Senegalese opposition politicians denounced the country’s high unemployment rate to mobilise youth against former President Abdoulaye Wade in the country’s 2012 presidential election. Joblessness was one of the main issues that drove the country’s many young people into the streets and to the voting stations to press for a change of government. At least six people died in the protests, and President Wade was defeated by the current leader, Macky Sall.
The key lesson from Senegal’s election violence is that youth unemployment, which is 15% in that country, can fuel the fire of political violence and civil unrest. A World Bank survey in 2011 showed that about 40% of those who join rebel movements say they are motivated by a lack of jobs.
Aware of this, African governments are confronting unemployment in many different ways. In Senegal, President Sall launched a programme in February 2013 to create 30,000 jobs by the end of the year and possibly 300,000 by 2017.
Growth without jobs
There is another reason to pay more attention to Africa’s youth, many analysts believe. With 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 (the youth bracket), Africa has the youngest population in the world. The current trend indicates that this figure will double by 2045, according to the 2012 African Economic Outlook report prepared by experts from the African Development Bank (AfDB), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the industrialised countries’ Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), among others.
The story of Africa’s worrisome youth unemployment is often told alongside the story of the continent’s fast and steady economic growth. While six of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world are in sub-Saharan Africa, the unemployment rate for that region is 6%, according to the AfDB. Compared to the world average of about 5%, its rate may not seem that high. But the problem is that in most African countries, youth unemployment “occurs at a rate more than twice that for adults,” notes the AfDB.
Youth account for 60% of all African unemployed, according to the World Bank. In North Africa, the youth unemployment rate is an eyebrow-raising 30%. It is even worse in Botswana, the Republic of the Congo, Senegal, South Africa and several other countries.
Young women feel the sting of unemployment even more sharply. The AfDB found that in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa and all of those in North Africa, it is easier for men to get jobs than it is for women, even if they have equivalent skills and experience.
Africa’s unemployment statistics exclude those in vulnerable employment and those who are underemployed in informal sectors. “Young people [in Africa] find work, but not in places that pay good wages, develop skills or provide a measure of job security,” reports the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based public policy organisation that conducts independent research. More than 70% of the youth in the “Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Rwanda, Senegal and Uganda are either self-employed or contributing to family work,” adds the report.