According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the African Development Bank, young people under the age of 25 now account for the majority of unemployment in sub-Saharan Africa. African nations therefore face a huge challenge to create more jobs or the continent’s security is at risk. This is the firm belief of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the finance minister of Nigeria, who recently gave a lecture at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
With jobs hard to find, poverty among the young is widespread. In the lecture (a summary of which is provided by the Guardian), Ms Okonjo-Iweala quotes figures from a World Bank survey which estimate that 72% of the youth population in sub-Saharan Africa lives on less than 2 dollars each day. So for example in Nigeria, where nearly two-thirds of the population is under 25, youth unemployment is running at around 37%. Ms Okonjo-Iweala argues that when young people are excluded from economic opportunities, they are easy targets for groups advocating insurgency and terrorism. Violence then undermines development.
In Nigeria, the government aims to diversify the economy; so for example, by focusing on ‘high-value agriculture’, it hopes to create 3.5 million jobs by 2015. There will also be more investment in infrastructure and financial services, allowing easier access to credit for entrepreneurs. In addition, the number of community services programmes for the unskilled and internship schemes for graduates will be increased. A fund to provide grants to young entrepreneurs is also being set up.
According to the minister, the government aims to increase access to education, especially for girls and women. This will be a huge task, since Nigeria is already struggling to educate its next generation, having the largest number of primary-aged children out of school.
The minister suggests that Nigeria’s fast-rising population is another area which needs to be addressed if economic growth is to be “poverty-eradicating and more inclusive”.
Overall, Ms Okonjo-Iweala is optimistic that the while the continent’s young population presents challenges, it also provides “unique opportunities”, because if tapped correctly, the potential of Africa’s young people can help to build “more inclusive and prosperous societies”.