Youth: Agents of economic development
We are often told that there are more than 200 million people who can be classified as youths in Africa. That translates to about 20 percent of the continent’s population. With all these millions of people aged between 15 and 24, Africa has the youngest population in the world.
In a majority of African countries, the youth account for more than 20 percent of the population. However, the young people also constitute 60 percent of the ranks of the unemployed. The year 2013 marks the mid-point of the African Union’s “Youth Decade Plan of Action” (2009-2018).
The Decade is an opportunity to advance the agenda of youth empowerment and development in all AU member states, to ensure effective and more ambitious investment in youth programmes, and increase support to development and implementation of national youth policies.
According to the African Development Bank in 2011, the absence of adequate collateral and employment track record combine to prevent young people from contributing to increased economic productivity.
As such, it must be realised by all, as stated by the AU Commission, that an emergent and integrated Africa can only come into being if the demographic advantage of having large population of youth is mobilised and equipped to help drive Africa’s integration, peace and development agenda.
This vision emanates from the belief and conviction that a strong and accountable leadership and successful integration needs to be anchored on participation, investment in youth and bringing to the mainstream the huge potential lying latent in young Africans. Today, Africa’s youths – many of them college and university graduates – roam the streets in search of jobs or undertaking various menial tasks totally out of sync with their skills and knowledge.
As noted by the African Monitor in a 2011 report titled “Accelerating Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development”, the AU Action Plan calls for measures to reduce Africa’s rate of youth unemployment by two percent per annum. The reality, however, is that midway through the Youth Decade, Africa is not creating enough jobs to absorb the 10 million to 12 million young people entering its labour markets each year.
Although the youth population constitutes about two-fifths of the continent’s working-age population, they make up three-fifths of the unemployed. It is clearly time for a “mid-term review” of employment prospects for young Africans.
In 2009, the overall unemployment rate in Africa south of the Sahara was about six percent compared with a global average of five percent. Youth unemployment was about double the overall unemployment rate, but is low by global standards. The ratio of youth to adult unemployment in Africa south of the Sahara is 1.9 compared to 2.7 worldwide, says the African Development Bank (AfDB).
A new action plan, one that combines efforts to improve the employment prospects for young people with a strategy for job creation, is clearly needed. Furthermore, there is a severe mismatch between the skills of young Africans and those needed by employers. The World Bank has estimated that about two-thirds of all young workers in the labour market – 95 million people – lack the basic skills needed to be relevant to Africa’s needs.
In commemorating International Youth Day 2013, which was celebrated under the theme “Youth Migration: Moving Development Forward” on August 12, President Joyce Banda of Malawi said “the youth are an asset of any nation. They are energetic, adventurous, innovate industrious, and willing to learn”.
Why then is this resource not being invested in? The lack of investment in developing the youth results in widespread migration; and these young people end up contributing to the economic growth of other continents while Africa suffers.
Migration is changing the world map and the face of modern society. Young people account for nearly one-third of migrants today. In addition, migration can result in many hardships for young people. Addressing the Mail &Guardian Critical Thinking Forum in Johannesburg, South Africa, Dr Erick Ventura of the International Organisation for Migration said: “Twenty-seven million migrants can be classified as youths. We all have a responsibility to engage and empower them to fulfil their potential.
“Safe migration needs to be promoted to reduce the potential for exploitation and abuse. Already we are seeing more than 16 million girls between 15 and 19 years giving birth in developing countries.”