|CFR/ Siphiwe Sibeko/ Reuters - Offering Temporary |
Employment, men holding placards. South Africa
Africa is not a place of dark and gloom. No. With closer inspection and honest reporting, we are hearing today of robust economies, consistent growth from as far back as the year 2000 according to the 2012 African Economic Outlook. The world is more than focused on Africa now. There is demonstrated growth and it’s a smart investor’s choice. A country like Libya that saw a bloody incursion for over a year, whilst still recovering, is projected to be the fastest growing economy in the world in 2012 (AfDB, AEO, IMF). So yes there is growth. But what exactly is working so well there and what steps have been taken to address the jobs issue?
We will come back to this shortly. First let us look at some experiences and lessons from other parts of the world, share some facts/ data about employment on the continent and then we will delve further at a later point.
One experiential example we want to pick on is the just ended election in the United States of America. We will not dwell on the specifics of that process, but rather focus on one particular detail - the discussion on job creation and its importance to economic growth and social transformation. What we want to draw on are the specifics.
The incumbent promoted at length the work his administration did to create jobs; shoring up the auto industry, increasing investment in clean energy, reasserting the tax regime for small businesses, providing job vouchers and increasing student grants among others. The challenger marketed a cross-board tax regime and increasing local production to challenge oversees cheap labor and goods competition. For the incumbent, these were actual action areas that received economic muscle and practical results were seen, though negative at times. When examined, one would be able to see actual data and track solutions implemented from central government to local levels.
Asides from there being resources, what we can pull from this example is that the problem was sincerely recognized, that there was political will to address it, there was consistent evaluation and reporting on the status of the problem and there was practical action taken (whether right or wrong is not the question here). Our question is whether there is an instance where we see something similar on the African continent. This is not to say Africa should be measured against the USA, but rather to examine if similar if not synonymous, practical solutions are being driven by leaders and decision makers on creating and sustaining jobs.
We know the problem. We know the status of employment and the extent of unemployment in Africa. Data is readily available, but sadly much of it is produced by international organizations and donor agencies from the west. The cases derived from the data are solid, so we have nothing against them but before going forward, we ask, why are we not producing our own data, reports and studies on the problems we are facing? Why wait for someone else to examine our problem, collect data and write smart reports about and how to address them? Is it that Africa does not have the technical personnel or it has so few of them to spare for these exercises? With the continent’s changing economic standing in the world, Africa would do well to protect its interests – and one way is to determine the scope of the challenges it faces itself.
Some of the data and information from within the continent can be accessed from sources such as the African Development Bank and the African Economic Outlook. These sources are congruent with others outside Africa and we would like to pick on one of those, the McKinsey Global Institute, in its August 2012 report “Africa at work: Job creation and inclusive growth”. Specifically, we call to attention pages IV and V of the Preface section.
In the next decade, Africa is projected to have more people in the labor market than any other region in the world – a tune of 122 million people. This will surpass the likes of China and India. This has been the subject of lengthy discussions because Africa is currently experiencing a youth bulge, which should see it capitalizing on ‘demographic dividends’ should practical policy actions taken today sustain the kind of results to deliver those dividends. The challenge though is that the continent is not creating enough jobs – and more so wage-paying-jobs, especially for its young people, effects of which have been seen in the recent and in some cases on-going Arab spring. It seems little action (practical action) is being taken, but on the other end of the spectrum we are seeing positive economic results being reported, as in the case of Libya mentioned earlier. So where is the disconnect?
The answer to that question at the moment from our point of view would be more speculation. Bring in economists and labor trends experts and you would have some smart answers and projections to that effect. The bottom line though is that we are producing little information and data on what is going on in our markets and as a result, actions taken are informed more by what international agencies are reporting than experiences from the government machineries.
To underscore the message here, we are saying there is a wave of realistic economic gains being felt across the continent. But we also note that there is little or local knowledge on what these trends are (actual data and periodic reporting) that would inform functional solutions to the unemployment challenge that continues to shadow development efforts across the continent.
The discussion continues…what is your take on this?