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The challenge of youth unemployment in Africa

By Simon Mwebaze 

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV. 

Africa has many challenges affecting health, education, and employment opportunities. While there have been many solutions implemented over the years with the help of international players, some challenges continue to plague the continent. One pressing challenge affects the biggest proportion of the African population, the youth.  

The youth of Africa account for about 60% of the population. This is not a small number when you consider that the African population consists of about 1.3 billion people. Plus, the youth population is expected to double by 2050. The youth are Africa’s greatest economic resource, but they are faced with a lack of employment opportunities. In some countries, the youth unemployment rate goes up to 80%. 

While the governments attempt to solve the issue, it is too big for them to handle by themselves. Of the 10-12 million youth entering the workforce, the governments of Africa are only able to create 3 million jobs. This leaves the majority of youths unemployed or underemployed. This has led several youths to look to the informal sector where they work jobs that pay low, making it difficult to sustain a living.  

Besides being employed in the informal sector, disgruntled youth are a problem for governments. Many coups across the continent are supported and composed of youth hoping for a better life after removing governments they believe have been unable to help them. So, ensuring the youth are employed and living in satisfactory conditions should be a top priority for African leaders. 

Youth unemployment did not come out of nowhere. It has been a result of systems, policies, and actions of political leaders across the continent. Some of the reasons it has become as bad as it is now are due to outdated education systems, corruption, limited formal jobs, and poor infrastructure.  

Most African countries adopted the education systems of their colonial masters that go as far back as the 1800s. Many of the countries in Africa have not updated nor changed these systems to adapt to the current need in the labor market. The current education systems are still focused on traditional jobs including doctors, engineers, and lawyers which are currently oversaturated fields. Many graduates come out of university with the hope of employment only to find no jobs. 

Corruption is another factor responsible for the unemployment among youth. Many jobs in the government, and even some private enterprises are reserved for the children of the elite, including political leaders and top businessmen. The available jobs are sometimes offered to non-qualified candidates based only on their relationship to elites in specific countries. This leaves many qualified youths disgruntled, forcing them to look to the informal sector to find work. Additionally, funding from donors is often misused. Some donor funding supposed to help the education and entrepreneurship sector is funneled towards the pockets of corrupt politicians. 

Poor infrastructure is another bottleneck toward eradicating unemployment among African youth. This is especially regarding accessibility to the internet. Internet accessibility can offer chances to learn more as well as access to employment opportunities. With access to the internet, youth can access several free courses on websites like Udemy and Coursera that may give them a greater chance to learn income-generating skills that can open up doors to employment. There is also the rise of remote work that allows youth to access remote employment opportunities internationally and earn a living. But without sufficient access to internet infrastructure, especially in rural areas, this opportunity is missed.  

Where does this leave African youth? The problem must be solved by the governments through policy making and creating appropriate educational structures that are relevant to the current market. Some of the relevant education systems should include STEM courses and vocational school education. This would help equip youth with more practical skills rather than outdated colonial system qualifications. Governments need to look toward solutions to create more access to the internet by working with private organizations through PPPs (Public-Private Partnerships). 

Another potential solution, since formal jobs are oversaturated, is that governments can support small and medium businesses. This can be done by creating access to advisory services and financing which can help youth get their businesses off the ground. Additionally, to assist youth develop business skills that will help them create successful entrepreneurial ventures, governments can collaborate with NGOs and private organizations like banks to create incubator programs. Such programs already exist in some countries like Uganda, where the government has collaborated with banks like Stanbic to create incubator programs.  

Africa’s growing youth population may look like a pressing challenge, especially because of high unemployment. However, it is also a great opportunity for the continent to create a budding workforce. With the right policies and partnerships, Africa can create a productive youth population that can be a key driver toward an economically vibrant Africa.

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Simon Mwebaze

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