Continent must invest in youth

Africa’s fast-growing youth, excluded from both politics and the economy, and in many cases without any visible opportunities, are a ticking time-bomb, which could destroy the continent’s future.

Africa has more young people than any other region. Around 70 percent of Africa’s population is under 30 years old.

In the past decade Africa has experienced the longest continuous growth spurt in its modern history. However, the high growth rates have not translated into jobs and business opportunities for young people.

Mozambique, with its high growth rates, is a case in point: it has only half a million people in formal employment, while it has 22 million people of working age.

The conventional argument is that Africa’s large youth is a |positive dividend that will boost |the continent’s development prospects.

However, unless Africa’s youth quickly gets jobs and are included in political processes, their growing idleness, restlessness and anger risk becoming a burden on the continent’s growth prospects.

In 2014, the African Development Bank in its African Economic Outlook reported that roughly 53 million of Africa’s 200 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are in precarious employment, 40 million are unemployed, 18 million are looking for a job, while 22 million have stopped trying.

Most of the unemployed are likely to be young women.

Africa’s unemployed youth are ready material for religious fundamentalist and terrorist organisations, gangs, drugs and violence.

In Somalia, where seven out of 10 youth are unemployed, many unemployed young people have joined pirate and terrorist groups, |or are part of the army of migrants daily taking the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in search of jobs.

Young people were in the vanguard of the North African uprisings in both Tunisia and Egypt.

To create jobs for young people African countries will have to improve their education systems. Many of Africa’s youth never complete school. African Development Bank figures show that 25 percent of African youths are illiterate.

Many of those who do complete school, including university, do not get the relevant skills that the job market or companies need. Africa has more humanities students than any other region.

African countries lack artisans, technical and science schools, engineering and science schools and graduates from them.

But African countries also need adult education institutions, where those outside the school system can learn technical skills. Africa desperately needs a culture of life-long learning.

African countries should compel local and foreign investors, as well as State-owned enterprises (SOEs), to set up and fund technical training schools and colleges, have in-house company skills transfers, and run technical training programmes and internships.

Many African countries are commodity-based economies, yet they have very few technical, engineering and science-related vocational schools, colleges and universities.

The curricula in many African schools are outdated. The content of many of the vocational training schemes currently on the continent will have to be radically changed to make them relevant to what industries need.

New content, such as entrepreneurship, technological and communication skills, will have to be urgently added to the curricula.

African countries can learn from South Korea, which established vocational training centres, practical training initiatives, vocational high schools, industrial high schools and science and technology education.

The skills of South Korean teachers were also continuously upgraded, and the standards of testing for the quality of skills learned by students were not only high, but uniformly applied.

Education, training and skills transfer were done in close partnership with private companies and SOEs, with a strong “industry-training co-operation system” established.

Africans need more apprenticeships in government and the private sector. Benin and Senegal have introduced apprenticeships – yet these are on a too limited scale.

African countries need long-term industrial policies, which should identify new growth sectors, and how to develop them, and over which timeline, which should in turn be aligned with educational policies.

Diversifying, beneficiating and adding value to minerals, oil and gas, could spin off new labour-intensive manufacturing which could create jobs for young people in Africa.

New industrial policies should compel foreign and local private companies and state-owned companies to secure their goods and services from small local companies – which should create many jobs for young people.

Most people in Africa are employed in the agriculture sector. Yet Africa’s agriculture sectors are often subsistence. Diversifying agriculture and mining, and processing locally, could create many jobs for young people.

Small business is another sector which could potentially provide jobs for young Africans.

Sadly, it appears few African governments are genuinely interested in fostering a small business sector. Most African governments appear to look at the public sector or “big” business investors to create jobs.

Red tape, regulations and lack |of access to finance from both the public and private sector undermines the fostering of small businesses in Africa. In 2011, Mohamed Bouazizi, who was running a small business, was so frustrated with Tunisian officials impounding his vegetables and equipment he publicly burned himself.

Financial institutions in both the public and private sectors that can provide small loans to small businesses using alternative funding methods – given the fact that very few young Africans will have collateral, assets or start-up funds – is desperately needed.

There are successful entrepre- neurship programmes for young people in some African countries which cater more specifically for African needs. However, these are too limited in scale.

For example, Guinea, with the help of multilateral organisations, has introduced a training programme for 200 youths which will provide them with skills to start agribusinesses.

The participants have access to |a microfinance loan from the |UN Development Programme. |The innovation in the Guinea programme is that it provides |both the entrepreneurship |training and the access to finance. What are missing are mentorships, though.

African business managers and executives from the continent and from the diaspora, foreign investors as well as outsiders supporting the continent, should play bigger roles in mentoring young Africans in how to run businesses.

Finally, African governments must encourage the development of private sectors, slash red tape, making it easier to register, and provide business support.

Laws in Africa must also strike a better balance in protecting those in employment, making it easier to hire young people, without making dismissals too onerous so that companies would not want to hire new staff.

*This article appeared in the African Independent and can be viewed on their website here. 

William Gumede is Associate Professor, School of Governance at the University of the Witwatersrand. He is Executive Chairperson of Democracy Works Foundation and former Deputy Editor of The Sowetan newspaper.

During the anti-apartheid struggle, Gumede held several leadership positions in South African student, civics and trade union movements. He was a political violence mediator and area coordinator for the National Peace Committee during the multiparty negotiations for a democratic South Africa and was seconded to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He is the author of several number 1 bestsellers. His more recent books include: Restless Nation: Making Sense of Troubled Times (Tafelberg); and South Africa in BRICS – Salvation or Ruination (Tafelberg).

To read publications by William Gumede on our website please click here.

Comments are closed.