Africa’s Youth: Prospects and Constraints by Abdiwali Sayid


Youth is indispensable and decisive factor for lifting up nations and societies if they get the chance for education and skills necessary through comprehensive empowerment schemes which is based on their requirements. At the Same time, because of negligence and the charm offensive by the criminal groups they could be a very powerful agent in severe destruction. No need to count the number of youth casualties in every corner of the globe especially in Africa not only as victims but also as perpetrators, because of the simple reason that younger generations are very susceptible to be an active member in drug dealers, extremist cells, or ethnic and clan-based violence. In countries like Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Angola and Somalia, the youth have been manipulated to involve in bitter deadly civil wars and ethnic cleansing operations due to multiple proposes beyond their will and interest. Recently younger generations played a pivotal role in the events in the Arab Spring, a wave of youth upraise started from the northern African country Tunisia and spread all the way to Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan and other countries in the Middle East.

There is no agreed definition on the term youth, the United Nations defines youth as individuals aged between 15 to 24 years (UN, 2018). While the African Union defines youth as individuals aged between 15 to 35 years (African Union, 2006). Neither the definition of the United Nations nor the ones of the African Union contradict the gloomy reality that nearly 60% of the African population is under the age of 25 years old. This is a striking figure considering the opportunities scarcity in the continent where the International Libor Organization (ILO) forecasted that Africa’s youth unemployment rate will exceed 30% in 2019 (ILO,2019). Certainly, due to convergence of several factors the economic immigration within the continent and the immigration towards Europe and North America will increase sharply in the next decades unless urgent investment is made to reduce the unemployment especially for those in the rural areas where the majority of them are living.
Trap of Unemployment.

Youth employment with its domino effect is very essential for creating stronger and prosperous communities. Meanwhile social ramifications of weaker and unprivileged youth is tremendous in all levels because young men and women with few job opportunities and little hope of future advancement may consider criminal activities and joining armed conflicts as the only way towards salvation. Hence unemployed and underemployed youth are more exposed to be flamed in the conflicts and many of them fall as easy prey to armed and rebel groups. Migration waves put a further pressure on urban areas with its already very little opportunities where the young people represent the majority of the people who immigrates from the rural to the urban areas in Africa, this will create social unrest as the urban communities feel anxiety. As several studies shows the rural youth migrate to urban areas to find better educational and work opportunities as a way out of poverty.

Youth employment challenges in Africa are often associated with rapid population growth rates, the correlation however is not always direct, nor that simple (The Guardian, 2014).Unlike the other countries of the world especially the western developed countries where the aged people are overrunning, the African youth is expected to reach up to nearly one billion by 2050 (UN, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2019). If these young generations efficiently harnessed, they could take part in building stronger and more inclusive economic growth across the continent.

According the African Development Bank, Africa’s nearly 420 million youth aged 15-35, one-third of them are unemployed and discouraged, another third is vulnerably employed, and only one in six is working in the formal sector. 70% of workers in the Sub-Saharan Africa are in vulnerable employment against the global average of 46.3 percent (ILO, 2016).These underemployed young workers are in the trap of exploitation, where they don’t have job security, minimal benefits and with very low pay, often they face hazardous working conditions. So, the challenge is to create better jobs, as well as more jobs.

The bad governance and lack of political will are behind the high rate of unemployment and underemployment phenomena in Africa. Tackling the youth unemployment and underemployment requires a political will and comprehensive framework which makes African countries to benefit from the globalization not only in manufacturing but also enhancing the agriculture, fishing and livestock. African countries should provide efficient public goods and encourage formal firms by loosening the current regulations, this will attract the foreign investment and prevent the emergence of informal sector firms, and by default the employment dilemma will be gradually solved. Steps towards good governance will push Africa forward and will convey to the continent the global workforce experience and knowledge, also impulses the continent towards the global competition and more than that, good governance will defuse triggering social instability.

Effective strategy on labor market is paramount, the strategy should give a consideration on how to deal with both the imperfections in the labor supply as well as labor demand. Labor supply requires sort of programs emphasizes improvement in skills whether its traditional or technical trainings, also programs intended to promote entrepreneurship and helping youth to start up their own business. The labor demand includes any intentions to ameliorate the work and live conditions of youth labor in terms of wages or employment subsidies that help employees who need job and training and employers who need people to work. Filling the gap between the labor supply and labor demand is very important through government mediation between the two.
Education  Clearly the educational provisions within any given country represent one of the main  determinants of the composition and growth of that country’s output and exports and  constitute an important ingredient in a system’s capacity to borrow foreign technology  effectively.

