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Youth unemployment high on the agenda in Liberia and Africa

World leaders, including the UK prime minister David Cameron and the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, have gathered this week to discuss the kind of development framework which might replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when these expire in 2015.

David Cameron described the week’s meetings as “lively, constructive and productive” and spoke about the importance of factors such as “rights for women, a free press, the rule of law, an open society and an open economy” as vital threads for developing nations.

One of Mr Cameron’s co-chairs for the meetings was the Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. In a separate interview, Africa’s first elected female head of state spoke about the importance of peace and security for development. From her own experience in Liberia, she stressed how the involvement of women in government could help build a more peaceful and economically successful society.

Ms Sirleaf was particularly keen to highlight the importance of young people in developing countries like her own. Ms Sirleaf said she felt encouraged by the kind of aspirations young Liberian girls have today, encouraged by greater access to education and emboldened by having a female president as a role model. When touring the countryside, the Liberian president said that young girls come up to her and say how they would like to be “presidents, senators” or other kinds of leaders.

However, one of the main cautionary notes Ms Sirleaf strikes in her interview with the press (shown on the BBC website) is about the danger of high youth unemployment across Africa and also in the developed world. In her own country of Liberia, large numbers of youngsters have been unable to access education in the past because of conflict and there is the issue of empowering these young people to find work and opportunities to improve their lives.

But as well as ill-educated youngsters, Ms Sirleaf also spoke about the rising number of graduates who are now unable to find work in many countries. If the economies of Africa don’t develop sufficiently to offer employment to such educated young people, the Liberian president is worried what effects this could have.

With only 15 minutes to brief the press about the work ahead for the UN’s taskforce, it was also interesting to note that Ms Sirleaf and the other leaders expressed the view that young people must be involved in the process of developing a new development framework post 2015. 

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