Africa’s youth: what the statistics say

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By ANTONY MUTUNGA

The World Youth Organisation places the youth – those aged between 10 and 24 years – at 1.8 billion, or 25 percent of the global population. Sadly, this formidability has not translated into robust policy and practice for their welfare.

Africa, which accounts for the largest segment of this figure, has one of the largest rates of youth unemployment in the world. World Bank studies say the youth in Africa account for 60 percent of the jobless. In fact, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB), in most African countries youth unemployment occurs at a rate that is more than twice that of adults. In mitigation, these statistics do not include data from the informal sector.

Africa has an opportunity to leverage its young, skilled populace to advance its development agenda. “It is an unacceptable reality for a continent with such an impressive pool of youth filled with talent and creativity,” says Mthuli Ncube, chief economist at AfDB.

Despite the fact that we have seen it coming for a while now, youth unemployment is on the rise. The Kenyan Education ministry indicates that one million young people join the job market each year from educational institutions, but only one out of five is likely to be employed in the formal sector. For those who don’t venture into the informal sector or innovate out of the remaining, it is a dark tale. Many give up and resign to either self-pity, crime or drugs.

This state of affairs is robbing the country of critical talent that could contribute to economic growth through skills injection. The immensity of social capital, creativity, talent and human capital that goes to waste on account of disorganised labour markets is mindboggling.

Locally, Kenyan youth face a major challenge despite the fact that the country is ranked the best in the region in health and education investment, according to a human capital survey by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Kenya was ranked ahead of Botswana, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia despite recording a decline in investments in the sector in recent years, compared to the 1990s.

The survey also noticed better performance in terms of years spent in school which saw it rise 16 places to be ranked 111. Regrettably, the quality of education has remained uninspiring; it explains why majority of graduates fail to land jobs – companies argue that many job seekers lack requisite skills. In fact, a survey by Washington-based Results for Development Institute (R4D) reports “massive gaps” between training and required market skills.

Dr Eric Nyanjom, the director of the African Migration and Development Policy Centre (AMADPOC) argues that most Kenyan graduates – especially from university – enter the labour market without “…marketable skills, which affects their ability to do business in their area of study.”

Inevitably, there is the issue of corruption as well. Investment money stolen by unscrupulous officials translates into lost opportunities that may never be recovered, unless robust steps are taken to curb such theft. Coupled with official graft is nepotism – a great many deserving cases miss out on opportunities even when they are the most qualified.

Economic downturn

The biggest challenge to youth welfare, however, is the state of the economy – perhaps as a result of a combination of the factors discussed above. Recently, the country has seen many companies record losses, and either close shop or massively cut down on staffing. The proliferation of cheap imports thereby creating unhealthy competition has been cited as the chief reason for this trend.

According to Rachael Muthoga, deputy chief executive officer at the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA), this trend peaked in in 2017, during the electioneering period.

“Companies shut down operations resulting in job losses. In addition, local manufacturers passed on to consumers the burden of higher input costs due to surging power bills, transportation costs, currency volatility, raw material shortages and inflation,” she says.

What is to be done?

One, African governments must decisively end corruption and with it nepotism; this will create an environment that offers equal opportunities for young people. Two, we must tap into the skills that youth offer, and provide opportunities for their utilisation. Africa’s population will keep growing, and it is time we looked beyond ourselves, to focus on the guardians of the world we leave behind.

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