged to make them really attractive. There should also be adequate investment in rural education. This will boost rural opportunities and reduce rural-urban migration and its concomitant challenges.
Arbache says ‘the demographic transition is an opportunity for Africa to compete internationally. The main challenge is to employ the appropriate policies for the region to benefit from this unique opportunity’. It is my belief that individuals, organizations and government will make appropriate decisions to maximize this opportunity.
Youth and Employment in Africa: The Potential, The Problem and the Promise, World Bank
‘Youth unemployment to rise to 75million in 2012’, Business Day Tuesday 22nd May, 2012.
Seminar tackles youth employment in Africa, African Development Bank, 10 July, 2012
Zuehike, E. (2009) ‘Youth Employment and underemployment in Africa brings uncertainty and opportunity’, Population Reference Bureau.
Fanimo, D. & Okere, R. (2009) ‘Nigerians bemoan rate of unemployment, seek action’, The Guardian, Tuesday 7, 2012.