AFRICA has a big youth problem – and opportunity.
It has the youngest population in the world – young people make up 60% of the continent’s population. However, the continent also suffers from record unemployment, mainly affecting these young people.
While, until recently, the economies of several countries on the continent were growing at a healthy rate, it wasn’t translating into jobs for young people. South Africa, the second biggest and most advanced economy in Africa has an unemployment rate of 40%.
There are many reasons for these high youth unemployment figures. The most basic is that, well, there are just not enough jobs to go around, while more complex arguments go into the suitability of young Africans for the job market.
A quarter of Africans are illiterate, and even those that complete secondary school are often ill-equipped with functional math and reading skills. A majority of the continent is also not industrialised.
The solution to youth unemployment, according to Shantayanan Devarajan, Chief Economist for the World Bank Africa region is “not just to create more wage and salary jobs but to also increase productivity”.
In an article titled “Youth Unemployment in Africa; what to do when informal is normal”, he laid out a strategy that looks at the demand side of production; improving infrastructure and business climate so there is a greater need for labour and the supply side where you improve the skills of the available workers.
ANDELA AND ITS WORKS
Can it be done?
Andela is a startup that believes that brilliance is equally distributed around the world but opportunity is not.
According to one of the co-founders Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, Africa lacks enough dedicated pathways for talented young people looking to make an impact on the world. America has the Ivy leagues, UK has OxBridge while Africa has nothing that measures up.
They aim to provide the technology talent Africa needs by training world class software developers on the continent. If a technology company wants to move into Africa, they want to make sure the talent already exists in house.
They have had their concept proven in satisfying ways; on the demand side they had over 21,000 applicants for their first cohort in Nigeria, and received investments from the Omidyar Network.
They also launched a home study programme for people who are unable to access their trainings. It is meant to be basic IT training, not taught in most African schools but necessary in this increasingly technologically driven world.
They plan to train 100,000 developers in ten years, who they hope will start their own ventures or get employed by the tech giants in the industry.
A team from Nigeria recently won an Uber Hackathon event and got to pitch their idea to the international Uber team. The solution they created, Executer, allows users to integrate their calendars with the Uber application and pre-book a ride for scheduled meetings.
ENTER OJAY GREENE
Another area where job possibilities are seen as plentiful is agriculture, which is
massively underdeveloped in Africa. With 60% of the world’s arable land, agriculture on the continent still lags behind as it is done on a small scale, still relies on rain, and uses traditional methods that do not produce high yields.
Fertiliser use on the continent is relatively dismal compared to other parts of the world, and seed varieties are often substandard. African farmers, the poorest in the world, do not seem to have stepped into the 21st century.
The potential Africa has to feed itself and the world is simply not being exploited. The continent still cannot feed itself, importing large amounts of food that can easily be grown domestically. Africa has the land and the labour, but lacks the skills to produce at large scale. This is where Ojay Greene, a Kenyan based agricultural business, hopes to make a difference.
After spending time in parts of rural East Africa as a pharmaceutical sales representative, Yvette Ondachi the company’s founder saw first-hand that a life in agriculture was keeping people in poverty.
People that relied solely on farming could not afford lifesaving medication and she was determined to change this by starting Ojay Greene, whose aim is to work with small holder farmers and give them access to urban markets; effectively cutting out the middle man.
The company works with farmers offering agronomical support through all stages of farming, from providing seeds to telling them when best to plant and apply fertiliser. Farmers access information through their mobile phones and Ojay Greene also sends out a team of trained extension workers to assist them should they need it.
The produce is then collected, sold, and farmers paid through mobile money accounts. Supermarkets can track the source of their produce and farmers are guaranteed a market for their goods.
The big deal in the model is the extension services and knowledge being provided to farmers – as well as the economies of scale the company is able to pass to the farmers. Yields are better, profits are higher and there is knowledge transfer.
Yvette is looking to expand to neighbouring Uganda and Nigeria in the coming years. Her company and others like it have the potential to spur an African mini green revolution in the pockets in which they operate.
Farming and ICT have the possibility to employ a large percentage of young people on the continent. Farm produce needs to be transported and processed, leading to jobs in related industries.
Africa’s increasingly mobile future could collide with well-trained developers, to produce interesting results. These entrepreneurs are in their small ways, helping secure a future for the continent.