By Gaure Mdee
Although Africa has the lowest unemployment rate globally on paper among youth aged 15 to 24 — it was 10.6 per cent in 2021, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) — the majority of the youth on the continent work informally.
Many are underemployed or impoverished due to low wages and the absence of a social safety net.
This variance makes it challenging to compare African countries to advanced economies regarding employment rates.
In 2024, around 11.2 per cent of African youth aged 15-24 are expected to be unemployed. While this is consistent with ILO data since 2021, the status quo could be a mirage.
To put this in perspective, more than one in four young people in Africa – around 72 million – are unemployed. Two-thirds of them are young women.
Africa is uniquely positioned to be a relatively young continent with a rapidly growing youth population. This brings much potential, but employment challenges could undo the demographic gains.
The employment prospects of Africa's youth are affected by the already high unemployment and underemployment rates. Spiralling population growth stands to make the situation worse.
Disparities in youth unemployment based on educational qualifications are part of the problem. In some cases, educated youth may face challenges finding jobs matching their qualifications or having a concentration of job opportunities in urban areas.
"Policies have not been put in place for people to be able to make a living. The economic ecosystem isn't conducive to starting a business either," Fidelis Yunde, who runs the civil society organisation Youth Movement for Change at Singida in Tanzania, tells TRT Afrika.
"These issues must be reevaluated in most parts of the continent."
Ironically, many young people face their most formidable challenge once they graduate from institutes of higher education. Some opt to start businesses while still studying to make a living.
Esther Pallangyo, who studied rural development at the Sokoine University of Agriculture, believes the job sector needs to be able to keep up with the spread of education. "Too many students are graduating, but there are not enough jobs," she tells TRT Afrika.
The Mwanza resident is back home and biding her time for a job to come her way.
Experts believe unemployment contribute to crimes and misdeeds in the society as people strive to survive.
African governments and development partners have attempted to address the employment challenge by implementing skills development programmes for employment in high-priority sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing and entrepreneurship.
Fidelis suggests competence training for graduates. Another issue, he states, is that young people are not always making themselves marketable enough to enhance their chances of getting a job.
Youth enrolled in specialised programmes learn technical, vocational and other life skills to help them find employment and run their businesses.
"People are often afraid to start a business. Imagine me putting my last coin on a business, and it fails. That's the catch," says Fidelis.
Esther has considered venturing into entrepreneurship but needs to be more confident to take the plunge.
Mindset is also a problem. Many African parents discourage children from pursuing careers in creative fields like writing, art, and music, seeing them more as hobbies. Even well-known African authors such as Nigeria's Chinua Achebe studied medicine before finding their calling in writing.
According to experts, addressing social norms and cultural beliefs that hinder young people's access to opportunities should be an area of constant focus. Formal educational institutions are expected to provide training in digital skills to complement this.
In the long run, empowering young people with unhindered knowledge is critical to achieving sustainable social and economic development and reducing the risk of people taking recourse to illegal methods.
➤Click here to follow our WhatsApp channel for more stories.