Youth Unemployment and Education in Africa

Cross-linked at Bertelsmann Stiftung – Future Challenges’ site

In the year 2005, Africa’s youth unemployment was at 21 percent, much higher than the world average of 14.4 percent and second only to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region’s 25.6 percent.


Youth Population by Economic Activity Status in Sub-Saharan Africa, 1997 and 2007- Credit: ILO

Youth unemployment in Africa is a problem of alarming proportions precisely because 65 percent of the continent’s population is under the age of 24, with over 40 percent of the total population below the age of 16, and about 25 percent between the ages 15 and 24. According to the International Labour Office (ILO), youth make up approximately 36.9 percent of the total working-age population and about 60 percent of Africa’s unemployed are youth.

While Africa’s nations have seen economic growth that outstrips other continents, the high share of young people (ages 15–24) who are unemployed has the potential to undermine that growth. In addition to the economic costs of youth unemployment, there is also a social cost. As youth face long-term or cyclical unemployment, they can become disaffected and dis-invested in their own communities. This can lead to higher crime rates and greater involvement in underground economic activity, as well as social unrest.

A 2008 World Bank report entitled “Youth and Employment in Africa: The Potential, the Problem, the Promise” indicates that access to education is still a major hurdle. For example, in Kenya and Uganda, school fees were too costly for poor families, and enrollment rates were low. However, after Kenya and Uganda eliminated the school fees, completion rates for fourth and fifth graders from impoverished families increased initially.

In the case of Kenyan schools, the elimination of school fees was not enough, as detailed by a Center for Global Development working paper entitled “Why Did Abolishing Fees Not Increase Public School Enrollment in Kenya?

Even where school enrollment increased, schools tended not to hire more teachers to accommodate their growing student body, resulting in lower qualities of education. Another factor- particularly in rural areas- is the the proximity of schools. The cost (in time or money- especially in terms of fuel use) to get to and from school is prohibitive to many parents.

As a continent, Africa has a long way to go in terms of educating, training its youth and providing opportunities to be economically active. Between heads of states who are not beholden to constitutional tenure clauses, the failure to make education generally accessible and relevant, and the burgeoning influx of migrant workers from Europe, Africa’s youth face a number of challenges. As Africa’s nations grow economically, we must be mindful of the fact that growing GDPs are not synonymous with less socio-economic inequality.

In fact, John Githongo, chief executive of Inuka Kenya Trust and chairman of the Africa Institute for Governing With Integrity and Kenya’s former secretary for governance and ethics, points out that as growth speeds up, so does inequality. In light of youth unemployment on the continent of Africa, this has huge implications on the social and political stability of Africa’s nations.


What can be done to lower unemployment rates among Africa’s youth?

How can we better equip our youth for today’s labor market?

How can we enable African youth to become job creators without saddling them with debt?

Why I Support Africans in the Diaspora (AiD)

For all of my critiques of the aid industry- lack of transparency and accountability, paternalism- I’ve yet to offer substantive alternative solutions. (I did provide alternative local organizations in Northern Uganda during the whole Kony2012 thing). However, when Solome Lemma told me about her initiative, Africans in the Diaspora (AiD), I was on-board almost immediately. For all of this trendy talk on “diaspora engagement” beyond the micro scope, Africans in the Diaspora walks the walk.

Today, AiD launches its online platform:

“Africans in the Diaspora (AiD) envisions a self-reliant, socially and economically just Africa. Through our Funds, Connections, and Voices programs, we unleash the financial, social, and intellectual capital of Africans to advance social and economic change in Africa.”

What’s not to love? An initiative that allows members of the African Diaspora to invest their social, financial and intellectual capital for social and economic change on the continent?

Best of all, if you don’t know where to begin, or you’re a skeptic, there are resources to address your concerns. My concern is always whether African-led initiatives at the community level are being supported. So much of the glamor around large international NGOs and aid agencies puts organizations like Physicians for Social Justice (in rural Northern Nigeria) in shadow.

If you are a Diasporan who wants to give back, Africans in the Diaspora is here to help you. The online platform provides information about local projects and organizations on the continent, and makes it easier to connect with them as a supporter. After all, we do not need to re-invent the wheel- the wheel is already rolling quietly at the community level, in the shadows of bigger international NGOs. Africans are at the forefront of development here, and Africans are the funders, designers, implementers and supporters.
Check it out! I am excited about the future of Diaspora mobilization and engagement on the continent of Africa.

Facebook: Africans in the Diaspora (AiD)

Is the Playing Field Level for Stateless Olympiads?

