Empowering Africa’s youth is one of the most serious challenges facing the African continent today. Although many African countries are experiencing an economic boom, youth empowerment in Africa is at a crisis stage. While we have made great strides in providing access to education, we have not matched this with providing equal access to employment. African youth are attaining higher education levels than ever before, and with increasing access to internet and mobile connectivity, they are more exposed to Western ideals and aspirations than in previous generations.
Young educated Africans have come to expect the same opportunities to succeed as their western counterparts. It is these unfulfilled aspirations that are translating to anger and frustration among African youth, with deadly results.
Africa is experiencing an unprecedented wave of senseless violence, brutality and crime, the outcome of frustrated youth who are struggling to fit into a world that does not have opportunities that match their aspirations. The advent of ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Shabab, the senseless killings at the University in Garissa and the Westgate Mall in Kenya, as well as the recent Xenophobic attacks in South Africa were all perpetrated by angry young men, giving voice to their frustrations in the most horrific way.
We need to equip young Africans with the skills they need to thrive in the modern world. This is critical if we want to move African countries from emerging to developed markets and to harness this emerging talent that our youth represent.
So it is not surprising that youth empowerment is at the top of the agenda for most African governments. Young Africans enter the workforce at a faster rate than jobs are created and currently 40 million youth are out of work. The rise in the numbers of unemployed youth is directly proportional to the rising insecurity, hopelessness and despair that is manifesting in violence and insecurity across the continent.
What do the statistics tell us about employment in Africa?
According to the United Nations, 87% of the world’s youth population live in developing countries, and 72% live on less than US$2 a day. The Millennium Development Goals identify young people as among the most vulnerable sectors of the African population, upon whom issues such as poverty, hunger, lack of education, maternal mortality, unemployment and HIV/AIDS have a far greater impact. This is because young people often don’t have access to the information, schooling, social influence and basic rights needed to address these issues, and are often overlooked in national development agendas.
Looking further out, these problems are only set to rise unless an intervention is made. Africaneconomicoutlook.org recently released some concerning statistics. Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is becoming more youthful, with youth as a proportion of the total population projected at over 75% by 2015.
It is estimated that more than 50% of Africa’s youth, or 133 million youth lack sufficient business and life skills needed to enter into a productive economic and social life. Those that have some education often exhibit skills that are not sufficiently relevant to current demand in the labour market.
The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation (TCCAF) in partnership with Dalberg Global Development Advisors conducted research to get to a better understanding of the issues driving youth unemployment in Africa, through a series of focus groups and interviews with youth in Kenya, Egypt, Ghana and South Africa. The findings showed that:
- Academic performance no longer guarantees employment as it did in the past: Despite increasing levels of academic achievement, 27% of sub-Saharan African companies surveyed said that youth are not gaining the practical, technical or soft skills that employers are looking for.
- Conversely, employers say that finding qualified talent is challenging: In South Africa, 81% of businesses struggle to source talent, leading to as many as 650 000 jobs remaining vacant.
- Youth lack the resources and networks to seek employment opportunities: Disadvantaged youth do not have the resources or networks needed to find work in the formal sector. In South Africa, approximately 23% of unemployed youth do not even have enough money for transport to look for a job.
What this tells us is that education alone is not sufficient to remove the barriers to employment and education. For example, a brilliant young university graduate who comes from a disadvantaged background and whose family and social networks are primarily in the informal economy may find it difficult to “network” and find opportunities in the formal employment sector.
The challenge around solving the issue of youth unemployment in Africa, therefore, is not just about creating more jobs it is also about matching youth skills to jobs and, once in jobs, enabling them to thrive in the workplace. Considering the complexity of the challenge, we need to help young people increase their productivity in order to expand the options they have to be economically active, for example by providing soft skills to enable them to market themselves better, seek employment effectively, and, once they are gainfully working, to thrive and succeed.
Our survey established that African youth have higher aspirations and expectations about the type of job that they are looking for than their parents did. They also value autonomy and are more open to entrepreneurship as a way to have control over their own lives. They place more of a premium on finding a good job “fit” and or achieving affluence quickly, than on getting a “stable” job that may pay the bills but doesn’t leave anything for the luxuries in life that they aspire to.
The research revealed several solutions to the issues of youth unemployment, which if pursed in tandem give African communities a real chance at resolving this issue.
- Scalable youth inspired opportunities
- Youth are connected and exposed through technology and need solutions that can match their aspirations to create social and economic benefits that they can earn a living from.
- Private sector engagement
- To enable young people access the few existing opportunities, the private sector needs to dedicate itself to expanding opportunities for all young people, for example by finding opportunities within their value chain where young people can add value for economic gain. The Coca-Cola Company has been doing so through micro-franchising and is now going to create a micro franchise model that is youth inspired.
- Creating opportunities for entrepreneurship
Africa simply is unable to generate enough jobs to accommodate the large numbers of youth graduating from high school each year. In addition to expanding the number or opportunities for young Africans to secure gainful employment, entrepreneurship affords young people the autonomy that they desire, in determining their destiny.
As such, any solution to the youth empowerment issue needs to include a mechanism that allows young people to create their own jobs, not just for the sake of employment, but also to enable our economies to thrive and grow at the pace needed for us to achieve our development goals. To catch up with the developed world, Africa will need to grow faster and innovate more aggressively than ever before.
African youth live a unique existence, in many ways acting as a bridge between the developed world in which they are now living in, and the developing world of their parents’ generation. As such African Youth display a marvellous combination of high aspirations and pragmatism, excellent qualities needed for a budding entrepreneur. Harnessing the incredible energy and ambition of a young and growing population will be critical for Africa to achieve our development goals. We must work hard to take advantage of this growing pool of talent, and move quickly to create opportunities for them to succeed.
How can The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation support African youth?
Africa’s youth have proven that with the right support, they are capable of achieving more than we could ever have imagined. This was ably demonstrated with the recent awarding of an Academy Award to a young African woman, one of only a handful of blacks and the first African to ever win an Oscar.
Coca-Cola is investing in youth development because we believe in the tremendous potential of Africa’s youth and we believe that as a Company that actively seeks to connect with youth every day, we are uniquely qualified to help to unleash their potential.
The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, in partnership with several partners including Mercy Corps, Microsoft,
have launched the Youth Empowered for Success (YES!) initiative. By 2017 we will empower 25 000 young Africans in six countries with the skills needed to create and access sustainable, safe and productive jobs. The programme will support disadvantaged and vulnerable youth between the ages of 18 and 35 in Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tunisia and Uganda through access to soft skills, access to jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities through a job matching platform, e-mentoring, access to finance/financial services, and access to ongoing upskilling to support career advancement.
We believe that an issue as critical as youth economic empowerment requires bold ambitious action. We extend a challenge to other organisations to join Coca-Cola in this exciting journey to unleash the potential of Africa’s talented youth, and in so doing, turn an emerging problem into the solution that will dramatically accelerate Africa’s growth and innovation.
The writer, Dr Susan Mboya-Kidero, is the President of The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation