Africa Series: Urban vs. Rural Youth Unemployment

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A critical analysis of the urban-rural divide in youth unemployment by guest blogger Lionel Kpenou-Chobli.


Africa has 200 million young people aged 15 to 24 years, more than 20% of the population. The continent is experiencing rapid population growth and entered a phase of slow demographic transition that will increase the pressure countries are facing in terms of job creation.

The vast majority of young people are rural people who work mainly in agriculture, where they represent 65% of total employment. African youth, however, are not a homogeneous group and their employment prospects vary according to several factors (region, gender, education level, etc.), which implies differentiated interventions by public authorities.

A compilation of facts and statistics show that:

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Many young people leave the countryside for the city in the hope of finding jobs and better working conditions. But because most countries have not yet embarked on the path of industrialization, urban centers are not able to create a large body of work. Therefore, in the short term, only rural activities can actually create jobs for most new entrants to the labor market.

Given the difficulties that young people face on labor markets, only a set of concerted actions over the long term, covering a wide range of policies and programs, will ensure them a job. Fragmented and isolated interventions cannot in any case lead to lasting success.

Integrated rural development strategy, growth and job creation is not only a necessity but is in fact the primary guiding principle that should determine the actions of public authorities.

This strategy should cover both aspects of supply and demand in the labor market and take into account the mobility of young people to urban areas. It should also be associated with targeted interventions to help young people overcome the handicaps they face in entering and remaining in the labor market.

Modern agriculture has great potential for creating jobs and wealth and can absorb a lot of young potential migrants or young people who are currently underemployed. Wiser investment choices with high labor intensity in agriculture and other rural non-farm activities can create immediate opportunities for short-term jobs that are more accessible to youth.

Combined with appropriate economic development strategies at the local level, this approach can create more jobs and sustainability. This requires developing strategies that make farming attractive enough option for youth and must especially reduce the importance of subsistence agriculture and promote the marketing and productivity gains through technological innovation and support infrastructure.

In creating jobs and expanding their educational opportunities, rural areas may become more attractive for young workers, which in the long run will slow the rural exodus.

This migration is an extremely important issue and governments should try to slow down to prevent the growth of unemployment and underemployment of young people in urban centers and to prevent living conditions from deteriorating further in already overcrowded African cities.

Investing in rural education will also create opportunities for people to migrate in better conditions and contribute to the economic growth of cities.

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The most urgent measures that governments must take to address the problems of youth employment in Africa, apart from developing rural jobs, is to improve the framework for investment and macroeconomic environment, encourage and support entrepreneurship and the informal sector, improve access to education and training, pay attention to demographic problems including early motherhood, tackle the problem of young people struggling with violence and conflict and improve the situation of the labor markets.

That said, this cannot be done in ignorance of the aspirations of young people themselves, aspirations that are clearly defined and well distributed across the continent: participatory democracy, respect for human rights, access to culture and leisure, lifting of social pressures, increased healthcare, access to the Internet and its many applications that promote awareness, curiosity, mobility and of course, some form of new citizenship which could hamper the ruling classes.


Submitted by Task Force Member Lionel Kpenou-Chobli, Public Affairs Advisor and Manager at Optimum Consulting InterAfrica.


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The views, opinions and positions expressed by the authors and those providing comments on these blogs are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Peace Child International.

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