Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Africa grows, but youth get left behind

October 11, 2012 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Africa's economy set to grow by 4.5% this year, youth population to double by 2045
  • Almost one third of young Egyptians and one in four young Kenyans out of work
  • Nairobi student says she's studying with book published 40 years ago
  • Young Egyptian struggles to secure work at his brother's store

(CNN) -- It may have one of the fastest growing economies in the world -- but if you're young and out of work in Africa, the future remains bleak.

The search for employment is a daily struggle for 24-year-old Sherrif Mohamed. He's one of millions of young unemployed Africans whose lives have stalled, despite economic growth across the continent.

Sherrif lives in Egypt, where until recently he was pursuing a university education. The revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak forced him out of school and into a job market, which has continued to worsen. The uprising kept tourists away and investors out -- and Egypt is yet to recover.

Around 30% of 18 to 29-year-olds are now out of work -- a figure that's echoed across Africa. Sherrif's lack of a qualification narrows his employment prospects further.

"Now there are no jobs whatsoever," he said. "I've tried working in restaurants, coffee shops, clothing stores and lately worked at my brother's store. But the wages are not sustainable at all."

I'm competing with around 700 people to get the same job, probably in the same place.
Eunice Kilonzo, University of Nairobi student

Thousands of miles away in Kenya, more disillusioned young adults walk the corridors of the University of Nairobi. Unlike Sherrif, they'll get to complete their studies and enter the job market as skilled professionals. But with Kenya's youth unemployment rate standing at 40%, they feel their prospects of work are equally slim.

Eunice Kilonzo is a promising student on the campus. She said: "I'm competing with around 700 people to get the same job, probably in the same place. So the chance of getting a job is pretty thin."

She places the blame firmly at the feet of her government. Eunice feels the job market will not improve in line with economic growth until the education system is revamped.

"If the market is way beyond your education level, there won't be productivity. We need to change everything about the education system. I cannot go into the library and study a book that was published in 1969. We are in 2012."

Read: The key to liberating Egyptians? The Economy

For Eunice and Sherriff, economic forecasts make for irrelevant reading. Africa's economy is expected to grow by 4.5% this year and by 4.8% the next, and its youth population is set to double by 2045, according to the African Economic Outlook report. But the headlines that herald a burgeoning economy aren't translating into the jobs they need.

Can Africa increase its productivity?

If jobless growth continues, they believe young Africans will continue to find themselves unemployed or, more frequently, underemployed in informal jobs.

Tahrir Square in Cairo was the central scene of fighting during more than a year of political unrest in Egypt. The country's economy is struggling to recover and almost one in three young people are out of work. Tahrir Square in Cairo was the central scene of fighting during more than a year of political unrest in Egypt. The country's economy is struggling to recover and almost one in three young people are out of work.
tahrir cairo youth unemployment
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
>
>>
Africa youth left behind in economic growth Africa youth left behind in economic growth

World Bank Chief Economist Shantayanan Devarajan agrees that creating employment is the biggest hurdle that African nations will have to overcome.

"In low income African countries people can't afford to be unemployed. They are working in the informal sector with very low earnings and very low productivity.

"One reason for that low productivity is that these people have had very little education.

"On the other hand it's a huge opportunity because we can train them and can improve the quality of education. The other point is the rest of the world is aging, so Africa will become the place with all the young people."

The African Economic Outlook report also speaks of the importance of unlocking the potential offered by the region's youth. But it says the continent must modernize its industries and develop sustainable private sectors, in order to do so.

While, such harsh warnings are not relevant for all of Africa, the sentiment behind them is important. Devarajan agrees that private firms could provide an important source of jobs for the young and says African businessmen are taking advantage of the opportunities available now.

"Macroeconomic policies in Africa have improved inexorably in the last 10 to 15 years," he added.

"We've had commodity price booms in the past but those haven't translated to this kind of sustained growth before. And that means there is hope for a better future for Africa. This is not hype, this is real."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Marketplace Africa
May 26, 2014 -- Updated 1815 GMT (0215 HKT)
Kinshasa, the sprawling capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, has installed two talking robots to help regulate the city's hectic traffic.
February 20, 2014 -- Updated 1121 GMT (1921 HKT)
A South African app allows buyers to pay for goods using their phone, without having to worry about carrying cash or credit cards.
February 19, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
A Zambian computer tablet -- known as the ZEduPad -- is trying to open up the country's information highway.
January 9, 2014 -- Updated 1057 GMT (1857 HKT)
South Africa may be the dominant force in Africa's wine economy, but other countries are making inroads in the industry.
January 6, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Commuters aboard an overloaded passenger train 03 February 2004, celebrate after arrival at the train station in the centre of the capital Nairobi.
A $5 billion Chinese-funded railway project in Kenya could transform transport in east Africa.
December 13, 2013 -- Updated 0027 GMT (0827 HKT)
African astronomers want world-class observatories to inspire young scientists and build a tech economy.
November 27, 2013 -- Updated 1029 GMT (1829 HKT)
A new report praises South Africa's economic transformation since apartheid. But enormous challenges remain.
November 19, 2013 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Landlocked Burundi is looking to compete on the international stage as one of Africa's most prestigious coffee producers and exporters.
November 22, 2013 -- Updated 1718 GMT (0118 HKT)
zword app zombies
From zombie spelling games to walking snails, Africa's mobile gaming industry is taking off across the continent from Uganda to South Africa.
November 8, 2013 -- Updated 1146 GMT (1946 HKT)
Ethiopia is turning to renewable energy technology as the East African country looks to become a powerhouse for its regional partners.
November 13, 2013 -- Updated 1422 GMT (2222 HKT)
Animated cartoons are helping Kenyan companies to engage with audiences and lure international investors.
November 4, 2013 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
Downtown Johannesburg -- once a no-go zone riddled with crime -- is undergoing urban restoration.
October 16, 2013 -- Updated 1412 GMT (2212 HKT)
Using helicopters and night-vision, crime syndicates are taking rhino poaching to a new level and conservation parks are struggling to keep up.
October 10, 2013 -- Updated 0927 GMT (1727 HKT)
Eko Atlantic city design concept
A lack of infrastructure has hindered Africa's development, but a series of megaprojects could change that.
Each week Marketplace Africa covers the continent's macro trends and interviews a major player from the region's business community.
ADVERTISEMENT