Youth Unemployment in Africa: Causes, effects and Solutions

Only strategic efforts of ‘we’ can address youth unemployment in Africa

By Biodun Awosusi (a submission for the BlogActionDay #BAD2012 event on the #powerofwe)

There are 200million people in Africa between 15 and 24 years of age. This represents about 20% of the population. According to the Population Research Bureau, Africa has the fastest growing and most youthful population in the world. Over 40 percent of its population is under 15. Africa’s high fertility rate is responsible for this. This demographic finding portends challenges and opportunities. The challenges are economic and social; both are highly connected. As the population expands, jobs must be created. If these jobs are not enough, there will be many young people who are unemployed. According to the International Labor Organization, 3 out of 5 unemployed people in Africa are young people.

The World Bank 2008 Report titled ‘Youth Employment in Africa: the potential, the problem and the promise’ notes that youth employment is more prevalent in urban areas. Worsening conditions in the rural areas lead to rural-urban migration. This compounds the unemployment challenge in the urban centres. This is clearly evident in many big cities in Africa including Lagos, Ibadan, Aba, Zaria, Accra, Darkar, and Johannesburg, just to mention a few.

Effects of Youth Unemployment

Unemployed youth are therefore readily available for anti-social criminal activities that undermine the stability of society. An unstable society increases the risk of the market. This scares investors. Jorge Saba Arbache of the Africa Region of the World Bank says ‘unemployed and underemployed youth are more exposed to conflicts and illegal activities-many of them fall prey to armed and rebel conflicts’.

In Nigeria, the unemployment rate is worrisome. It has consistently increased in the last few years. Former presidential aspirant and business mogul Prof Pat Utomi wonders why Nigeria experiences rising rate of unemployment despite its rating as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The situation is no different in the other 6 countries listed in Africa listed as one of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world. Zambian Minister of Finance Alexander Chikwanda once said that the youth unemployment is ‘a ticking time bomb for all of us’.

Response by African Leaders

In response to this challenge, regional and continental governments have met severally to discuss solutions to youth unemployment in Africa. On 18th February 2009 in Addis Ababa, African heads of state declared 2009-2019 as the decade of youth development in Africa. They resolved to advance youth development and ensure increased investments in youth development programmes at national levels.

The declaration was reviewed two years later. On 1st July 2011, the heads of state and government met in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea to discuss the need to ‘accelerate youth empowerment for sustainable development’. They reinforced the Addis Ababa 2009 declaration and promised ‘creation of safe, decent and competitive employment opportunities’. In July 2012, the African Development Bank facilitated a policy dialogue on youth employment for the Southern African region, chaired by its Vice President Prof Mthuli Ncube.

Let’s see what this led to. In Ghana, the government created the National Youth Service for its graduates and also the National Youth Employment Program (NYEP) to secure jobs for the unemployed. Mauritius has a National Human resource plan that provides framework for technical and vocational education. Zambia introduced the National Youth policy and Youth Enterprise fund to reduce poverty and create jobs. The Nigerian government introduced Skill Acquisition and enterprise development into the National Youth service corp, and a business plan competition for young people tagged ‘YOUWIN’ program. These efforts have not clearly resulted in significant reduction in youth unemployment.


The AfDB chief economist Prof Ncube says ‘it has become clear that there are no quick fixes to ensuring that all Africa’s young people get off to a good start. Stronger job creation mechanisms grounded in a deliberate strategy for inclusive growth and social development is needed’.

Addressing the youth unemployment in Africa requires an integrated holistic approach. Shortcuts will not work. The World Bank 2008 report advocates for a comprehensive model that caters for rural development, rural-urban migration, preparation of young people for the labor market and investments in agriculture.

The aim of every government should be to create enabling environment to promote investments. This includes provision of power, maintaining law and order, and adequate security. The justice system must also be strong to facilitate strong contracts and protect mutual trust. Regional organizations such as ECOWAS must ensure that policy for economic integration is not just on paper but clearly implemented in real terms, across the borders. Minimum standards should be set for products that will cross borders. Free movement of people and goods should be allowed, within the limits of regional and international trade treaties.

