Africa’s rise has not taken its young people along with it.
Economies riding the resource boom of the last decade are coming back down with a thud, exposing that the steep rise in GDPs that lent itself to the “Africa rising” narrative did little for the continent’s youth. The youth bulge that was supposed to energize the continent’s resurgence is increasingly looking like a threat.
A new report by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, titled Africa at a Tipping Point, reveals reams of data that paint a dire picture for the continent’s youth. The tipping point the report identifies is how quickly optimism is turning to pessimism. The report outlines how political disillusionment, an education to skills mismatch and the lure of escape via “the back way” or even terrorism are stealing the dreams of the continent’s young people.
Looking at 51 countries, the Mo Ibrahim foundation’s report found that despite growth, unemployment remained consistently high. Even in countries with differing GDP growth rates, youth unemployment remained static. In both Kenya and Sudan, for example, youth unemployment is 22%, yet in 2016 Kenya’s GDP grew at 6% while Sudan’s was nearly half, at 3.1%.
For a long while now education has been touted as the solution, but the report found a mismatch between the skills acquired and jobs available. In Tunisia and Egypt, where young people were among the most educated, youth unemployment was as high as 60%, proving that university degrees do not create jobs.
Still, there is a bright spot: Ethiopia: As others struggle to diversify their economies, Ethiopia emerges as the exception for returning to the land. Agriculture is the largest sector of Ethiopia’s economy, accounting for 80% of the workforce and contributing to 40% of the GDP, according to the report.
“This means that when Ethiopia’s GDP growth contracts from 10.2% in 2015 to 6.5% in 2016 that its youth unemployment doesn’t rocket,” Richard Murray, the foundation’s acting head of research told Quartz.
Ethiopia’s unemployment and youth unemployment rate have remained relatively stable in the last decade. Last year, Ethiopia’s general unemployment rate 5.7%, while its youth unemployment rate was at 8.1%. For the rest of the continent those figures were at an average of 8% and 13% respectively.
Ethiopia’s government is not without its faults, especially for its political repression of young voices. Even now, the political crisis Ethiopia finds itself in is rooted land as a source of income and identity.
Despite these political complexities, policies like Agricultural Development-Led Industrialization have helped the country plow resources into developing its agricultural sector. If the policies’ success to date proves sustainable without eroding the rights of existing smallholder farmers, it would turn projected population growth into a boon, with opportunities in both the rural and urban parts of the country.
Focusing on agriculture means that Africa may be able “to feed itself in a generation,” eliminating the need for imports and aid. Given the technological innovations in technology, a new generation of farmers will be growing a very different crop to those in the past, one that is more robust and plentiful, and ultimately creates jobs.
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