Unemployed youth in Africa : The unexpected beast

At the turn of the millennium the biggest problem was that there were not enough people enrolled in Primary school. It was for this reason that a huge chunk of different Sub Saharan African countries poured millions into building schools, hiring new teachers, and ensuring education was no longer so costly. In Kenya, the first Kibaki government clinched election victory by promising free primary education in all government run primary schools. The result was instantaneous. In accordance with results from the World Bank the percentage of boys completing primary school in Sub-Saharan Africa went up from 58% to 73% between 1999 and 2012. During this period the percentage of girls finishing primary school also climbed from 48% to 66%. Ordinarily this should be good news however, for the primary school graduate in the middle of Sub-Sahara his next question is: what am I supposed to do with this education? How is it going to help me provide for my family? What is its added value?

For many they bought into the rhetoric peddled by African regimes at the time – go to school, get an education which will enableAfrican-pupils you to get better jobs and provide better lives for your families. Sadly the mistake these governments made is that these jobs have not been created yet, which has left thousands of educated Africans either jobless or employed in the informal sector. Now being employed in the informal sector is not necessarily a bad thing, it provides some sort of income and ensures at least one less person is going hungry somewhere. However, this is not the kind of environment that educated African youth want to find themselves in. One big result that the African leaders did not count on is that the newly educated youth would dream, and they would become frustrated once their dreams were not achieved.

My advice to all policy makers is simple: invest in the informal sector and make it a bit more formal. Although conventionally this is an area of the economy that the government has little or no control over it is where the majority of newly educated African youth are working out their frustrations. According to the Local Economic Development Network for Africa, studies show that the sector contributes close to 55% of the sub continent’s GDP and an astounding 77% of non-agricultural employment. The root of the problem lies in the way the informal sector is ignored in the sense that while it grows – as a result of the increase in unemployed youth – it does not develop. If African governments realized this and provided the necessary tools, institutions and regulations to nurture this wild beast that economists call the “informal sector,” than maybe the youth of Africa wouldn’t be so frustrated.

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