Leaders on Tuesday expressed the need for African countries to urgently embark on programs to create decent job opportunities for the youth on the continent. Speaking in New York in a high-level side event organized by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, the leaders concurred that lack of decent employment opportunities for African youth was a recipe for disaster and that African governments needed to act quickly avert a crisis in the continent.
The NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency (NPCA) CEO Ibrahim Mayaki, who chaired the event, lamented that lack of economic opportunities and joblessness was the single biggest cause to the youth joining militant extremist groups like Boko Haram and al-Shabaab, which are causing big security problems in the Sahel and Horn of Africa, respectively.
“When you give a 16-year-old boy a Kalashnikov and US $3 per day, what do you expect?” Mayaki paused. “We are simply fomenting a crisis that will haunt the continent for generations to come if we do not act now and act at scale,” he said. Noting that 90 percent of jobs are in fact created by the private sector, he underscored the need for governments to foster policies and strategies that support private sector development and entrepreneurship.
The African Development Bank’s Vice-President for Corporate Services and Human Resources, Alberic Kacou, joined the leaders in pledging support to African countries to create sustainable and decent employment for African youth. The Vice-President cited examples of programs recently launched by the African Development Bank to support youth employment in the continent.
The Bank’s Jobs for Youth in Africa Strategy aims to create 25 million direct jobs for young people in the next 10 years. Kacou also talked about the Empowering Novel Agri-Business-Led Employment for Youth in African Agriculture (ENABLE Youth) initiative, which promotes youth employment in the agricultural sector, and the Boost Africa Initiative, in which the Bank is partnering with the European Union to provide 80 million euros to benefit over 2,000 young entrepreneurs by creating 75,000 direct and 50,000 indirect jobs.
Vice-President Kacou also stressed the need for skills enhancement and the role of the private sector in creating sustainable and secure jobs for African youth. In this regard, the Jobs for Youth in African initiative will focus on three main areas: Integration of youth employment in Bank operations and country and regional development strategies; Innovation, that is, working with partners to incubate, implement, and scale promising job creation solutions across African countries; and Investment to catalyze the private-sector capacity to create jobs for youth on the continent.
The Vice-President further explained that the institution would use a suite of instruments to support skills development and job creation, including issuing of guarantees, supporting student loan financing programs, direct and indirect investments, and developing awards challenges to spur entrepreneurship and innovation.
Parminder Vir, CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, concurred with the panelists that the private sector needs to play a central role in promoting entrepreneurship and job creation in Africa. Noting that the Foundation has set aside US $100 million to enhance entrepreneurship in the 54 Africa countries, Vir said that the US$5,000 seed capital that they offer through a continent-wide competitive process to young entrepreneurs is attracting a huge interest in the continent.
Over the past two years, over 65,000 applications have been received, 30 percent of which are in the agribusiness sector. Nevertheless, she also underscored the need for African governments not only to create the right policy and institutional environment for private-sector operators, but also to promote technology and entrepreneurship incubation.
Pali Lehohla, the Statistician-General of Statistics South Africa, agreed that governments hold the key to job creation, especially with respect to policy continuity and predictability. “But government planning must be based on evidence of statistics and empirical data,” Lehohla stressed.
Lehohla decried the dearth of political appetite for statistical evidence in policy planning and development process, and called upon development and policy institutions, particularly, the Bank and the Economic Commission for Africa, to support African countries not only to build statistical capacity, but also to generate and apply the empirical evidence for better policy dialogue and planning. “Civil registration is the natural starting point. We must be able to tell what happens to an African child once it is born… and follow through,” Lehohla said.
Other speakers in the high-level panel discussion included representatives from the International Labour Organization and the UN Economic Commission for Africa.