African Development Bank (AfDB) President Akinwumi Adesina made the statement while addressing journalists at the annual meetings in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.
“Our challenge is lack of enough skills; managerial skills to actually run industries properly and this continues to be a big challenge all across Africa so there is still a lot of work to be done making sure that you have the right kind of skills to be able to run industries,” he said.
“Capacity building of human resources is extremely important. We talk about the infrastructure a lot. The most significant infrastructure to my mind is grey matter. If you do not develop people skills then what will you develop?
“We are talking about the African continental free trade area, yes. It’s a market of $3.4 trillion but we cannot talk about that in theory. There has to be a huge industrial capacity.”
Explaining why the conference is focused on integration in Africa, Adesina, who is Nigeria’s former minister of Agriculture, said: “If we get our integration right, Africa will be more competitive, will be able to create a massive amount of jobs and, more importantly, Africa can develop in dignity and confidence”.
He explained that the AfCFTA will constitute the world’s largest free trade area, bringing together 1.3 billion consumers.
Youths account for 60% of all of Africa’s jobless, according to the World Bank. In North Africa, the youth unemployment rate is 25% but is even greater in Botswana, the Republic of the Congo, Senegal, and South Africa, among others. With 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa has the largest population of young people in the world.
In most African countries, youth unemployment “occurs at a rate more than twice that for adults,” notes the African Development Bank.
Young women feel the sting of unemployment even more sharply than young men. The AfDB found that in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa and all of those in North Africa, it is easier for men to get jobs than it is for women, even if they have equivalent skills and experience.
Africa’s unemployment statistics exclude those in vulnerable employment and those who are under-employed in informal sectors. “Young people [in Africa] find work, but not in places that pay good wages, develop skills or provide a measure of job security,” reports the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.
The Brookings Institution considers under-employment a problem serious enough to warrant greater attention, since it masks the reality in countries that post low unemployment rates.
More than 70% of the youth in the “Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Rwanda, Senegal and Uganda are either self-employed or contributing to family work,” adds the Brookings Institution report.
But under-employment is not a solution to poverty, notes the International Labour Organization (ILO), which reported in 2016 that up to 70% of African workers were “working poor,” the highest rate globally. The organization added that “the number of poor working youth has increased by as much as 80% for the past 25 years.”