African youth education Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us

How African Scholarship Can Reduce African Unemployment

With millions of young people unemployed, Africa is failing to take advantage of its most abundant resource. To solve the youth employment challenge, policymakers should engage the continent’s youngest scholars – innovative thinkers who are uniquely positioned to help bridge the gap between theory and practice.

BRIGHTON – With two thirds of Africa’s population under 25 years of age, the continent’s youth may be its biggest competitive advantage. After all, countries’ long-term economic prospects are typically linked to the availability of a young, mobile labor force. A recent report by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation concluded that ten of the world’s 25 fastest-growing economies between 2004 and 2014 were in Africa. And yet, with many millions of young people unemployed in 2015, and many more underemployed, Africa has so far failed to reach its full potential.

The continent’s youth-employment challenge persists for many reasons. For starters, youth-focused policies and interventions are limited across the region. Programs that do exist lack adequate coordination, and often fail to incorporate lessons and feedback. Employment strategies have also tended to be largely theory-based; while well meaning, they can fail to deliver results when put into practice.

But in our view, an additional, often overlooked weakness is an academic environment that limits contributions from Africa’s youngest scholars – students just finishing their PhDs – who may in fact hold the keys to putting the continent to work. Experience shows that young African doctoral students produce research that is crucial to addressing the continent’s development challenges. And yet, far too often, these young minds lack the training, access, and support they need to bring their ideas from the field to the policymaking arena.

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