Africa’s first challenge: the youth bulge stuck in ‘waithood’
The Foundation has been discussing African migrations and the calling for a repositioning of the debate in the past few months. As set out in the 2019 Ibrahim Forum Report, Africa’s first challenge in this regard is the youth bulge currently stuck in ‘waithood’.
Almost 60.0% of Africa’s population in 2019 is under the age of 25, making Africa the world’s youngest continent. According to the UN’s demographic projections, the median age in Africa is going to be 19.8 in 2020. On the continent, Mauritius is expected to have the highest median age, 37.4, and Niger is expected to have the lowest, 15.1. In 2019, more than 1/3 of the population is aged between 15-34. By 2100, Africa’s youth population could be equivalent to twice Europe’s entire population.
The African Union’s (AU) African Youth Charter claims that Africa’s youth is its biggest resource and Africa’s growing youth population offers enormous potential for the continent. Improvements in health and education on the continent put Africa’s youth in a more advantageous position than the generations before, offering them better conditions for advancing human capital.
However, there is still some way to go to harness this potential. Almost 16.0 million young Africans, around 13.4% of the total labour force of 15-24 year olds, are facing unemployment. The 2019 Ibrahim Forum Report shows that for non-working youth, unemployment is the consequence of a lack of jobs.
According to the 2018 Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG), 1/2 of the continent (27 countries) registered a deterioration in the Education sub-category between 2013 and 2017, meaning that for over 1/2 of Africa’s citizens education outcomes have been worsening. Young Africans, especially in sub-Saharan African countries, have limited access to programmes that prepare them for the school to work transition. Only 1.1% of 15-24 year olds in sub-Saharan Africa participated in a vocational education programme in 2017.
Moreover, there is a widening mismatch between education and employers’ needs. Across the continent, unemployment rates among 15-24 year olds with advanced level education are higher than for those with basic education apart from in four countries: Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa and Swaziland. In Mali, more than 1/2 (55.6%) of the 15-24 year olds with advanced education are without a job, compared to 3.3% of those with basic education.
For employed youth, informal jobs are the default rather than the exception. In many countries where the informal sector is an important part of the economy, unemployment rates often do not reflect the realities of the labour market. Due to a lack of formal jobs and social safety nets, many young Africans have to find an alternative in the informal sector in order to ‘get by’; getting trapped in a precarious employment status which contributes to a delayed transition to adulthood (‘waithood’).
This results in a negative outlook when it comes to living standards and financial independence. More than 40.0% of young Africans consider their current living situation to be very bad or fairly bad. Lack of income is the most prevalent form of deprivation facing young Africans, with 37.0% of Afrobarometer respondents aged 18-35 having been without a cash income many times. According to World Bank data, less than 1/5 of young sub-Saharan Africans (aged 15-24) have received wages in the past year (19.1%) and only 26.4% have their own account at a financial institution.
The Ibrahim Forum report finds that about 60.0% of Africans, and especially youth, think that their governments are doing a very bad or a fairly bad job at addressing the needs of young people. This highlights the need for a reflection on the status and relationship between youth and politics. In addition, in 2017 the Foundation noted that Africa was on the verge of losing its youth, to political apathy, but also migration or extremist groups, and these words are still valid today. The Foundation issued the following call for action to ensure the situation is reversed to the advantage of the continent and its people: ‘if the energies and ambitions of Africa’s youth continue to be wasted, they could become serious destabilising forces, threatening not only just future progress, but rolling back the gains of recent years’.