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Joblessness Continues to Plague African Youth

According to U.N. estimates, young people account for more than 60 percent of the African population. The continent also has some of the world's highest unemployment rates, forcing thousands on deadly sea crossings to look for jobs in nearby Europe. As the United Nations commemorates International Youth Day, governments continue their struggle to employ African youths. A recent U.N. youth employment study says there is still a long way to go. Phuong Tran has more for VOA from Nouadhibou, Mauritania.

Seven African countries have answered a U.N. request in 2002 to submit national youth employment plans. U.N. officials say a review earlier this year of those plans found them poorly researched and ineffective. The study concluded even though the governments are trying, no one is checking to see what programs work.

It also found that almost no one consulted youths to see what they need.

Lamine Daff is a 24-year-old Mauritanian music producer and clothing store owner. He says even though his businesses are doing well now, the start-up was almost impossible.

Daff says he had used all his savings to care for his sick father, leaving him little money to invest. He says he received no help from the Mauritanian government for a loan. And if it were not for the cigarette company that sponsored his first concert, Daff says he would not have had money to open his clothing store.

Daff lives in Mauritania's port city of Nouadhibou. It is one of the closest African ports to Spain and has become a popular departure point for would-be migrants.

Daff says most his friends have tried to go to Spain in fishing boats from Nouadhibou where he lives. He adds most were fishermen and had not been paid in months.

Jude Aidoo, who heads the West Africa office of Youth Employment Network, an alliance of countries led by the United Nations, International Labor Organization and World Bank, says high youth unemployment is a tough problem.

"In West Africa we have large unemployed youth populations," said Aidoo. "So there are going to be young people for the next number of years. There is no magic recipe. It is not going to be a quick fix."

Since 2000, the Youth Employment Network has been working with governments, businesses and civil society to pay more attention to youth unemployment, which Aidoo says fuels illegal migration.

He says youth unemployment is normally addressed by a country's Ministry of Youth and Sports, which Aidoo says is typically under funded and unable to handle such a vast problem.

"This is really just snowballing. As more people see that people are able to make it to the other side and send money back, they feel 'why not try it'," he added.

Spanish officials say some 13,000 migrants, mostly young men, reached the islands illegally by this time last year. In an effort to cut down these numbers, the Spanish government granted one-year work visas last January for some Sub-Saharan Africans to work legally in Spain.

They have also recently signed agreements with Mali, Mauritania, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau to train workers for future jobs in Spain.

This year, Spanish officials say surveillance and job programs have more than cut in half the number of illegal migrants who have made it to Spain.

Whether it is an African solution, or an international initiative, the Youth Employment Network's West Africa manager says the answer to solving Africa's youth unemployment requires more business and youth input, as well as better collaboration between employment and youth-focused agencies.

Sitting in his clothing store, entrepreneur Daff says he wants to grow his business and hire other youths.

The entrepreneur says his dream is to be a cosmetics or clothing distributor for an American or European brand.