Africa’s time bomb: Youth employment and population

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The global economic meltdown brings the increasingly problematic issue of unemployment and underemployment of young people in Africa to the fore. Economists from the World Bank and various international agencies discussed the issue Thursday in Paris. According to them, the estimated 200 million people within the 15 and 24 year age age group will double by the year 2045. It is incumbent on African governments to make their best efforts to make the continent’s youth employable.

“In OECD countries, the global economic crisis has led to job cuts. In African countries, it has not only destroyed jobs but also led to the loss of lives”. Lionel Zinsou Beninese economist and chairman of Capafrique, a Paris based think tank group, Thursday, insisted on the urgent need to implement measures to tackle unemployment, particularly among the youth (15-24 year age group) in these harsh economic times, in Africa. Mr. Zinsou, also the economic adviser to the President of Benin, Thomas Yayi Boni, spoke at a panel discussion hosted by the World Bank in Paris on the theme Youth and Employment in Africa.

“Youth, An indicator of the opportunities and disadvantages”

His remarks were influenced by data submitted by the co-author of the Africa Development Indicators 2008/2009, Jorge Arbach, senior economist at the World Bank’s Africa Regional Office. According to the document, the youth will be most affected by a decline in economic growth. It indicates that the job market for 15-24 year-range (20% of the continent’s population) which is already stretched, with an unemployment rate of about 50%, could face more difficult times ahead. Further more, the population growth in Africa announced for the coming decades could make the already unbearable situation worse. The current population of 200 million people in the 15 to 24 year age group is expected to rise to over 400 million by the year 2045, the Africa Development Indicators has indicated.

These figures, according to Lionnel Zinsou, reveal that the youth is a good indicator of the incredible opportunities that could benefit Africa in the decades to come, howbeit this could also spell incalculable threats for the continent. While Western countries and Asian countries will experience a decline in their populations, the new statistics show that the African continent will be home to the world’s manpower reservoir in the coming years. An opportunity on one hand and a threat on the other. This manpower, if not inserted into the economic machinery could fast degenerate into an “incredible social risk, a real time bomb”. Mr; Zinsou also stated that rarely published statistics show “an increase in crime and public disorder”, as well as an increased drug consumption, especially in West Africa.

Telecom and Banking sector Recruitments

The various speakers at the conference attempted to dissect the question of how to prevent this enormous potential from threatening the continent. Many of them agreed that priority should be given to education. While in recent years a considerable progress has been made in the educational sector in several countries, much remains to be done. “It is necessary to encourage the youth’s access to quality training, improved conditions for teachers and students, and the promotion of specialised trainings in line with the requirements of the job market in Africa”, indicated Joel-Eric Missainhoun from Africa Search, a consultancy in human resource management, which recruits for big companies in Africa.

Despite the crisis, the booming telecommunications and banking sectors are still recruiting. “We are witnessing a banking revolution on the continent with the opening of geographical boundaries which has allowed powerful stakeholders, from both North Africa and Nigeria, to enter the sub-Saharan market”, said Paul Derreumaux, CEO of Bank of Africa. Mr. Derreumaux revealed that Bank of Africa, already established in eleven countries, plans to open hundreds of branches across the continent with the creation of 500 to 800 jobs. He also urged other stakeholders who operate with development strategies, similar to that of his company’s, to help create jobs in the coming years.

Another area that should not be overlooked, according to Derreumaux, is the administrations of African countries. Many countries across the continent now freed from the clutches of the structural adjustment programmes, imposed by the Bretton Woods institutions, need to recruit competent lawyers and economists who can negotiate on an equal footing with the IMF, the World Bank and other companies that wish to operate in Africa.

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