Empowering Africa’s youth is one of the most serious challenges facing the African continent today. Although many African countries are experiencing an economic boom, youth empowerment in Africa is at a crisis stage. While we have made great strides in providing access to education, we have not matched this with providing equal access to employment. African youth are attaining higher education levels than ever before, and with increasing access to internet and mobile connectivity, they are more exposed to Western ideals and aspirations than in previous generations.
Young educated Africans have come to expect the same opportunities to succeed as their western counterparts. It is these unfulfilled aspirations that are translating to anger and frustration among African youth, with deadly results.
Africa is experiencing an unprecedented wave of senseless violence, brutality and crime, the outcome of frustrated youth who are struggling to fit into a world that does not have opportunities that match their aspirations. The advent of ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Shabab, the senseless killings at the University in Garissa and the Westgate Mall in Kenya, as well as the recent Xenophobic attacks in South Africa were all perpetrated by angry young men, giving voice to their frustrations in the most horrific way.
We need to equip young Africans with the skills they need to thrive in the modern world. This is critical if we want to move African countries from emerging to developed markets and to harness this emerging talent that our youth represent.
So it is not surprising that youth empowerment is at the top of the agenda for most African governments. Young Africans enter the workforce at a faster rate than jobs are created and currently 40 million youth are out of work. The rise in the numbers of unemployed youth is directly proportional to the rising insecurity, hopelessness and despair that is manifesting in violence and insecurity across the continent.
What do the statistics tell us about employment in Africa?
According to the United Nations, 87% of the world’s youth population live in developing countries, and 72% live on less than US$2 a day. The Millennium Development Goals identify young people as among the most vulnerable sectors of the African population, upon whom issues such as poverty, hunger, lack of education, maternal mortality, unemployment and HIV/AIDS have a far greater impact. This is because young people often don’t have access to the information, schooling, social influence and basic rights needed to address these issues, and are often overlooked in national development agendas.
Looking further out, these problems are only set to rise unless an intervention is made. Africaneconomicoutlook.org recently released some concerning statistics. Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is becoming more youthful, with youth as a proportion of the total population projected at over 75% by 2015.
It is estimated that more than 50% of Africa’s youth, or 133 million youth lack sufficient business and life skills needed to enter into a productive economic and social life. Those that have some education often exhibit skills that are not sufficiently relevant to current demand in the labour market.
The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation (TCCAF) in partnership with Dalberg Global Development Advisors conducted research to get to a better understanding of the issues driving youth unemployment in Africa, through a series of focus groups and interviews with youth in Kenya, Egypt, Ghana and South Africa. The findings showed that:
- Academic performance no longer guarantees employment as it did in the past: Despite increasing levels of academic achievement, 27% of sub-Saharan African companies surveyed said that youth are not gaining the practical, technical or soft skills that employers are looking for.
- Conversely, employers say that finding qualified talent is challenging: In South Africa, 81% of businesses struggle to source talent, leading to as many as 650 000 jobs remaining vacant.
- Youth lack the resources and networks to seek employment opportunities: Disadvantaged youth do not have the resources or networks needed to find work in the formal sector. In South Africa, approximately 23% of unemployed youth do not even have enough money for transport to look for a job.
Creating opportunities for entrepreneurship
Africa simply is unable to generate enough jobs to accommodate the large numbers of youth graduating from high school each year. In addition to expanding the number or opportunities for young Africans to secure gainful employment, entrepreneurship affords young people the autonomy that they desire, in determining their destiny.
As such, any solution to the youth empowerment issue needs to include a mechanism that allows young people to create their own jobs, not just for the sake of employment, but also to enable our economies to thrive and grow at the pace needed for us to achieve our development goals. To catch up with the developed world, Africa will need to grow faster and innovate more aggressively than ever before.
WRITTEN: DR. SUSAN MBOYA-KIDERO – President of The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation