Radicalism is not necessarily bad

Africa’s young generation needs opportunities. Unemployment has structural reasons that must be tackled.
WAVE is making a difference in Nigeria. Screenshot: WAVE is making a difference in Nigeria.

“Skills over schools and competencies over credentials” should be a “core mantra” in Africa, says Misan Rewane, the head of West Africa Vocational Education (WAVE). WAVE is based in Lagos and helps unemployed young people find work. The emphasis is on making them aware of skills they need, skills they already have and skills they can acquire fast. By making them understand what kind of work they are able to do, even short two-week courses can help school dropouts find jobs, Rewane says.

At the same time, convincing potential employers of their capacities is also high on her agenda. WAVE wants employers to learn to “hire better”, she points out.

According to Rewane, the “education system is not talking to the employment system” in Nigeria. Employers, in her experience, overemphasise degrees. She reports that college degrees are often bought and not necessarily reflect applicants’ actual knowledge. The job market is distorted because neither businesses nor educational institutions are working on making supply and demand match.

According to Rewane, many dropouts can do entry-level jobs, and some later move on in their careers. To some extent, private companies run training courses, she says, but human-resources managers often worry about staff leaving after having been taught something of market relevance. Her standard response is: “And what if you don’t teach them and they stay?”

The unemployment and underemployment problems that haunt Nigeria’s fast growing commercial capital are all too well known all over Africa. They are systemic, and especially pronounced in rural and remote areas. Almost two thirds of the continent’s people are younger than 25. By the year 2100, one third of the world’s youth will live in Africa. They will need good jobs.

Charles Vincent Dan of the International Labour Organization (ILO) is aware of the huge challenges. He warns that even today, “migration is a symptom of the lack of opportunities”. In his assessment, four issues matter in particular:

  • the lack of decent work,
  • the lack of good education,
  • the lack of social protection and
  • gender inequality, with four in ten girls marrying before the age of 18.

In Dan’s eyes, policymakers must focus on creating conditions in which the private sector creates jobs. Agriculture and technology deserve particular attention, he says, because agriculture provides livelihoods to masses of Africans, and because automation is likely to make many workers redundant in the future.

At a recent conference hosted by the Development and Peace Foundation (sef: Stiftung Frieden und Entwicklung), Dan pointed out the security implications of joblessness: according to World Bank data, 40 % of all youths who joined rebel militias in 2011 were driven by the lack of employment opportunities.

As Henning Melber, a member of sef’s advisory board, sees it, improving young people’s participation in political life is a way to keep militant tendencies under control. Such participation, however, cannot be taken for granted.

In most African countries, young people are actually not expected to oppose elders. Somalia is an example. “It is considered shameful for young people to talk back to elders,” resports Ilwad Elman of the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center in Mogadishu. She warns moreover, that criticism of religion is counter-productive and that young people need to be engaged “before they become violent”.

Indeed, politics has “crumbled and failed” in many African countries, according to Job Shipululo Amupanda, a young Nambian scholar who belongs to the AU’s African Youth Commission. In his eyes, independence leaders “went to sleep in the same beds” that colonial and racist masters left behind (also note article by Henning Melber in D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2017/02).

He argues that African leaders always considered youth issues marginal and kept postponing them. Referring to the Arab spring and the downfall of Blaise Compaoré, the autocratic president of Burkina Faso from 1987 to 2014, he says that youth radicalism in Africa is not necessarily a bad thing. Matters would not improve, he says, “if we didn’t protest, if we didn’t topple dictators”.


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