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Despite Education, African Youth Remain Stubbornly Unemployed

A homeless child repairs a shoe along a street in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Kinshasa on June 16, 2013. Youth poverty and unemployment are fueling criminality in Congo's teeming capital.
Millions of young Africans, some of them very well educated, find it almost impossible to land a secure job with a decent wage. Experts say more must be done to address the problem of youth unemployment in Africa, as it stifles economic growth, and is associated with higher levels of crime, violence and drug use.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) says that youth in Africa are twice as likely to be unemployed as adults. This is despite the fact that the current generation of Africans entering the labor force is the most educated cohort ever.

Twenty-seven-year-old Babacar Sougoufara holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar. He has been looking for work in the finance sector for nearly two years now.

“Unemployment for young people is a big problem," Babacar said. "Senegal is an underdeveloped country. There are not a lot of enterprises here and the state doesn’t encourage small investments or create projects that could create jobs. Nepotism is also a problem," he added. "One must have a parent who has connections in order to find work.”

Sougoufara isn’t alone.

The ILO says an estimated 73.4 million young people worldwide were unemployed in 2013. And the percentage of unemployed youth grew from 12.4 percent in 2012 to 12.6 percent in 2013. That number is expected to rise to 12.7 percent this year.

The regional director of the International Development Research Center (IDRC), Simon Carter, said this is a worrying trend.

“It’s a concern obviously for politicians worried about the threat of unrest as populations become more educated, as expectations rise, " Carter said. "But I think more importantly it’s a huge potentially wasted resource if opportunities aren’t created to unlock people’s creativity, to allow people to innovate, to start new companies.”

Carter said there are many reasons for youth unemployment, including a lack of quality education systems, a failure by governments and the private sector to connect human capital with financial capital, and too many rules and regulations for young entrepreneurs to start their own businesses.

Another problem is a mismatch of the skills and qualifications that most youth have with the demands of the labor market.

“Africa has failed to train people for its needs," said Felix Fofana N’Zue is director of the Economic Policy Analysis Unit for the Economic Community of West African States.

"If you go to African universities, you have many graduates in areas such as economics, law, and literature. But they aren’t learning to solve African problems. Take, for instance, agriculture. Why do our farmers continue to use rudimentary tools when we could train engineers to find a better way to mechanize, to produce our agricultural products more efficiently?”

N’Zue said there are no easy answers when it comes to solving the African youth unemployment problem. He said that solutions will vary on a country-to-country basis, and warned that any sustainable fixes will take time.