African leaders have been called upon to provide visionary and transformative leadership if African countries want to successfully tackle youth unemployment issues on the continent.

Youth unemployment and what African countries need to do to tackle it was the priority issue discussed at the 5th Africa Think Tank Summit 2018 held in Accra, Ghana recently. The theme for this year’s summit was ‘Tackling Africa’s Youth Unemployment Challenge: Innovative Solutions from Think Tanks’.

Executive Secretary of the African Capacity Building Fund (ACBF) Professor Emmanuel Nnadozie described youth unemployment in Africa as a bomb ready to explode and urged African countries to show more interest in business and youth leadership as the youth and private sector are the engine of Africa’s socio-economic transformation.

“Transformative leadership is largely linked to the performance of any nation, as it translates into prudent public policy formulation and implementation, as well as good public service delivery, to meet the needs and aspirations of citizens,” he said, adding that “political leadership has generally been criticised as the key obstacle to Africa’s socio-economic development and democratic governance with not much contribution from bureaucratic, traditional, and corporate leadership.”

Prof Nnadozie spoke about “the great paradox” facing the African continent, he said while there is high and troubling youth unemployment right across Africa, leading to the formation of associations of unemployed university graduates in some African countries, the continent is still grappling with serious shortages of key technical skills.

He said an ACBF study on the capacity requirements for the implementation of the first 10 years of Agenda 2063 indicates that Africa currently has only around 55,000 engineers but needs an estimated 4.3 million engineers, hence Africa needs to produce over 300,000 each year until 2023. On the other hand, the continent currently has only around 21,000 geologists but needs an estimated 174,000 geologists, meaning Africa needs to produce 19,000 each year until 2023.

“The continent currently only has around 82,000 agricultural scientists but needs an estimated 152,000, so it needs to produce over 8,000 each year until 2023. The question is then: why are the young people unemployed?” wondered the executive secretary.

Prof Nnadozie called for clear action plans to support think tanks to be sustainable so that they can provide effective contributions to the implementation of the AU Agenda 2063 and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), while supporting African countries by providing home-grown solutions to the continent’s development plans.

One such solution is to build skills among young people to increase their chances of landing a job or starting a business, as articulated by Swaziland Economic Policy Analysis and Research Centre (SEPARC) Executive Director Dr Thula Sizwe Dlamini in his presentation at the Summit. “But where do we start?” he wondered.

Dr Dlamini noted that a study conducted by SEPARC on the National System of Innovation found that another solution, particularly for Swaziland, is to strengthen the national research system by introducing a body that will plan and coordinate research at the national level.

“There is a need to buttress efforts geared towards increasing research and development activities, with a focus on establishing efficient systems for the coordination and governance of science, technology, and innovation activities, including putting in place mechanism to amplify private sector participation in the funding and performance of research and development,” he added.

“We also need to invest in technical and vocational education and training [TVET]. SEPARC conducted an impact assessment of investing in TVET in Swaziland, to show the monetary value of the dividends that accrue to the economy because of TVET and to provide more evidence on where else education investment should go. The study tracked graduates of a TVET college (National Handicraft Training Centre) in Swaziland for the period 1995 – 2015.”

He explained that SEPARC chose handicraft because the handicraft sector employs a lot of Swazis but also has lots of potential for self-employment opportunities.

Dr Dlamini explained that financing TVET was found to be an economically worthwhile investment, with a majority of the graduates being in productive employment (73.1%) after training from NHTC while 25.5% start their own businesses, and the high benefit-cost ratio is an opportunity for increased gross domestic product, social development, and economic growth.

“So why are young people who have TVET skills not getting employed or even starting their own businesses? Alternatively, how relevant are the skills being produced by the TVET system?” These are some of the questions addressed by another study conducted by SEPARC, which investigated the TVET Industry Labour Force Skills Gap in Swaziland.

The study found that one in five of the graduates from Swaziland’s TVET system have an acceptable skill level required by industry, while 50% of TVET graduates have the basic skills required in their trade but require additional training, and less than 20% of the employers are satisfied with TVET graduates’ skill level.

Dr Dlamini said to build skills amongst the youth, there is a need to establish linkages between the TVET system and industry, as well as to address issues of quality assurance. He said in the long term, there is need to increase funding for research and development, as well as increase innovative capacity so as to produce new goods and services.


African think tanks have huge role to play

African think tanks, including the Swaziland Economic Policy Analysis and Research Centre (SEPARC), have made a commitment to make valuable contributions in tackling youth unemployment challenges.

At the close of the 5th Africa Think Tank Summit 2018 held in Accra, Ghana recently, African think tanks reiterated their deep concern about Africa’s youth unemployment challenges and the resulting pressures on migration to other continents for economic opportunities along with the disastrous consequences, including loss of lives of young Africans.

In a communiqué issued after the summit, the think tanks stated that they recognise that think tanks have a key role to play to support the fight against youth unemployment, which can largely succeed if underpinned by, among other factors, a conducive policy environment and transformative leadership in both state and non-state sectors.

“We commit to continue providing advice on the policy options and innovative solutions available to successfully tackle youth unemployment using knowledge and networking while expanding our outreach to policy actors and making our research in the area accessible. We recognise that the limited impact of youth employment programmes in many African countries is explained in part by the lack of rigorous evidence-based design and implementation exacerbated by lack of accurate data and statistics and weak implementation capacity,” the statement reads.

The think tanks further reaffirmed their commitment to provide research-based evidence and data to governments, law-makers, the private sector, and civil society organisations for sound decision-making while supporting the production of adequate statistics on youth employment and related issues.

“We do recommend that think tanks be supported in conducting strategic studies around the human and institutional capacity gaps facing the continent and share good practices on how to address them, especially regarding the development and effective implementation of youth employment and youth entrepreneurship policies on the continent.”

African governments and key stakeholders were encouraged to work with African think tanks and capacity building institutions to support the expansion of Africa’s critical skills in science, technology and innovation as well as develop home-grown youth policies and interventions for Africa’s sustainable development.

“Recognising that the fight against youth unemployment in Africa requires transformative leadership and the provision of an African solution, we call upon all African governments to work with think tanks to design and support interventions aimed at developing the institutional and human capacities for a transformative leadership (including business, youth, women, civil society and traditional leadership).”

The Africa Think Tank Summit, a creation of the ACBF, brings together annually more than 40 think tanks across the continent, most of them created and supported by the ACBF, to discuss and proffer solutions to pertinent issues affecting African development.

The Summit has since become an important platform for sharing knowledge and good practices while defining solutions to ensure that African think tanks play their role in supporting the continent’s socio-economic transformation.

The aim for this year’s theme; ‘Tackling Africa’s Youth Unemployment Challenge: Innovative Solutions from Think Tanks’ was to inform decision makers and solution-seekers on how think tanks can and will support the fight against youth unemployment by paying special attention to dimensions around transformative leadership development and providing a conducive environment for a thriving private sector, and the development of critical skills required by the labour market.