Rising youth population could spur Africa’s economic growth – Report

The rising youth population in Africa which is often seen as a threat could be made useful to sustain and accelerate the economic and social development of the continent, according to a new report.

Launched in Addis Ababa September 13, 2012, the report, 2012 African Economic Outlook (AEO), argues that youth unemployment figures will increase unless African countries move swiftly to make youth employment a priority, turning its human capital into economic opportunity.

It also advocates for policies that focus on creating the right skills necessary for youths to compete in the job market and support entrepreneurship.

The report provides country-by-country analysis and policy recommendations on the promotion of youth employment and warns of looming domestic and external risks posed by the continued economic crisis in the Eurozone.

This crisis, according to the AEO, threatens to constrain growth by lowering the demand for Africa’s exports, reduce tourism earnings and financial flows from foreign direct investments, Official Development Assistance and remittances.

The AEO was put together by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the African Development Bank (AfDB), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

In opening remarks at the launch, Prof Emmanuel Nnadozie, Director of ECA’s Economic Development and NEPAD Division said the 2012 AEO report will “help African countries identify opportunities and address challenges in order to maximize benefits from the emerging demographic dividend on the continent”.

Prof Nnadozie observes that challenges facing youth employment often vary across African countries and different income groups, he added, stressing the fact that in low-income countries, “youth in vulnerable employment and working poverty are the largest majority”, while “discouraged or inactive youth” are the most common group in middle-income countries.

He said the report contains a series of policy recommendations, especially one which suggests that schools and training centres in Africa should provide youth with more on-job training opportunities, among other general and country-specific policy recommendations.

The AfDB’s Resident Representative, Mr. Lamin Barrow, believes that the new report is a clarion call for Africa to “reset the policy agenda towards promoting inclusive, employment-creating and sustainable growth strategies aimed particularly at addressing the special needs of the young”.

Lamin suggested that pools of labour and entrepreneurial talent could serve as potential engines for inclusive growth since they can absorb higher numbers of unemployed youths.

Also addressing participants at the launch, the UNDP Country Director for Ethiopia, Ms Alessandra Tisot, called the report “a reminder to African governments and policy makers to focus on removing obstacles to the many informal groups and support them to grow and create decent jobs”.

With almost 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24, Africa has the youngest population in the world and recent estimates have it that the number of young people in Africa will double by 2045. If this trend continues, the continent’s labour force is likely to hit one billion by 2040, making it the largest in the world, according to ECA.

Africa’s youth population is not only growing rapidly but said to be getting better educated also, it adds.

The ECA, says based on current trends, about 59% of 20-24 year olds will have had secondary education in 2030, compared to 42% today.

This will translate into 137 million people in this cohort/group with secondary education and 12 million with tertiary education in 2030. With the number of youth in Africa set to double by 2045, creating productive jobs for young people will continue to pose an immense challenge, according to reports.

The coverage of the African Economic Outlook increased from 22 countries in 2002 to 47 countries in 2009; and 53 countries in 2012, covering all African countries except Somalia.

By Ekow Quandzie

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