Monday, 22 October 2012

The threat of youth unemployment in Africa

In his opening address at the OECD’s International Economic Forum on Africa, Olusegun Obsanjo warned that youth unemployment in Africa has reached a critical stage.

Speaking to the committee, the former President of Nigeria stipulated that with well over half of 15-24 year olds out of work, the potential for instability in the region had grown, as seen last year in the violent protests that erupted across North Africa and the Middle East.

In the last decade, Africa has experienced exponential economic growth. Going some way to shrug off the ‘Hopeless Continent’ tag tarred on it by The Economist, Africa created 73 million new jobs between 2000 and 2008 (All statistics in this article are taken from Promoting Youth Employment in Africaand has more recently endured the financial crisis with many economies already growing at rates close to their pre-crisis averages. In line with these figures, six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies (2001-2010) were in sub-Saharan Africa.

On the surface this all seems promising, particulary the burgeoning job figures. However, these stats alone bely an underlying problem; only 10% of Africa’s job market is available to youths.

In almost adjacent fashion to Africa’s economic growth, Africa’s working age population grew rapidly in the last decade, between 2000 and 2008 it increased from 443 million to 550 million, an upsurge of 25%. 
If this trajectory continues then the continent’s labour force will reach 1 billion by 2040. With half of the continent’s population under the age of 20, Africa already has the youngest population in the world.
Despite improvements in education that will see 59% of 20-24 year olds with a secondary education by 2030, compared to 42% today, at present about 133 million young people (more than 50% of the of the youth population) are illiterate. Without the vital skills necessary for entering the labour market this group is marginalized.

Even for the educated youth problems could arise if Africa fails to implement an economic infrastructure that will provide sufficient employment opportunities for them.  Obsanjo emphasized the necessity for this support system, “If youth are given education and skill they will prosper...they must have financial support."

For Obsanjo, the prospect of a vast, under skilled and unemployed youth population is a serious concern – at the Forum he expressed that the disaffection felt by this generation could catalyze more Arab Spring-like revolts across Africa.

According to the World Bank, one in two young people who join a rebel movement cites unemployment as the main reason for doing so. In countries like Liberia, a state that has suffered two civil wars since the late 80s, unemployment is seen as one of the major cause of instability. Even in South Africa, the most developed country in the continent, the effects of high youth unemployment have triggered an upsurge in protests over the last few years,  the AFP (see video below) reports that, “Demonstrations have intensified in poor areas of South Africa with the number of protests rising eight fold in the last seven years – peaking at 111 in 2010.” In a derisive article written for, Glenn Ashton focuses on the South African governments faltering attempts to incorporate its politically active and restless youth into the country’s labour force. While the piece is openly one sided, it does provide further insight into this particular matter.

The devastating consequences of violence are all to clear from the recent horrors taking place in Syria, however, the economic ramifications of civil unrest should not be overlooked. According to the Africa Economic Outlook survey, the Arab revolutions caused “North Africa’s Gross Domestic Product to decline by 3.6 percentage points to near stagnation in 2011.” It is arguable that support systems for jobless youths must be put in place, not only to avoid bloodshed, but to ensure the sustainability of economic development in Africa.

Obsanjo concluded his speech by reminding the committee of the resourcefulness and dynamism of young people, and the necessity of including them in plans for Africa’s economic future. He stressed the importance of maximising the potential of youth by creating policies that provide education and opportunities. He closed with, 
“Youths must see themselves as agents. They must have the right attitude. They must not give up.” 

Robbie Lawrence, Wikichild Coordinator


No comments:

Post a Comment