Education curriculum must be immediately revised to incorporate skills and enterprise development. A special program should be designed for low-skilled youth in vocational centres. Incentives should be provided to SMEs that promote student internships. The current state of youth unemployment in Nigeria and the rest of Africa require shared responsibilities to tackle it. It will take the ‘Power of We’ to solve it. Businesses will thrive in a safe and secure society. Government can implement developmental programs only in an atmosphere of peace of security. It is therefore incumbent on government to work closely with the private sector to promote internships, graduate trainee programmes, and community-based projects that create jobs for young people. Social Enterpreneurship is a viable tool that can create jobs for many young people.

Agriculture is a viable source of investments for young people if it is made attractive. There should be a swift transition from subsistence to commercialized farming. Farm and non-farm activities should be better packaged to make them really attractive. There should also be adequate investment in rural education. This will boost rural opportunities and reduce rural-urban migration and its concomitant challenges.

Arbache says ‘the demographic transition is an opportunity for Africa to compete internationally. The main challenge is to employ the appropriate policies for the region to benefit from this unique opportunity’. It is my belief that individuals, organizations and government will make appropriate decisions to maximize this opportunity.


Youth and Employment in Africa: The Potential, The Problem and the Promise, World Bank

‘Youth unemployment to rise to 75million in 2012’, Business Day Tuesday 22nd May, 2012.

Seminar tackles youth employment in Africa, African Development Bank, 10 July, 2012

Zuehike, E. (2009) ‘Youth Employment and underemployment in Africa brings uncertainty and opportunity’, Population Reference Bureau.

Fanimo, D. & Okere, R. (2009) ‘Nigerians bemoan rate of unemployment, seek action’, The Guardian, Tuesday 7, 2012.




  1. An integral aspect of youth empowerment is transformational change of their perspective. If they can believe more, they can do more. Youth must be trained to identify the opportunities that lie wasted around them. This is introducing information marketing.

    1. Kole, Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this subject. Your idea of information marketing sounds nice. Is there anything you are doing about this?

    2. Kole I like your idea of information marketing – there are many ways in which information can be marketed to the youth. One way is by youth development programmes, in their own capacities, informing the youth, especially the disadvantaged, through conducting contextual outreach programmes where information can be shared.

  2. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Being employed not only drives the industrial force of a nation , it also helps individuals gain sense of pride and duty in their collective effort to contribute to the growth of their nation. Nigeria as a case study has failed judging from all parameters, to create the enabling environment for various sectors of the economy to be expanded to allow fresh entrants gain exposure into practical working life and how well they also can practice what has been said all their years in Colleges and Universities. To this end, I only suggest that the Federal Government revisit their SURE-Programme and make it available to all Nigerians with credible and worthy business ideas! Nigeria has the money so why allow people to languish in pains and hapless situations?

  3. agriculture is the only to uplift the face of Africa as it will create more job for the youths of today.

  4. Thanks. I am carrying out a study on youth unemployment. Can you please avail me data on current urban youth unemployment/employment trend in Africa?

  5. Even though African youth are well educated, most even attending university, they do cannot get good jobs. This is because they did not get the practical and industry skills that are required by employers. Many companies are in search of young workers with the technical skills for operating machines and managing production processes but they cannot seem to find them. Hence, proper skills training are required and not just academic knowledge. It is crucial to improve the potential of job creation by promoting a structural change of African economies. Africa also needs to foster new and more productive financial activities to help its youth have access to gainful employment.

  6. It’s true that investing in agriculture which is a form of self employment and entrepreneurship will do a lot to solve the problems associated with youth unemployment. At Kenyan Youth Board, we strive to impact the opportunities of job creation to the youth by equipping the youth with skills that will make them confident and competent enough to take part in the growth and development of the country’s economy having acquired the market specific skills. We also do provide to youth members effective entrepreneurship training courses and also do provide valuable information concerning trade and investment. we do offer industrial attachment and job opportunities to them by creating a database of available job opportunities in Kenya and all over the world. Feel free to visit out website for more about the products and services that we offer

  7. To solve the problem of youth unemployment in Africa, we must face the reality. Our educational system was designed to serve the colonial master for clerical staff and admin tasks. Unfortunately we have not changed the model to meet the current challenges and needs. The solution is to practically train our youth to use their brain and hand to solve practical human problems and not to rely on paper qualifications. We need more food, chickens , eggs , more vehicles, solar lanterns, pumping machines . we should produce locally not to rely on Tokunbo from Europe and substandard from China or India . We must produce not to consume -Then Job will be available for all

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