Solving Africa’s Unemployment Challenge through Competitiveness

U nemployment in Africa has been inordinately high for many years and is largely seen as one of the continent’s socio-economic challenges. Most jobless Africans are characterised by their lack of employability as they often have low levels of education and invariably do not have the skills needed in the labour market. More worrisome is the fact that youth unemployment is on the rise in the continent. Daily, thousands of migrant Africans who are mostly youths from Lagos, Accra, Nairobi, Harare, Kampala, and other countries in the continent go through harrowing experience as they try to enter Europe and other continents in search for greener pastures, and in order to get out of what they view as the excruciating poverty and bleak future of the continent due to lack of jobs.

Youth unemployment remains a major barrier to the continent’s development. For instance, the recent public protest in Burundi over the president’s bid for a third term was dominated by the youths, just as this category of people form bulk of the members of the Boko Haram sect in Nigeria. Past and recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa were controlled by the youths, many citing unemployment as reasons for attacking immigrants.

Although the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its Regional Economic Outlook published on April 28, 2015 noted that growth in sub-Saharan Africa would remain robust, it noted the continent’s rising population. It projected that Africa’s population would increase significantly to two billion by 2050 and 3.7 billon by 2100.

“The IMF projects that the economy of the region is set to register another year of solid

performance, expanding at 4.5 per cent in 2015. While this rate will be at the lower end of the range experienced over the last few years, sub-Saharan Africa will remain among the fastest growing regions of the world.

“The first study considers the implications of the rapid increase in the sub- Saharan African population, projected to grow to two billion by 2050 and 3.7 billion by 2100. As a consequence, the region will become the main source of new entrants into the global labour force over the next 20 years. The experience of East Asia and Latin America, which underwent a similar transition in the past, suggests that these trends could yield a valuable ‘demographic dividend’.”

This findings by the IMF remains worrisome for policy makers in the continent as they seek to tame unemployment in the region.

To a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Economics, Lagos State University, Dr. Ibrahim Bakare, poor leadership, greed on the part of the political leaders, weaker institutions that are not independent and in the interest of the less privileged, monumental corruption at all levels in Africa, favouritism, amongst others are some of the factors, that have it impossible for the continent to resolve its unemployment challenge.

In order to address the developmental challenges posed by unemployment, Bakare points that there was need for policy makers in the continent to design more realistic and sound macroeconomic policies that would impact directly on effective allocation of resources, promote private sector initiative and entrepreneurship.

Also, the co-convener of the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) Group and former Minister of Education in Nigeria, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili identified quality of human capital as a major growth driver in any economy.

She said: “The reason for the growth of human capital in other societies is access to quality education. The basis for attainment in society, the basis for social and economic mobility has often been access to education. Education is a part of economic development. If you want to create an equitable and just society, give quality education.”

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, in their book: “Why Nations Fail,” stressed the need for inclusive economic growth in order to tackle malaise such as unemployment, so as to allow and encourage participation by the “great mass of people in economic activities that make best use of their talents and skills that enable individuals to make the choices they wish.”

They also argued in the book that the low education level of poor countries is caused by “economic institutions that fail to create incentives for parents to educate their children and by political institutions that fail to induce government to build, finance and support schools and the wishes of parents and children.”

The foregoing clearly shows that in order for the continent to resolve its unemployment challenges, policy makers in various countries must focus on competitiveness. The basic determinant of competitiveness is the skills and competences of people and citizens. And in order to improve competitiveness, governments must invest heavily on education. If Africans, especially the youths are well educated, they can add value to others or add value to themselves. Also, in the continent presently, there is a huge-mismatch between what people claim to know and what they are able to do. A lot of Africans lack adequate skills to transform their economic system. So, there is need to bridge such gap by investing in quality education from the primary, secondary and tertiary levels.