Unleashing the Potential in Africa’s Jobless Youth

Published on 19th January 2017

If by the next eight Olympic Games African governments continue to look at the sky, then going by current statistics trends 63% of their youth will slave in dangerous social, economic, political insecurities. In other words in 33 years from 2017 my youngest daughter will be 1 in 4 youth in the world that will be African that will have to look for a job or create one because their governments never prepared them for the future. I am looking at 2050. It is not far off.

In this article, I will share the statistics of youth unemployment in Africa, what it means and what stakeholders will need to be looking at to salvage Africa’s job crisis before 2050 catches up with us. Intentional action is needed now! Not tomorrow.


African youth population is growing at a faster rate than we can keep. Currently, we are hovering around 480 million young people between the ages of 18-35. Going by the current rate of growth by 2050 this is expected to double to hit 840 million. We will have 1 in 4 young people in the world who would be an African. That will make us the youngest continent in the world in 2050 with the median age of 25. This is a huge incontestable demographic asset any continent can have.

We can be the future global workforce for the world- we can sell our skills and knowledge to world regions who would struggle to have young and growing workforce to keep their economies productive in the coming years. So African political leaders and policy makers should sit up. This is a given opportunity just because we are procreating so well.

However, the sad truth is that majority of our young people do not have equitable economic opportunities. Young Africans feel excluded. For the 13 million young Africans who get into the labour market each year, only 3 million get waged jobs. This means a good 10 million are unemployed or under-employed or in vulnerable jobs. A near 80% who are in jobs are in found in the informal economy in some Africa countries. Lesson: jobs of the future will have to integrate rural economies and informal sectors.

To eradicate youth unemployment African governments and other stakeholders have implemented sets of interventions albeit not scalable and sustainable- in terms of desirability, viability and outcomes being achievable. From regional member country perspective, we have signed up to the number of agreements to stem unemployment on the continent: From Ouagadougou declaration, Malabo declaration, Africa Youth Charter to Agenda 2063. The question to ask: where have all these declarations led us to?


Youth unemployment is a strong source of distress, discontent among youth and always at the precipice to unleash social, economic and political burdens for African governments. If the rate of unemployment and underemployment remains the same in Africa 50% of non-school youth will be unemployed, and distressed by 2025-that is in 8 years from now.

Youth unemployment can instigate migration between African countries and outside Africa. In fact, it has. Unemployment is a safe haven to allow young people to join rebel movements; as been reported that 40% of young who join rebel groups do so because they are unemployed.

In 2015 alone it was recorded that 3,500 young people lost their lives crossing the high seas for a better life outside their countries. We don’t have the luxury of time to push our youth to the peripheries of exclusion, economic discomfort, and deep poverty. The time to act boldly with ambition is now, not later.

Despite gains made in access to education in Africa, educated youth do not have the skills employers are looking for. Young women, in particular, are greatly affected because of barriers such as access to employment and equal compensation.

Suggested policy priorities

What others call the Africa youth bulge if properly harnessed can liberate Africa from economic lethargies, stagnated and jobless growth. In fact, the production of world’s goods and services need a working-age labour. Africa youth will be that labour force in 33 years from 2017.

We can become the sole supplier of global workforce- either through production or dispatching young workers at competitive service pricing to other world regions that will definitely have labour shortages. The operating word here is definite.

So we in Africa will have to be that definite and strongly intentional in policy framing in the next 33 years. We get to save and invest more and have sustainable economic growth. Below are the few levers and enablers we can employ to change our story:

Education reformed

If African governments continue to resource public university for producing the labour force of yesterday, and not the future and turn around to cry foul, then what policy stilts do we hang on to? The fourth industrial revolution or industry 4.0 will require skills in cloud computing, digitization, material science, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and the internet of things obscuring the lines of physical, technology and biosphere. Reportedly, we have 2% enrolments in engineering as against 70% enrollment in social sciences at our universities in Africa.

Question: where lay our policy priorities if not sequencing?

Youth should have a say

Your end beneficiary is the number one commentator of what they want you to cure in the long term. In Africa, employment programs are in the majority designed by experts and pushed down to on-board eager youth. Hardly, are the youth engaged from conception, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of desired outcomes. To have lasting benefits we should get the youth involved.

Build an integrated ecosystem

If the demand for a need is absent you do not continue to supply because you have to. Conversely, you do not supply what is not demanded. There is interdependence and linkages between demand and supply driven employment interventions. So when you say I want to tackle youth unemployment, do not set loose one off youth employment projects without considering the implications it will have on the broader macro-economic outlook. Demand and supply reinforce each other. Let’s get it, and it is not for the politics of it.

Trim, coordinate effective implementation

There are too many youth employment interventions run in parallel with competing resource demands run by different egoistic state agencies, and wiggly foreign development partners in African countries. Where there is the multiplicity, cut the waste and realign where there is value. Effective cross-agency and stakeholder communication cure unemployment projects information malaise. Efficient coordination of ongoing mutually re-enforcing interventions saves resources and most importantly gives a strong leadership and cooperate direction in providing sustainable jobs for our youth.

Create an aggressive labour market information system

How do you plan for the jobs of tomorrow if you do not have adequate labour information? If the baseline is not there, do not waste public finances, to begin with. Until we have an aggregate, inclusive, wide-ranging and accessible labour market data system robust enough to disaggregate data by age, gender, location, covering wider scope we shall be creating phantom jobs. Employment data index is to make us know what is or not. It forms the basis to develop appropriate interventions and create responsive policies.

Allow for a new investment model

The jobs of the future for the African youth need a new financing strategy, should I say thinking. Unless we do that we will be chasing after the wind. Leveraging on private sector financing means that we should create incentives for private sector participation in youth employment programs, and I am referring to proven private sector players. The jobs of the future in Africa will never see the light of the day if we continue to demand 3-5 year annual returns and credit history of young enterprises before we finance them whiles keeping the cost of borrowing inexcusably high.

Here, I want to commend the efforts of the African Development Bank for introducing the Jobs for Youth in Africa Strategy to support the continent and its regional member countries (RMCs). They are investing $5 billion to directly create 25 million jobs and impact 50 million youth from 2016-2025. Let’s enlarge capital access and decrease the risks for private sector participation and financing in creating sustainable jobs and businesses of the future for the African.

Jobs to look at the continent is blessed with fertile land. This is also given. So agriculture-business should be one of the quick wins any government can pull- but this has to be smart, moving away from export-led to value driven. Heady challenges to tackle in agriculture will be productivity and land tenure policies.If as at 2015 Apple can build a $ 215 billion enterprise which is more than the GDP of some African countries you and I know of, we have no excuse not to invest in sectors such as ICT and industries. We should also not forget non-form enterprises.

Speed with caution

Whiles, we are eager to want to build competitive African economies with rich, and a highly skilled educated workforce fuelling promising enterprises in the global marketplace, we should be remaindered not to put undue social pressures on our young people. We should be guided by what is happening in South Korea where accomplished professionals, like teachers, doctors, and entrepreneurs are paying not less $27,000 to leave home to work on farms, and do other jobs in US and Canada to escape the stress of working for long hours and coupled with unwarranted community obligation to succeed.

By Benjamin Yaw Manu

The author is the Regional Manager West Africa for Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. He is also a leadership development consultant, speaker and facilitator using African literature to initiate transformational change at team, strategy, annual meetings, conferences, workshops, and at community engagements. He is an RICS Accredited Mediator and Member of Institute of Directors. Views expressed here are his personal opinions only. He can be reached at benjaminmanu@gmail.com

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