Unemployment – The biggest thief of hope among the youth in Africa

In 2015, world leaders came together and adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development in a historic summit held in New York.

The SDGs, also known as Global Goals, aim to end all forms of poverty. These Goals call for action by all countries, poor, rich and middle-income to promote prosperity while protecting the planet. They recognize that ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that create inclusive economic growth and address a range of social needs – including education, health, social protection, and job opportunities.

The Sustainable Development Goal 8 intends to “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”.  The decent work for all includes young people, who find themselves grappling with the increasing unemployment rate. There is no doubt that youth unemployment has reached an alarming proportion in Africa. According to the World Bank, 60% of jobless people in Africa are young people. The scenario gets grimmer when one considers that the African Development Bank notes that youth unemployment occurs at a rate more than twice that for adults. Africa is said to have the largest population of youth in the word, with the total estimated to be about 200 million in the 15-24 age groups.

Various reasons are said to contribute to youth unemployment, including rapid population growth, a skills mismatch between available skills and jobs in the market, lack of experience, inappropriate ways of searching for jobs, and lack of career guidance in schools.  The biggest problem however, is that economies in Africa simply do not produce enough employment opportunities, partly because of lack of investment in labour intensive sectors.

In a country like South Africa the unemployment problem is particularly pronounced. According to a Statistics South Africa report that was released this year, the unemployment rate increased from 26.5% to 27.7% in the first quarter of 2017. Over half of the country is under 39-years-old and 72% of unemployed South Africans are under the age of 34. The unemployment rate for first-time job-seekers is unacceptably high. This leads to young people feeling alienated from the larger society as well as betrayed by the government, because they realize that their lives have not changed for the better since 1994. The promise they were sold at the dawn of democracy of a “better life for all” has not materialised.

The question is why do we have such a high and persistent youth unemployment rate in Africa, since most of the African countries have gained political independence and economic freedom?

As part of attempting to uncover what lies behind the rather unattractive picture of youth unemployment on the continent, African Monitor (AM) recently held Citizens Hearings (Community Dialogues) in seven African countries.

In the hearings that were carried out in Kisaasi and Mbale district in Uganda, the Ugandan education and training systems were in the spotlight when young people questioned the quality of education they receive. The majority of youth participants believed that the education system in their country does not properly prepare them for the demands of the labour market, especially for their own self-employment.

“The lack of skills and working experience among the youth is responsible for the unemployment rates in our country. These (skills) are very key for every job opportunity announced in companies which the graduates lack. The youth only have theoretical knowledge from lectures. This is partly also as result of the education system that trains more job seekers than job creators. Skills development is very key as youth enter into the job market,” said one of the participants in Mbale district.

To solve this programme, countries like Gambia, Nigeria, Malawi, Uganda, Kenya and Swaziland were at the forefront of the introduction of Entrepreneurial Skills Development Programmes (ESDP). With this, the belief was that by promoting small business enterprises the unemployment problem might be solved. But for these enterprises to be started and sustained, people need to be trained with entrepreneurial skills.

Investing in youth employment requires a collaborative approach, prioritizing job creation while helping youth to overcome their specific disadvantages through skills and labour market policies.  Interventions must promote job growth, skills development, make self-employment easier and ensure better working conditions, social protection and rights at work.

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