News & Media / African public service: the risk of failing the youth

African public service: the risk of failing the youth

11 April, 2018

The Ibrahim Forum is an annual high-level discussion forum convened around one specific issue of critical importance to Africa that demands committed leadership and sound governance. Taking place in Kigali on 27-29 April, this year’s Ibrahim Forum will be devoted to Public Service in Africa: its key relation to good governance and effective leadership, its new challenges and current shortcomings, the ways and means to strengthen it and make it appealing to the next generation.

The delivery of public goods and services is at the core of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s definition of governance as ‘the provision of the political, social and economic public goods and services that every citizen has the right to expect from his or her state, and that a state has the responsibility to deliver to its citizens’. Without strong public services and committed civil servants, at local, national, regional or continental levels, there will be no efficient delivery of expected public goods and services, nor implementation of any commitment, however strongly voiced.

In Africa more than elsewhere, the delivery of services such as the traditional functions (security, justice, rule of law) and basic welfare needs (education, health), will be put to test by 21st century challenges in an expanding demographic context, with an increasing demand due to growing populations.

On top of that, the youngest continent in the world, with more than 60% of its population below 25 years, Africa will require specifically larger amounts of national expenditure allocated to education, employment opportunities, basic services and housing.

In 2017, the African average for youth unemployment reached 13.6%, more than twice that of adults (6.2%). A country like South Africa, albeit being the second largest African economy, is unable to provide jobs for more than half of its young people.

On the other hand, Africa’s richest resource, it’s people, leave the continent in search of better opportunities. An estimated 70,000 skilled professionals emigrate from Africa each year, and it is estimated that brain drain in the health sector only amounts each year to a loss of around $6 billion, summing what is spent to train professionals that leave and the costs to fill the gaps.

The young people of Africa are not only the largest share of beneficiaries of public services. They are also the largest share of African citizens and as such have expectations and demands towards their public services that need to be taken into account to make sure that the social contract between citizens and public service providers matches demand and supply, and allows for citizen participation and ownership.

Moreover, the youth constitutes a still underexploited resource for building modern public services, in line with the newest digital and technological innovations. Looking at the composition of African public services, compared to other regions, despite hosting the largest population of young people in the world, the African average for the percentage of public employees aged between 15 and 24 (5.4%) over total paid employment is lower than those of any other world region apart from Latin America & Caribbean. Moreover, the private sector is younger than the public: for the 26 countries covered in the period 2009-2015 public paid employees are on average 6.2 years older than private paid employees.

The potential of the youth is thus not fully harnessed in Africa. Failing to do so will come at a high price for the prosperity of the continent, its governance and the effective functioning of public services. In recognition of this, for the first time the 2018 Ibrahim Forum will be preceded by a ‘Next Generation Forum’ where the new generation will discuss as citizens what they expect from their public service, and as potential civil servants themselves the attractiveness, or lack of, of the civil service, be it at national, local or regional level. Outcomes will be shared the following day at the Ibrahim Forum by their representatives who will serve as ‘challengers’ by sitting as panellists in each of the sessions:

  • Session 1: Identifying the demand
  • Session 2: Assessing the supply
  • Session 3: Building a sound contract between citizens and the state.

As a Mo Ibrahim Foundation board member, and as the current head of the Ibrahim Leadership Fellowship Program, I am pleased to host this first ‘Next Generation Forum’, a much needed platform for the next generation to debate this key issue if we aim at strengthening governance on the continent. This is indeed a key opportunity to build a strong social contract between the next generation of citizens and their governments, and to ensure that Africa’s public services meet the demands of the various development agendas and those of its citizens.

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