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Rising Youth Unemployment Endangers Africa's Stability

  • Anne Look

DAKAR — Economists say job creation is not keeping pace with rapid population growth in African countries - posing a serious threat to future stability. Unemployment, particularly among young men, is a key driver of civil unrest, political violence, criminality and armed rebellion.

One example is Ahmet Toure of Senegal who has never had a job. Toure makes his living buying second-hand jeans from flea markets around Dakar. Toure repairs and retailors them to sell them for a profit, usually about $2 to $3 a pair.

"Sometimes I wake up and I say today's not going to be a good day," said Toure. "I'm not going to have any money because I rely on my merchandise to survive. I can't hold out my hand and ask for my money. That is not me. So, I just tell myself, ok, no problem, I'm going to try to deal with this. Maybe, one day, things will get better."

He once dreamed of being an architect, but dropped out after high school 12 years ago to help his family. He, like hundreds of thousands of other Senegalese, makes his living in the informal sector.

Unemployment rates in Senegal hover around 40 percent.

In the crowded, low-income suburbs of Dakar, young men gather for endless rounds of tea and conversation. "Everyday is Sunday" is a joke too common and too real to be funny.

Earlier this year, scores of angry youths took to the streets in what became violent anti-government protests ahead of the presidential election. The unrest killed at least six people and shook this traditionally peaceful democracy.

Senegal has weathered the storm for now. But the new government, and governments around the region, face intense pressure to create jobs for young people.

Africa has the youngest population in the world, and its ranks are growing. The number of Africans aged 15 to 24 is set to double to 400 million by 2045.

The African Development Bank and the U.N. predict the current rate of job creation, already insufficient, will not keep pace with the population boom and this next generation of Africans will struggle to find work.

It's a dangerous prospect. The World Bank has found that one in two young people who join rebel movements cite unemployment as their main motivation.

In West Africa, unemployment fuels political violence and recruitment into armed groups, including the Islamist extremist movements in the Sahel.

Economists say Africa is currently experiencing "jobless" economic growth, and it's more than a security risk. It's a waste, they say, of the continent's most valuable resource: its young people.
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