THE PROSPECTS OF AFRICAN YOUTH IN THE LABOUR MARKET ACROSS THE BORDER BETWEEN AFRICA AND CHINA
PhD (International Law) Candidate
University of International Business & Economics (UIBE), Beijing
This paper seeks to explore the conundrum of the African youth in the labour market as the number of young people continues to grow with a few job openings available for them. There is no unique determinant of the youth employment challenge in the African region. Rather, a combination of factors contributes to compound a situation that has become a top socio-political priority for the region.
Africa has the youngest population in the world and over 10 years from now, 30 million young people from the region are likely to enter the African labour market each year.1
The African population is very young and therefore, one could say that the employment challenge is, in effect, also a youth challenge. Young people are between 1.5 and 2.5 times more likely to be out of work than older adults in most of the countries in the continent.
Africa’s unemployment conundrum is such that those in vulnerable employment and those underemployed in informal sectors are not always in the calculation when assessing the dangers of lack of jobs for young people.2 Youth find work but most often than not, in places where the pay is very low with lack of opportunity for skills development and job security.
This is so, partly because most African countries have not been able to transform fundamentally from low productivity agriculture to higher productivity on-agriculture sectors and when coupled with high fertility and low infant mortality, the result has shown little improvement in the building of sustainable employment structure.
Over the past few years, researches have been carried out on several dimensions of China’s education, training and labour relations with Africa. In spite of China’s discourse about the parity and importance of win-win in China–Africa engagement, many still think that China has not paid sufficient attention to the issue of job creation for the young people in Africa, considering the number of investments the country has in the continent.
Many Chinese companies operating in Africa have a negative assessment card. Beyond the claim of asymmetric relations and debt-trap diplomacy, when it comes to their employment record, some observers accuse the Chinese of mainly employing their citizens for projects in Africa, depriving the locals of potential jobs. When they do hire locally, the accusation is that the wages are very low and come with little or no training. But this view has come largely from the West who hitherto has not seen anything good in the Sino-Africa relations.3
Keywords: Africa, China, Employment, Government, Labour, Opportunities, Unemployment, Youth
The word youth has no universally accepted definition. The understanding, however, is that youth depends on ages, social positions, and functions they carry out in a place, era, etc. The time of youth could be agreed to be between childhood and adulthood; it is a transition period with non-definite boundaries.4 The transition from youth to adulthood is usually within the ambit of issues such as physiological, psychological, social, and financial freedom. There are numerous ways to attaining adult status, and we can see the possibility of an increase in the transition ages. To that effect, youth represent a very heterogeneous group.5
Presently, Africa is the continent with the youngest population in the world. It is believed that one of five persons in the region falls within 15 and 24. As of 2010, the age group of youths in Africa reached 205 million and could reach nearly 437 million by 2050, or 33.3% of all people age 15–24 in the world.6
In spite of the increasing number of rural-urban migration, close to 70% of Africans still live in rural areas.7 The problems young people encounter in becoming a part of the work-force and develop the required skills to ensure gainful and productive employment is crucial in the development and prospects for the growth of any society.
Africa, particularly South-Sahara Africa has the youngest region people in the world, and this is expected to continue in the foreseeable future. The average age is 18 now, which is 7 years younger than South Asia, with the second youngest population in the world and expectedly will rise to 24 by 2050.
Africa’s youth category is large and growing rapidly. Between 2000 and 2015, the 15 and 24 age group grew by 2.6% each year on average. According to UN estimates, there were 190 million in this age group as of 2015, and this number is expected to increase at an annual rate of 2.5–2.7%, reaching 249 million in 2025, and 311 million in 2035.8
2. Why is youth unemployment an important topic for Africa?
Unemployment for young people is a global epidemic and Africa cannot be isolated when we discuss the problems that are associated with it. However, the case of Africa is our focus in this paper, importantly, because the number of youth in the region is on the rise and that might spell doom if the labour market does not have what it takes to accommodate this number.
