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Taming youth unemployment in Africa


For many Africa?s youth, JOBS are the number JOB for their political leaders. Africa?s youth unemployment challenges encompass more than just the lack of jobs since they often have little access to good quality jobs.

?Today, Africa?s young people have visions and aspirations that may seem unattainable, yet they make an essential contribution to today?s societies and the future that awaits coming generations. In all parts of the world, young people live in countries at various stages of development and within differing socio-economic situations, where they generally aspire to live full lives as members of the societies to which they belong.

Youthful and jobless population

With al?most 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa has the youngest population in the world. In a majority of Af?rican countries, youth account for more than 20 percent of the population (African Development Bank [AfDB], 2012). In addition, the number of young people will double by 2045, offering the possibility of a demographic dividend, but only if they can be absorbed into productive employment. On the whole, youths constitute about 60% of Africa?s entire population.


Sub-Saharan Africa?s population is growing at more than twice the pace of any other region. Although the overall rate of population expansion has been gradually declining for decades, the absolute number of working-age people will grow by approximately 14 million next year alone. By 2030, when children born this year reach their 16th birthdays, the corresponding labor pool will have grown by 21 mil?lion people annually (Foresight Africa, 2014).

The case of unemployment

Amidst the recent rapid economic growth sweeping across the continent, the youths are yet to find their place. The growth is not creating jobs enough to absorb the young people and this has pushed most of them into one form of self-employment and family labour.? In 2011, 82 percent of Af?rican workers were working poor, compared to the world av?erage of 39 percent (International Labor Organization [ILO], 2011).

Africa is not creating enough jobs to absorb the 10 million to 12 million young people entering its labor markets each year. According to Foresight Africa?s 2013 report, ?although the youth population constitutes about two-fifths of the con?tinent?s working-age population, they make up three-fifths of the unemployed?.

Unemployment has therefore become one of the most serious problems facing the African continent. In accordance with IMF/World Bank conditions, most of the African countries applying structural adjustment measures have retrenched large number of public-sector workers. In February 1995, for example, the Zimbabwean Cabinet ordered all government ministries to reduce their staff numbers by 40 per cent, which translated into the abolition of about 10,000 posts by the middle of the year. The bad situation in Africa has been exacerbated by demographic pressure, resulting in a high number of new entrants to the labour market annually. There has also been an increase in unemployment among university graduates in many African countries.

African countries with low unemployment tend to have large informal sectors. Young people find work, but not in places that pay good wages, de?velop skills or provide a measure of job security. Youth unemployment was about double the overall unemployment rate, but is low by global standards. The ratio of youth to adult unemployment in sub-Saharan Africa is 1:9 compared to 2:7 worldwide (African Develop?ment Bank [AfDB], 2012). Over 70 percent of youth in the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Rwanda, Senegal and Uganda are either self-employed or contributing to family work.

Defective educational system, lack of vocational guidance and training facilities and negligence of leaders could be associated with youth unemployment in Africa.

?The Effects

Unemployment among the youth poses various threats which impede against the economic development in Africa. Unemployment leads to loss of human resources. Young people with adequate skills and competence are rather left unutilized due to the problem of unemployment. Individuals’ talents and skills are untapped and left unutilized. This indeed is a great loss to Africa as such skills could have been utilized to foster growth on the continent.

High rate of youth unemployment leads to increase in poverty. Unemployment deprives a man of all sources of income and this is highly manifested across the continent. Most Africans due to poverty arising out of unemployment cannot satisfy the basic necessity of life. Most young African’s leave in the streets across the capital cities because of their inability to afford a decent accommodation.

Unemployment again leads to the breeding of social problems; dishonesty, gambling, bribery, theft etc. Prolonged unemployment usually results in some form of social unrest, as reflected by an increased crime rate and violent agitators. It breeds discontent against the state, and any slight provocative issue or incident may trigger violent demonstrations and social unrest, which may result in loss of life and damage to properties. As a result of unemployment, social security is jeopardized. It?s of no wonder that most electoral violence staged on the continent are been instigated largely by the unemployed youths. So this suffices to say that unemployment is an automatic threat to social, economic and political security.

Unemployed youth is without doubt a threat to political stability in Africa. Young individuals can easily be enticed by antisocial elements; they lose all faith in democratic values and peaceful means and consider that Government is worthless which fails to provide them work. Here in Africa where the dependence ratio on governments is very high, people tend to resort to any means to retaliate to get their issues addressed.


Again, exploitation of labour becomes the order of the day when there is high rate of unemployment: In the state of unemployment, labourers are exploited to the maximum possible extent. Those labourers who get work have to work under adverse condition of low wages. Such individuals are deeply subjected to harsh conditions of services because they are anxiously seeking for employment and this sounds a threat to social and economic justice.

2014 and beyond

However, in 2014, more young people across the continent would ask for more jobs. Not just jobs, but quality ones for that matter. The pressure on political leaders and managers of the economy would without doubt increase.

Policy actions are therefore needed of African governments in 2014 and beyond to be able to generate enough jobs. Seen from this perspective,?? active labor market policies can make a contribution to solv?ing the youth unemployment problem. Therefore, in 2014, whilst policy makers are targeting growth, ?quality? jobs creation should also be taken into consideration. A new action plan?one that combines efforts to improve the employment prospects for young people with a strategy for job creation?is needed in Africa.

Strategically targeting youth unemployment could help the continent to diversify and develop a very dynamic and vital workforce as that of Asia?s ? especially compared with that of Europe?s ageing population.


Interventions can be undertaken to improve the employment prospects of new labor force en?trants. Governments can target young workers in employment-intensive activities.? Governments can also experiment with increasing bud?get allocations to labor-intensive public works. Public works programs provide good opportunities for young workers, par?ticularly rural residents and people with low skills, to acquire initial work experience. All these are actions required of leaders across the continent.

In the quest of providing jobs for the youth, African governments must also consider the skills development with its working youths. There is a severe mismatch between the skills of young Af?rican workers and those needed by employers. In most sub-Saharan African countries, about two-thirds of all young work?ers in the labor market?95 million people?lack the basic skills needed to be competitive in the labor force (World Bank, 2008). In 2014 therefore, perhaps African governments should focus on improving on the post ? primary education levels of their youth.

In the new global economy, young people need to acquire more than just basic education, and curricula should be influenced by the current status of globalization and regional integration. Investing in education and skills development for young people should therefore go beyond increasing basic literacy rates to assure dynamic, multifaceted knowledge-building at higher and tertiary levels. This will go a long way in preparing young people for the evolving labour market. This would therefore require more than just employment policies to include strategic industrial development.


Paul Frimpong

? Chartered Economist (ACCE-Global) writes on the macro-economy and global affairs.

He is also an African Affairs Analyst and Emerging Markets Strategist.

?Tel: +233 -241 229 548

Email: py.frimpong@yahoo.com/py.frimpong90@gmail.com


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