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5th June 2020

Confronting Africa's daunting youth unemployment rate

by Dan Agbo

Speaking on the topic “Delivering the Promise of Africa’s Youth” at this year’s World Economic Forum on Africa, the President of Botswana, Eric Masisi, described the unemployment situation in his country as "a ticking time bomb", but it's a problem

The context

According to the World Bank, youths account for 60% of all of Africa’s jobless. North Africa has a staggering 25% unemployment rate. In Nigeria, nearly a quarter of the population is out of work and 20% is underemployed. For young people aged 15 to 35, the figures are grim: 55.4% of them are without work, according to Al Jazeera.

With 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24, Africa is home to the world's largest youth population.

According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), youth unemployment “occurs at a rate more than twice that for adults” in most African countries, and about 12 million youths enter the labour market each year. Meanwhile only 3.1 million jobs are created annually, leaving a vast majority jobless.

On the same panel as Masisi, the former Vice-President for Africa at World Bank, Oby Ezekwesili agreed with the AfDB's findings. She stated, “I need you to know that only 10% of the 12 million would find anything that is defined as decent jobs according to ILO.”

The causes

There are a lot of factors that account for the growing problem of youth unemployment in Africa. The ILO says, “there is no unique determinant of the youth employment challenge in the African region. Rather, a combination of factors contributes to compound a situation that has become a top political priority for the region.”

Ezekwesili, however, blamed the high rate of youth unemployment in Africa on bad governance and urged a review of government policies. “We must look at the failure of governance to actually have the right kinds of policies that lead to growth, the growth that is diversified, the growth that is inclusive.”

The consequences

Unemployment has grave consequences in Africa. AfDB identifies poverty, migration, and conflicts as the consequences of unemployment on the continent.

Fellow panellist and president of Ethiopia, Sahle-work Zewde, also identified migration as one of the major causes of unemployment and said, “there is a huge influx of people into the cities.” This increases the unemployment rate in the cities and overstretches infrastructure.

The solutions

During the discussion, Ezekwesili advocated the overhaul of the entire education system. She advised the government to “render the very anachronistic system of education redundant” and weed out the “people who are still tied to the old ideas of the British education system” from the education ministries across Africa.

Zewde said education has a huge role to play in reducing the unemployment burden on Africa, adding that it is “high time globally to re-examine and rethink what education is for the future of mankind”.

She stated that education should match the needs of a country and disclosed that a new curriculum is already in place in Ethiopia as a way of addressing youth unemployment in that country.

Meanwhile, Masisi advocated a review of the curriculum. “We need to look into a very intensive review of the curriculum. And we need to do that with a full understanding that the curriculum we are going to review is still going to be relevant in a few years. It should be designed to allow for newer skill sets.”

Ezekwesili also urged a review of different sectors to identify what would make them “productive and competitive” and invest in them.

She equally made a case for “good governance, good policies…structural change of our economy [and the] structural change of our political landscape”.

The Chairman of Zenith Bank, Jim Ovia, advocated vocational training. “Many of the young people have an education. They are already educated. What they lack is the skill to perform certain specific tasks. They needed to have those skills.”

He urged the government to create more vocational schools for ICT, agriculture, manufacturing, petrochemicals, arguing that these areas would create jobs for youths.

He was optimistic that targeting about 400 million new startups in the next five years would reduce the rate of unemployment in Africa and reverse the trend on the continent.

Vice-President of Google's Global Public Policy and Government Affairs, Karan Bhatia, suggested that technology was the solution to the rising unemployment problem in Africa, and said Africa was “trailing badly in terms of internet accessibility of 35% as opposed to well over 50% in the Asia Pacific region”.

He, therefore, urged the embracing of digital culture, and data regulation, adding that Google would train 10 million kids in Africa on digital education with 50% target in women and girls.

Now we know our problems and have the solutions, we should, as a matter of urgency, take the bull by the horns and confront the issue of youth unemployment in Africa head-on because the entire continent is running out of time.

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Delivering the Promise of Africa’s Youth