African countries are diverse but they have some tendencies in common, and one of them is a strong demographic growth; a large number of young people in the continent are continuously seeking for an improved welfare and financial independence which the labour market is expected to provide, to a large extent, this dream is far from realized.9
Young people in Africa, both in the urban and rural concentrations need jobs, the potential is there but the opportunities are mostly lacking. The limited education system also has impaired the expansion of the labour market, leaving a lot of young school leavers in little or no demand. While the continent looks up to the youth for growth, the social and professional fitting is presently unstable amidst an increasing level of poverty.10
This debacle presents real issues for politicians, who first of all, need to tame urban-rural migration while cautiously managing the possible fallout of social and political unrest that might ensue when the youth get fed-up with their plight. We have seen that in some countries in the region with the rise of crimes such as kidnapping and terrorism among others.
3. Youth employment trends
In the book, “The Industrial Experience of Tanzania” edited by Szirmai et al it posited that the empirical analysis of employment in sub-Saharan Africa is only derived from household surveys, such as labor force surveys and living standards measurement surveys. In many countries of Africa, regular surveys are not conducted except for Tanzania, South Africa, and Mauritius. The others don’t have national coverage to ascertain the employment rate.
Recently, efforts from international organizations such as the World Bank, International Labour Organization, and African Economic Outlook, etc. to harmonize existing household surveys have been relied upon when discussing the subject of youth employment among the various countries of the continent.
Youth employment in Africa, however, holds its own when compared to other regions around the world. The unemployment rate among young population is below the rate in many places except for South and East Asia and the ratio between the youth and adult unemployment rates is the lowest among all regions.11 A higher percentage of young people in the continent participate in the labor force and employed more than what can be obtained in other regions.
4. Obstacles to better jobs for African youth
The big issues facing Africa today are not youth-related. Lack of infrastructure, good leadership, lack of proper accountability, access to credit among many others;12 but the irony is that these problems somehow affect the level of job opportunities in a country because a low level of development means a low level of jobs in the market. For instance, in lower-income economies where the people depend largely on agriculture, low productivity would be a major constraint to a good livelihood.
1 “Youth Employment in Africa (Africa).” Youth Employment in Africa (Africa), www.ilo.org/africa/areas-of-work/youth-employment/lang--en/index.htm.
2 “Africa's Jobless Youth Cast a Shadow over Economic Growth | Africa Renewal.” United Nations, United Nations, www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/special-edition-youth-2017/africas-jobless-youth-cast-shadow-over-economic-growth.
3 “Africa: Study Reveals Chinese Companies Pay & Train Workers to Similar Standards as Non-Chinese Companies.” Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, 17 July 2019, www.business-humanrights.org/en/africa-study-reveals-chinese-companies-pay-train-workers-to-similar-standards-as-non-chinese-companies.
4 “Emerging Adulthood.” Noba, nobaproject.com/modules/emerging-adulthood.
6 Développement, Agence Française de, and Objectif-Developpement. “Supporting Youth Insertion into the African Labor Market.” Issuu, issuu.com/objectif-developpement/docs/youth_insertion_web.
7 Betcherman, Gordon, and Themrise Khan. “Jobs for Africa's Expanding Youth Cohort: a Stocktaking of Employment Prospects and Policy Interventions.” SpringerLink, Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 12 July 2018, link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s40176-018-0121-y.
8 Betcherman, Gordon, and Themrise Khan. “Jobs for Africa's Expanding Youth Cohort: a Stocktaking of Employment Prospects and Policy Interventions.” SpringerLink, Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 12 July 2018, link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s40176-018-0121-y.
9 “Facing the Growing Unemployment Challenges in Africa.” Facing the Growing Unemployment Challenges in Africa, 20 Jan. 2016, www.ilo.org/africa/media-centre/pr/WCMS_444474/lang--en/index.htm.
10 “Africa's Jobless Youth Cast a Shadow over Economic Growth | Africa Renewal.” United Nations, United Nations, www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/special-edition-youth-2017/africas-jobless-youth-cast-shadow-over-economic-growth.
12 “Youth Employment in Sub-Saharan Africa.” World Bank, www.worldbank.org/en/programs/africa-regional-studies/publication/youth-employment-in-sub-saharan-africa.