Tackle underemployment AND unemployment in Africa argues IDS Bulletin

Published on 28 November 2018

As 12 million young people enter the African labour force each year, there are only 3 million new jobs for them (pdf). The major challenge is not just about creating enough jobs for them, but on creating ‘decent’ jobs, argues the new IDS bulletin.

The Bulletin ‘Youth Employment and the Private Sector in Africa’ include articles written by seven young African academics, part of the Matasa Fellows Network, on the challenges of employment and job creation in Africa’s private sector.

Seife Ayele, Marjoke Oosterom and Dominic Glover, editors of the new bulletin, argue ‘the private sector has an important role to play in economic transformation, and there is an emerging shift within donors and institutions such as the African Development Bank Group to involve the private sector in addressing youth unemployment (pdf)’.

What role does the private sector have in creating jobs for youth?

However, the editors explain that it is unclear to what extent private sector growth generates jobs for youth; whether youth have any specific disadvantages when it comes to accessing formal employment in the private sector; and to what extent the private sector will generate decent jobs they explain. The contributors to this IDS Bulletin seek to address these questions.

While some aspects of the youth employment challenge are common to all the countries focused on within the bulletin (Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, and Zimbabwe) the local contexts and situations are unique. Across these countries, the Matasa Fellows explore the scope of the research and policy challenges in three specific areas: agribusiness and youth employment skills gaps and youth employability youth employment in fragile and conflict-affected settings.

Emerging agribusinesses are generating more jobs for youth

A majority of young people in Africa find themselves working in agriculture at some point and in some capacity, and the growing sector of agribusiness is evidently capitalising on that. While agribusiness is clearly a growing sector in the African continent, in their articles Tesfamicheal Wossen and Seife Ayele, Gertrude Dzifa Torvikey and Rita Makumbi highlight multiple challenges in Ethiopia, Ghana and Uganda such as low wages, skills gaps, and inflexible systems of land ownership and transfer put a brake on growth and job creation.

They all propose that targeted policy reforms could incentivise private agribusiness investments, address sectoral constraints, target skills and wage gaps, and improve institutions that govern land ownership and tenure.

Addressing the skills gap

In many countries, there is a mismatch between the skills acquired at school and/or university, which ultimately limit the employability of university graduates and school leavers. The articles by Jerusalem Yibeltal Yizengaw and John Muchira focus on Ethiopia and Kenya and go beyond the simplistic assumption that young people need to be targeted with employability skills-building programmes and provide more nuanced arguments that call for a focus on curriculum structure and building relationships between job providers and educational institutions to address the gap.

Employment in fragile and conflict-affected states

Both Simbarashe Gukurume and Tarila Marclint Ebiede focus on the fragility of employment in insecure and politically sensitive environments. They make compelling cases drawing on evidence from youths working in Zimbabwe in small and medium enterprises and Nigeria’s Post Amnesty Programme in supporting the employment of ex-combatants in the oil-rich Niger Delta region.

Overall, the articles in this IDS Bulletin underline the complexities of each country, highlighting the fact that the private sector’s role in job creation is never straightforward, and that policy decisions need to be based on specific and contextualised understandings of what the private sector is, the nature of the jobs it creates, and its potential contribution to the economy and the livelihood opportunities of young people.

This Bulletin also includes a memoriam for Clementina Oluwafunke Ajayi. Clementina was a Matasa Fellow of the second cohort, alongside the seven other contributors to this bulletin.

Clementina greatly impressed the Matasa selectors with the clarity and coherence of her application, her compassion for the young Nigerians with whom she worked, and her commitment to work hard for the sustainable development of her country and all Africans.

Clementina’s Matasa article was to be about the potential of Nigeria’s poultry sector to create jobs for young people and stimulate private sector growth.

Clementina died from complications during childbirth on 10 May 2018. She was buried in her hometown, Ife. Her baby, a son, survived. On behalf of everyone involved in the Matasa Fellows Network, we offer our sincere condolences to Clementina’s husband and family.

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Vivienne Benson

Communications and Impact Manager


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