Suffice to say that education is very essential for every nation to evolve and achieve its aspirations. Education provision plays a crucial role in the development of the countries by making ordinary citizens engaged with uplifting their communities from disfranchisements and hardships, it’s a significance mean to solidify solidarity and peace. Empowering youth with education does not only give them access to good employment but also gives them access to information which they can use to take advantage of market opportunities (Ipar, 2007).Access to formal education is empirically linked to a range of positive outcomes, from improved health to greater financial access and macroeconomic growth. Also, a solid education is key to ensuring the remarkable talents of Africa’s youth are fully developed. According to several studies, the existence of significance correlation between skills and the economic booming is cluster clear. Notably, the Millennium Development Goals spurred development actors to improve quality and access to education.

Clearly the educational provisions within any given country represent one of the main determinants of the composition and growth of that country’s output and exports and constitute an important ingredient in a system’s capacity to borrow foreign technology effectively. The gains in improving access to education in the continent in the last decade have been impressive, but the main challenge is now to improve the quality of education. Despite the education in Africa is expanded in quantity more than any time before and the current generation is educated better compared to the previous generations but still the distance is very huge. According to the World Bank (2015) around 89 million youth, ages 12-24 years, are out of school in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the next decade, an estimated 40 million more youth will drop out and face an uncertain future without adequate work and life skills. Only a minority of young Africans enroll and complete the secondary schools, and those who complete secondary education all too frequently lack the necessary skills that will allow them to access productive work and employers identify inadequately skilled workers as a limiting factor to business growth (Samuel Yalew, et al 2017).

As it’s known a quality without access for the majority of the people will result definitely inequality, while access to education with low quality would not lead the young generation in Africa the bright future they desired.
Competencies and skills related to the marketplace are needed to be strengthened for further youth engagement with the market. Both in schools and training programs should be aligned with the actual requirements in the labor market with the efforts of reaching out to marginalized and disadvantaged people. Vocational training should be upgraded to fill the gap resulted by the skill mismatch existing in the workplace. Well-designed vocational education and training will contribute in tackling the high rate of youth unemployment also will end the need to hire expatriate technicians in some very important productive sectors.

For more effective learning in Africa, integrating the classical classroom and typical school-desk setting to more informal methods like conference style seminars, community based-meetings or even during group sports events, will create an enthusiasm and effective learning environment among the students. Other flexible learnings and virtual certifications could facilitate the youth candidates to get an access to higher education institutions and employers. 
Accessible education for all, high quality and relevant education in all levels will enable Africa’s youth to profoundly contribute to the prosperity of the continent. 


The demographic significance of the youth throughout the worldwide made the youth issue at the center of the developmental discussions. What seems to be a response to that reality, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously adopted In December 2015, the historic Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security, underlining the importance of young people as a partner in resolving and preventing conflict at all levels. The Resolution urged Member States to increase representation of youth in decision-making and consider setting up mechanisms that would enable young people to meaningfully participate in peace processes and dispute resolution.

Also, in July 2006 the African Union heads of states approved the African Youth Charter (AYC). The charter is a framework and legal document that gives instruction for the African youth empowerment in the continental, regional and national levels. More than that, the years of 2009-2018 are assigned to be the decade of African youth development. Under the youth charter, regional youth networks have been established like the Pan African Youth, these networks aimed to boost the youth engagement in the continental, regional and national developments and also to be a channel for conveying the youth’s perspective in order to include it to the policies and strategies of the continent. Although the majority of the African nations signed and ratified the African Youth Charter but its impact is not tangible, in terms of engaging youth in decision making or tackling the issue of the unemployment, which rises doubts on the sincerity of the African leaders and the effectiveness of the African union when it comes to setting up the strategies and policies and the assuring its implementation by the member states.

Despite the challenges of demographics but in the flipside the large youth population is an opportunity. The demographic transition and shifting from rural to urban areas make the youth a plentiful asset that continent could claim and could make it as a window of opportunity. In order to address the youth dilemma a multisectoral approach by African governments and agencies interested is necessary. Expanding the access to the formal education and the vocational schools especially in rural area is indispensable; thus creatin
g a support environment which harnesses the young people’s capabilities and promotes enterproneurship and innovation.

Youth impowerment means offering to the young people an integral learning experience which focuses on the enhancement of skills and uplifting their spritual and mindset status, hence any steps towards empowering youth aims to turn the young people as an active member in the society through taking up the stones on their road. Empowering the youth will help the solidification of new culture and perceptions in Africa featured by regional solidarity, also it will contribute in easing ethnic, religion and race contentions. The daunting challange facing the african nations is the high unemployment rates among the youth, unless this to be overcome through genuine willings and strategies, the youth empowerment in africa is far-fetched.

Introducing accessebility for micro-credit enables young african to enter the market and improves the livelihoods of millions of families through income generation, employment creation in business and projects established from loans acquired. Unfortunately, it is been observed that financial institutions in developing countries appear inaccessible to youth specially those dwelling in rural areas becouse they lack adiquate critical financial knowledge that is essential for financial intermediation in the area (Beck et al,2006).