Olympic flag flying outside Eland House in London (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Olympic flag flying outside Eland House in London (CC BY-ND 2.0)

“Do the Olympics highlight “free and fair” competition, or is it just one more scene in which the developing world’s disadvantages are starkly visible?”

This is the question that was on my mind when I watched the Olympic Procession on July 28. Olympiads clad in colorful regalia pranced and strutted beneath their nations’ respective flags. However, there was one group that stood out: the three independent athletes competing under the Olympic flag. At the time, I did not notice the absence of South Sudanese athlete Guor Marial, who could not be in London at the time because of complications due to his lack of a passport.

When I learned of this, it struck me that this is a real disadvantage. Possession of a nationality, a passport and ability to traverse trans-national and international borders are taken for granted by most athletes competing in the Olympics, yet it is a serious consideration for stateless athletes.

The fourth of the 5 “Fundamental Principles of Olympism” (within the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Charter) states that:

“The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.

What, then, does this mean for stateless athletes?

South Sudanese marathon runner Guor Marial will be one of 4 independent athletes competing in the Olympics this year. The remaining three, Philippine van Aanholt, Reginald de Windt, and Lee-Marvin Bonevacia, hail from Curaçao, of the former Netherlands Antilles, dissolved in October 2010. (Eight months following its dissolution, during the June 2011 International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Committee session, the Netherlands Antilles’ membership on the Committee was withdrawn.)

Competing as an independent athlete means rather than competing under their nation’s flag, they do so under the Olympic flag. Independent athletes fall under three categories that overlap: those who are stateless, those whose nations do not have Olympic Committees, and those who hail from occupied or colonized states. In Guor Marial’s case, it is a combination of the first two, as South Sudan has hundreds of thousands of stateless inhabitants, and does not have an established Olympics Committee.

In January 2011, the people of South Sudan- at the time, a de facto territory- voted for separation from the Republic of Sudan. Six months later on July 8, 2011, the Republic of South Sudan was an independent state. However, the issue of nationality is still unresolved for many Sudanese and South Sudanese. The April 8, 2012 deadline for residents in southern Sudan to declare their nationality passed, leaving several hundred thousand either stateless or residents of the Republic of Sudan.

This is due, in part, to the August 2011 Sudan Nationality Act passed by the Khartoum government, which declares that Sudanese may have dual citizenship with any state but South Sudan. This is especially salient for youth whose parents are both Sudanese and South Sudanese, as their nationality is based upon the nationality of the parent who holds legal custody.

Guor Marial’s story is one of the complicated ones. Born April 15, 1984 in Panrieng, in what is now South Sudan, he is a survivor of child slavery in Sudan during the Sudanese Civil War, and a former Continue reading

Why Invisible Child’s #Kony2012 Campaign Gets No Applause From Me

In short: #Kony2012 #StopKony misrepresents N. Uganda, spreads misinformation abt Kony/the LRA, denies Africans’ agency and is imperialist. It raises the perennial question of “Who represents Africa?”

For example: This tweet (one of many prime examples) succinctly exemplifies all that I critique in this piece:

In fact, it reminded me of my post-colonial readings of Karl Marx. Reading this quote from his “The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte: “Sie können sich nicht vertreten, sie müssen vertreten werden” spurred me deeper into my anti-colonialist, post-colonialist fervor. Literally translated from German, “Those who cannot represent themselves must themselves be represented,” the quote revealed to me just how insidious the narrative of “saving” and “speaking for” the subaltern is.

HOW DOES THIS TIE INTO Invisible Children’s #Kony2012 CAMPAIGN?

If “awareness” is the payoff for paternalistic, imperialist, “white man’s burden” NGO campaigns, I don’t want it. (Just the name “Invisible Children” denies and co-opts the agency of Ugandans- many of whom have organized to protect child soldiers…). I stand by this: if you’re more comfortable talking about Africans than you are talking to an African person, you really should not be in the business of representing Africa. Furthermore, if you cannot find an African nation on a map, let alone acknowledge Africans’ agency, you should not be providing “solutions” or “aid. Certainly, if you think that Uganda is in Central Africa, you should not be disseminating (mis)information that could have implications on policy.

