Right now, sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing GDP growth that most western Chancellors, Finance Ministers or High Priests of Economics would bite your arm off to achieve. Sadly this growth, which is projected to reach 5.5% in 2015, is not being translated into jobs for young people. In fact young people have, by and large, been sidelined to the role of spectators, with more than two thirds of young workers’ potential not being fully utilised.
Each year the jobs market becomes more and more congested as 10 million additional young people join the labour force. In response to this situation, Azita Berar Awad, Director of the ILO’s Employment Policy Department, has called for the creation of quality jobs “that guarantee the necessary income and material independence for workers and their families”.
Yet, it is not quality but informality and vulnerability that can be said to characterise employment in sub-Saharan Africa. Only one in four have a written contract, more than half of all contracts are temporary and less than one in five are entitled to paid annual or sick leave. According to Azita Berar Awad the low quality of jobs is an obstacle that “does not allow either the youth or the countries they are living in to fully tap into the region’s true economic potential”.
Another obstacle preventing many young people from realising their true economic potential is the closed doors policy limiting access to finance. The overly conservative and bureaucratic approach of regional governments has done nothing to help the matter and the exorbitant interest rates charged by lending institutes only rub salt into already raw wounds. Young people are seeing their dreams of starting their own businesses turned into a nightmare by self interest on one side and bureaucracy on the other. When small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are given a chance to succeed the results can be significant. For example, last year in Ethiopia, 618,832 people got jobs through SMEs.
At the moment the average rate of youth unemployment in sub-Saharan Africa stands at 22.8%, with figures ranging from 2.2% in Madagascar to 42% in Tanzania. We have seen how the employment picture is riddled with insecurity and how limited access to finance is cutting job creation off at the knees. If these two issues are not promptly addressed the demographic surge of young people entering the jobs market will be met with an uncertain future – where work is scarce and quality work still scarcer.