Like many other regions, sub-Saharan Africa has not escaped from the phenomenon of rising youth unemployment. Young people make up slightly more than a third of the region’s total labour force but account for about 60% of total unemployment. In Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, about 63% of the population is under 25. Unemployment is at 23.9%, with youth unemployment at around 37%. In the north-east of the country where Boko Haram thrives, unemployment is worse, reaching 35% in Yobe and Adamawa.
These high levels of unemployment often create a feeling of hopelessness and desperation among youth – psychological variables that terrorist organisations use in recruiting their members. However, unlike other regions where youth unemployment can be closely linked to economic downturn, Africa’s economy is growing. As a result, the region is experiencing much needed domestic and foreign investment. However, growth needs to be sped up and create jobs in order to be a significant factor in dealing with youth unemployment.
Several challenges face the country and the region in achieving economic inclusion. However, I believe the region can turn this trend of jobless growth into job-fuelled growth, and in so doing, tackle the imminent potential threat to peace, security, and development on the continent. Like in a number of other African countries, Nigeria is already taking steps to address these challenges. As part of our agenda to diversify and transform the economy, we are developing agriculture through backward integration where we expect to create 3.5m jobs by 2015. We also expect to unleash growth and job creation in the housing, ICT, solid minerals and the creative industries. We have completed a major privatisation programme in our power sector and are investing some of our petroleum subsidy savings into building new roads, bridges and improving our rail transport system.
It is crucial that we improve the quality of education by addressing the mismatch between the skills they have acquired and those required by the private sector. In order to improve access to education we aim to get 10.6m out-of-school children back in school. The construction of 124 schools for the al Majiri, or street children, in northern Nigeria is an on-going project to ensure that these children are productive both for themselves and for the country.
We need to develop identity platforms and biometric systems that will facilitate the development of safety nets for the poor and the unemployed. Efforts must also be made to build a tax system that can efficiently redistribute income. In May 2013, we launched the pilot phase of a conditional cash transfer scheme to support maternal and child health.
Another issue we must consider is how to handle the issue of population growth. We must now begin to look for home-grown policies that would manage our population growth in a way that allows economic growth to be inclusive and eradicate poverty. Our youth bulge presents us with daunting challenges, but also potential demographic dividends. In the 1940s, the Asian Tigers built their economies on the backbone of their young labour force. The Koreans invested in the skills necessary for their youth to drive the industrial revolution. They were able to transit from a developing to a developed economy by investing in their children.
Given the severity of the problem, Nigeria has engaged in a series of programmes to create short-term job opportunities. These include a community services programme for unskilled youth, which will create 370,000 jobs each year over the next four years. We also created the YouWin programme to provide grants of up to $70,000 to young entrepreneurs between the ages of 18 and 45. We expect at least 80,000 jobs to be created during the programme’s three-year lifespan. The security of Africa’s development is under threat. We cannot afford to exclude youth from economic growth. I remain optimistic that with the right policies, Nigeria and Africa can harness the potential of its youth, tackle violence and restiveness amongst its citizens, and build a more inclusive and prosperous society.
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