Twelve million African youths enter the already crowded job market annually and the continent’s leaders need to do much more to remedy the situation, according to the first plenary at this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa holding in Cape Town, South Africa.
The situation is made worse by the fact that of this number only a tenth ever get the chance of coming close to anything like a job in Africa, where over 60 percent of the unemployed are youths.
Discussants at the forum, including the presidents of Botswana and Ethiopia along Oby Ezekwesili, a former Minister of Education in Nigeria; Jim Ovia, founder and chair of Zenith Bank as well as a Vice President of Google, were tasked with dimensioning the crisis and proffering solutions to it.
The leader of Botswana called the problem scary and frustrating, and warned against the undesirable consequences of doing nothing, but acknowledged that the continent’s leaders need a re-think.
“Political leaders in the continent should have a re-think, we need a conversation as the politics of today is not serving the people,” President Seretse Khama told the audience. Botswana is expanding access to the internet for youths so they can better leverage technology and the tools that it offers, he said.
Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zedwe spoke of elaborate economic reform in the large populated country, which she said would lead to creating about 3 million jobs in the next one year.
“This is not the Africa we want and this matter of youth employment can become a ticking bomb,” she said, saying, “African leaders have to change the way we are addressing the problem as leadership and governance are holding back Africa.”
Ovia highlighted the power of technology and stressed how young Africans were raising significant capital from abroad for their tech start ups that were giving youths in the continent new hope.
He said it was now critical that governments across Africa put in place the badly needed policies capable of expanding economic activity and growing jobs.
Ezekwesili wondered how there could be the required collaboration and integration in Africa in the light of the xenophobic attacks that welcomed the opening of the forum in Cape Town.
She blamed the misery in much of Africa on bad leadership and what she called “wacky politics” played by the continent’s uninspiring leaders that live for themselves.
According to Ezekwesili, “Our political leaders need to be put in a room and told that they have failed our youths. The leaders must enthrone well tested market driven reforms and allow markets set incentives.”
What is comforting about the economic crisis, which Africa faces, is that “we see some countries which have been here before pull themselves out of this misery,” she said.