Youths account for 60% of all of Africa’s unemployed, according to a recent report of the World Bank. In North Africa, the youth unemployment rate is 25% but is even greater in Botswana, the Republic of the Congo, Senegal, and South Africa, among others. With 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa has the largest population of young people in the world.
More than 70% of the youth in the “Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Rwanda, Senegal and Uganda are either self-employed or contributing to family work,” adds the World Bank report.
But under-employment is not a solution to poverty, notes the International Labour Organization (ILO), which reported in 2016 that up to 70% of African workers were “working poor”, the highest rate globally. The organisation added that “the number of poor working youth has increased by as much as 80% for the past 25 years”.
Mthuli Ncube, the chief economist at the African Development bank had this to say, “this is an unacceptable reality on a continent with such an impressive pool of youth, talent and creativity”. Alexander Chikwanda, Zambia’s former finance minister, put it succinctly: “Youth unemployment is a ticking time bomb”, that now appears to be perilously close to exploding. The analogy draws attention to the consequences of high youth unemployment in a continent where about 10-12 million young people join the labour market each year.
A number of African governments have, however, made some efforts to match words with action. Ghana, for example, created a national youth service and empowerment programmes to equip college graduates with requisite skills and help them find jobs. Mauritius developed a plan to encourage technical and vocational education for young people. Zambia introduced a national youth policy and a youth enterprise fund to stimulate job creation.
Several international organisations have proposed a jobs strategy that pays more attention to rural development. Investment in agriculture slows down youth migration into urban areas and prepares young people for the contemporary labour market.
Young people migrating into Africa’s urban areas aggravate city unemployment. They often confront obstacles, including discrimination due to their inexperience, according to African Economic Outlook, a publication of the UN Economic Commission for Africa. Even those who are lucky enough to find employment are the first to be laid off when economic growth derails.
The African Union also lends its voice to the call for more investments in agriculture. The AU requests its members to allocate 15% of their national budgets to agriculture.