This article was first published by the African Youth Panel in their latest Newsletter. Submitted by the Head of our Editorial Team, it examines briefly why it is important to invest on creating jobs for young people in Africa, the challenges getting there and the kind of investments needed.
|Photo: Africa Renewal Online/ ILO / J. Maillard|
-----------------------------It is difficult to speak of changing Africa’s prospects at all levels of society without dwelling on the importance of young people in the equation. For the continent, assuring its young people with decent, rewarding and transformative employment could not be overemphasized today. The significance of a productive youth population was shown with clarity when Algeria, Egypt, Libya and some Arab states were faced with popular uprising, whose underlying causes were the lack of jobs and corruption among others.
Economies that are lacking system-wide absorption of working age populations are mostly faced with a myriad of challenges as a result. In their cases, there is usually high levels of crime and exploitation of low income and vulnerable groups. Other phenomena can also be observed. Qualified individuals cannot find suitable jobs fitting their skill and education levels. Hence many start informal businesses and take up low paying jobs, resulting in underemployment.
But where systems are working; encouraging a strong private sector with appropriate policy that helps growth, boosts the creation of new businesses, diversifying economic activity and promoting local production; employment levels, savings and local investment would be high and an economic path such as that painted by the Asian tigers (Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea) would be seen.
Africa stands at a critical moment in history where the right actions taken can mean important economic yields in the decades to come. One important aspect here is the fact that the continent has the youngest population globally today. Estimates from analysts project that Africa will have the largest labor force in the world by 2035. In a report by the Mckinsey Global Institute, Africa is projected to receive up to 122 million new entrants in the job market by 2020, but is expected to only create 72 million new stable wage paying jobs in the same period.
To take fullest advantage of the expected demographic dividends in the coming years, there needs to be consistent and sustained intervention. Granted African Union Heads of States committed to reducing youth unemployment by 2% annually until 2015, but, what does this mean exactly? Specific actions to this effect are still lacking one year after this ground-braking decisions by African Heads of States. An understanding and consensus, in itself, of what is entailed on achieving this milestone is also yet to be reached. There are strategic policy actions being taken, e.g. the implementation of the African Youth Charter (2006) through its roadmap, the Decade on Youth Development Plan of Action, but this does not spell out how or what actions to take to achieve the 2% reduction. Whilst the commitment is being displayed, matching strategic action are a distance behind.
Some of the challenges the continent faces in creating jobs include the following;
- Instabilities; macroeconomic, political and regulatory
- Expensive services; business, finance and labor
- Access; utilities (electricity and water) and communication (telecoms and internet).
The challenges can be seen with varying degrees of intensity on the continent and in no way do they occur in particular order across the board. Therefore, continental action on job creation should take into consideration these diversities. Different investments are needed in different countries. Whilst one might be lacking a supportive business environment because electricity and financing are lacking, another might have favorable conditions in those areas, but can in-turn have political instability compounding the problem.
Clearly for Africa, informed and decisive action needs to be seen now if the continent is to yield the expected demographic dividends. Finding local and continentally generated labor information and data is a challenge. For this piece, online research revealed no information produced by Africa itself. Rather the United Nations and other global players seemed to have more to say on the subject than Africa.
If any action is to be or is being taken, then precedence must be placed on generating local understanding of the current situation on employment, especially among Africa’s youth. The African Union Commission should be leading this drive and regional youth led organizations and networks, such as the African Youth Panel on Youth Employment, Governance and Participation can play an important supportive role.