Supporting the current Youth organizations and generally the youth work with respect to the ongoing youth issues and challenges will upgrade the horizons of the young people and will controbute to solving the youth challanges. Currently, there is huge number of youth organizations registered but lucking the efficiency and effectiveness due to numerous and interconnected couses. Let alone the widespread corruption, youth concerned organizations in Africa have endemic flaws in terms of management, leadership, fundraising, and drawbacks in assuring genuine and tangible results from work. Goverments and other stakelholders have to cooperate in upgrading the quality of the organizations and youth work, becouse strong youth organizations with precisely pre-determined mission will lead to active and healtheir young people. Besides the promotion and support of youth organizations, effective oversight mechanisms are very essential.

African goverments and other ogranizations concerned the youth issue should increase youth engagement in governance and leadership in all levels and sorts becouse youth are capable of handling critical issues, to enrich their capacity there have to be an inter-generational dialogue with a view to ensuring that young people take over leadership of the African countries. its well-known fact that, societies that fail to acknowledge the particular challenges facing youth, will find it difficult to achieve the Millennium Development Goals MDGs, specially goal number one which is concerned with reductions in poverty levels (World Youth Report, 2005). Countries ought to formulate an effective and viable policies to empower its young generations.

Private Sector Involvement

The private sector is very significance to engage the youth to the labor market as long as the private sector has the expertise, resource and capacity to create wealth needed for employment opportunities. Although the impulse of the private sector is to generate profit, but they can intervene through different ways to contribute youth employment in devours. The private sector can facilitate school-to-work transition, supporting programs of technical and vocational and on-the-job trainings. Given the emotional impact of such an intervention, both domestic and multinational firms could benefit from their involvement in youth employment, firms gains reputation for their brand and by default for the product or service they provide, which reflects the income of the organization, thus this reputation will increase along with the increase of the middle class as it witnessed in the countries like Brazil and south Africa. Also successfully engaging with the society helps the firm to retain its skillful, knowledgeable and productive employees.

The issue of private sector involvement faces the obstacle of the market failure, where the firms owned privately hesitate to invest in youth skills training because of the fear that trained youth may end up working for other firms, also the lack of sufficient information on the potential knowledge and skills required by the youth to prevent any mismatch in the workplaces hinders the process. The private sector can be involved in youth employment and skills enhancement in multiple ways; like supporting entrepreneurship programs financially, technically or giving directions, underpinning initiatives for training or teaching, providing on-the-job experience to the youth, and participating with government and other stakeholders in the preparation of high levels youth employment planning.

Public-Private Partnership (PPPs) is successful tested model to empower youth. It’s a set arrangement where the government and businesses unite their effort to achieve certain goals for employment or skills development. Sometimes NGOs, trade unions, and other philanthropies could participate in the arrangement by contributing resource and sharing risks. This kind of partnership recognizes the importance of co-working between the government and other stakeholders to complement each other. Given that governments are not capable in handling alone the issue of youth empowerment technically and financially, sharing the burden with other organizations is a low-hanging fruit. Public-Private-Partnership increase the supply of quality youth programs and services, enhance the quality of youth programs and services, raise additional public and private revenue, support school success, facilitate connections to the labor market; and improve or build state and community systems for youth programming (Nanette Relave and Sharon Deich,2017).


African states have to ensure the expansion of the social and economic infrastructure necessary for coping with the rise in youth population in the continent, this include quality, affordable and skills-based education, health care services, recreation facilities and promoting labor market information. Labor market information is a key factor for better youth employment programs. The coverage of labor force surveys and evaluations of labor market programs in Africa is very low compared to other regions. As a result, policymakers and program designers have little evidence to go on and many programs show few results. One of the major problems in the youth and labor market relations is the absence of reliable sufficient information, hence the young people don’t have the enough grasp about the labor market, so they don’t know what jobs to pursue. Governments and other stakeholders should focus on filling information gap in the labor market and transmit this information to the youth and institutions concerned.

The empowerment of Africa’s youth could only be achieved succeffully and in a sustainable way if all sects of the soceity participate it. From the goverment, private sector, civil society organization, and knowledge institutions. Most importantly the African families has a crucial role to play in preparing Africa’s youth for a better future.

In accordance with the efforts of African Union in motivating the free movements among the Africans, the African states should ease the cross-border activities. African states must ensure the unleashing of youth development potentials through creating greater economic opportunities, incentives, and rewarding youth innovation and creativity.

One remarkable reality is that, despite the democratic backsliding across the globe and registering overall decline in Africa, democracy is gaining strong support among the African communities where youth represents the majority, they consider democracy as the best tool through which they could live together and realize a decent live, there is a resistance more than ever before against term extensions, corruption and violations against the human rights. This perspective is augmented by some studies which revealed that nearly 70% of Africans prefer to live in open and free societies. But this support for democracy is in danger if the entrenched youth challenges not solved comprehensively and with the participation of youth themselves.



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