New perspectives on Africa’s youth employment challenge highlight need to rethink current policies

13 June 2017

At a time when the youth employment challenge is worsening in Africa, authors of a new IDS Bulletin provide some much needed scrutiny of conventional policy approaches to youth unemployment and highlight the need to rethink interventions on training, migration, non-farm employment and entrepreneurship.

Nigeria, Lagos. Fashion designer Ejioro Amos Tafiri, 28, in her busy workshop as she and her team produce her latest colletion for Lagos Fashion and Design Week. 
Credit: Andrew Esiebo / Panos

Africa faces tremendous challenges in terms of creating sustainable jobs for its young people. High levels of unemployment (in 2015, 30 million Africans were unemployed), vulnerable employment, and working poverty (where people are employed but earning less than US$2 a day) are on the rise. Further, Africa has the largest share of population comprising children and young adults in the world, and a youth population that is expected to double to over 830 million by 2050.

This has unsurprisingly led to a surge in development and policy interest in both youth and employment over the last decade. Yet despite the rhetoric about prioritising the youth agenda, youth-focused policies and interventions have been limited in both number and success across the region.

“Policies and interventions have drawn more from theory than research-based evidence, limiting the potential to generate more desirable outcomes. Further, many of the current initiatives to tackle Africa’s youth unemployment challenge lack coordination, with few credible efforts to generate lessons and feed back into policy making” explained IDS’ Seife Ayele, co-editor of the IDS Bulletin.

Ayele says, “A seismic shift is needed towards generating more quality research, developing evidence-based policies and interventions to meaningfully address youth employment challenges.”

The latest IDS Bulletin, ‘New Perspectives on Africa’s Youth Employment’, stems from an initiative that seeks to do just this and help to bridge the research to policy gap. All authors are recent or soon-to-be African PhD scholars, who bring fresh eyes and new perspectives to this complex development challenge. The contributors are all Matasa Fellows, part of the first cohort of the Matasa Fellows Network - a joint initiative of The MasterCard Foundation and IDS - that puts young African researchers at the heart of change.

Together, they explore key questions such as: Who are the youth and what is the problem? Are entrepreneurship and self-employment the solution? And what about youth aspirations? In doing so the authors underline the enormity of the youth employment challenge in Africa; demonstrate how politics and political context shape youth-related policy; illustrate the need for critical reflection on the multiple and divergent meanings of work and employment; and highlight an urgent need to rethink interventions, particularly those that promote entrepreneurship and self-employment.

This is a ‘must read’ for anyone interested in addressing the youth employment challenge in Africa.

All articles are free to access on the IDS Bulletin website.

Image credit: Andrew Esiebo / Panos