With the number of young people in Africa between the ages of 15 and 24 set to double by 2045, there is a real concern over how to provide employment for an increasingly young and well-educated labour force. African leaders and development organisations are confronting this challenge against the backdrop of the global economic crisis, and the complex social, economic and political dynamics that characterise fragile and conflict-affected countries.
This week International Alert released a new report entitled Real jobs in fragile contexts: Reframing youth employment programming in Liberia and Sierra Leone, which seeks to challenge popular assumptions about youth and employment opportunities in fragile contexts. Specifically the report provides a more nuanced discussion of the situation faced by young people in Africa and some practical steps for those developing programmes aimed at tackling these issues.
The report, which draws on field research in Liberia and Sierra Leone, highlights three key priorities for improving employment programming for young people in fragile and conflict-affected situations:
- Adopt a more realistic analysis and framing of the problem: Acknowledge that many young people are in fact ‘underemployed’ in marginal economic activities, usually in the informal economy, and therefore look at how to support and strengthen alternative opportunities.
- Engage in a more honest discussion with all stakeholders: This will help to better untangle the broader issues of youth discontent and instability, prevent the current risk aversion because of the perceived volatility of the issue, and create a more positive relationship between young people, government officials, donors and beneficiaries.
- Make space for more innovation in approaches to the challenge: Be more creative in working within the local dynamics and learn new ways to find and capitalise on different opportunities.
This research is part of our broader engagement on youth, livelihoods and peacebuilding, particularly in West Africa and the Great Lakes. We are currently working with the World Bank on a report focused on youth, livelihoods and fragility in West Africa and will also be at the African Economic Research Consortium conference on Youth Employment in Africa towards the end of the year.
As much of our research has indicated, and as is articulated by the participants of President Obama’s Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders Initiative, young people in Africa are often far more entrepreneurial than is commonly acknowledged in policy discussions. This is starting to be reflected in a greater push towards promoting more vocational education, introducing start-up incentives and, vitally, listening to the voices of young people and working in partnership with them on the issues that shape their lives. But more still needs to be done.
To read our recommendations in full, please download the report here.
Photo: © Lee Karen-Stow/Alamy