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IMF Chief Says Africa's Biggest Economic Challenge Is Jobs

Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, December 8, 2011.

On Sunday, Christine Lagarde makes her first trip to Africa as the new managing director of the International Monetary Fund.

Lagarde says the continent's biggest economic challenge is a generation of young workers looking for jobs. And she says her trip to Africa is designed to listen to what people want from the IMF.

“What is expected of us by the African governments, by the African people as well, because it is a region of the world which is facing both huge challenges and huge opportunities.”

Lagarde says the world economy “is in a critical phase, and in these difficult times” the IMF is working to tackle the challenges of all member countries.

She says African economies are evolving to diversify trade, making them less vulnerable to economic downturns in Europe, for example, where many African countries had for too long an over-reliance on commerce with former colonial powers.

There is clearly a tendency now to trade regionally more, and to also trade with Asian countries. This is a recent development which is good for African countries because it allows them to hedge their position and not be excessively at risk of what is happening in Europe, for instance.”

Lagarde says Africa's biggest economic challenge is the need to create more jobs on a continent with more than 900 million people, half of whom are under the age of 20.

This young population is both the strength of Africa as well as its major challenge because we all want our children to have jobs. So, to that end, clearly African governments have the responsibility to create the environment where both the private sector and the public sector feels confident investing in African countries in order to create the job opportunities for the young people.”

In Nigeria, Lagarde will meet with President Goodluck Jonathan and Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. She will take part in a round-table discussion in Lagos on Africa's response to global economic challenges, with members of the private sector, academia, and civil society.

In Niger, Lagarde will meet with President Mahamadou Issoufou and join a Cabinet meeting on economic development. She will address the National Assembly and meet with private sector financial leaders.