Presumably, this campaign is supposed to raise awareness in the international community of Joseph Kony and lead to his arrest and/or death. The assumption is that taking down the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army will eliminate the problems. Thing is, Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army are symptoms of corrupt governance. Invisible Children’s video strangely omits Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s complicity in the horrors of the conflict that began in the late 1980s in Northern Uganda at the beginning of his (prolonged) presidency. Clearly, the international justice community is aware of Joseph Kony, because his name has been on top of the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s “most wanted” list for nearly a decade. Not to mention the fact that the United States armed forces have made several attempts at fighting the LRA and killing Joseph Kony, all of which resulted in the displacement of Sudanese and Congolese civilians as the LRA scattered about Central Africa.

[Also, I suggest a little light research into Invisible Children’s spending practices.] Continue reading

The Great Land Rush: Land Grabs & Food Security

Crosslinked at Bertelsmann Stiftung – Future Challenges Organization

The Great Land Rush and Food Security

What is land?

Many of us don’t think about what land really means. An economist might define land as the totality  of natural resources in a given area, while a lawyer might focus on  land, water and mineral rights. But a farmer’s answer might be simpler: land is the farmer’s capital. Land is the soil and  water utilized in the production of crops for the local or global market. In the context of an increasingly globalized world, land rights are paramount, particularly in the Global South (Asia, South America, Africa and Australia). As governments and multinational corporations buy up land, small farmers and indigenous groups are edged out.

A Global Phenomenon

A 2010 World Bank study showed that 110 million acres (44,515,420.7 hectares) of farmland worldwide were sold or leased in the first eleven months of 2009 alone;  70 percent of these land deals were concentrated in Mali, Libya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Mozambique.

Before 2008, land was sold or leased at an average annual rate of  10 million acres (4,046,856.42 hectares). However, in the last four years alone, nearly 148 million acres (about 60 million hectares) of land on the continent of Africa has been acquired by international investors and government bodies. This surge in land grabbing and speculation deserves attention because it poses a grave threat to regional food security, indigenous land and water rights.

These land deals are not just confined to the continent of Africa (which holds nearly two-thirds of the world’s remaining arable land). In the Middle East,  Bahrain has seen political upheaval and protest in the wake of a major land deal within its borders. White South African farmers are buying up land in Georgia while in the Ukraine, the state is planning to buy up 30 percent of the nation’s land to bolster the country’s food security. In Australia, in a similar move a Chinese company has offered to buy 80,000 hectares of farmland.

In one of Asia‘s poorest nations, 15 percent of Cambodian land has been signed over to private companies (made easier by the Khmer Rouge’s  prohibition of private property and subsequent burning of all land titles). In South America, the Brazilian government has shown its openness to greater foreign investment in rural land. In today’s globalized world economy, these land deals have far-reaching effects.

Why the rush for land?

Factors driving the land grab include population pressure, the burgeoning middle class in the Global South and its heightened demand for foodstuffs, in concert with individual countries’ concerns over food security. As ready access to food is essential to a politically stable nation, food security can have major political effects.

This was seen in 2009 in Madagascar when a land deal with a South Korean conglomerate that would have handed over half of Madagascar‘s arable land was met with mass protests and led to the overthrow of then-President Ravalomanana. Continue reading

NGOs and Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government

[Cross-linked at Future Challenges Organization – Bertelsmann Stiftung ‘s blog]

The backdrop to the famine in Somalia is a history of civil war and the collapse of the central functioning government in 1991. What many news outlets fail to mention is that with the civil war came devastation, displacement and the destruction of productive farm land and essential infrastructure. Factor in the absence of a strong, central government and the proliferation of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and we see a lack of long-term solutions for improving and adapting agricultural practices, water use and safeguarding the land against drought in what has historically been a breadbasket. The sad fact is that despite good rainfall between April and June 2010, in the lower Shabelle region locally-grown cereals only supplied about 40 percent of the nation’s needs.

In an article published in Pambazuka News, Kenyan journalist Rasna Warah writes that Somalia is “being controlled by aid agencies” in the absence of strong central government. Basically, non-governmental organizations have taken on roles and responsibilities traditionally held by government without any of the accompanying accountability to civil society. Many of these NGOs are rather beholden to the interests of their donors and are further limited by turnover rates among aid workers, high administrative costs and limited rapport with the communities they serve.

“In effect, Somalia is being managed and controlled by aid agencies — the government is there in name only.” Continue reading

African Governments, NGOs & Civil Society: A Crisis of Legitimacy?

[Crosslinked with Bertelsmann Stiftung – Future Challenges Organization’s Blog]

In April, the Columbia Journalism Review raised the question of whether non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Africa benefit from particular representations of the continent as conflict and poverty-ridden.

„Yet US journalism continues to portray a continent of unending horrors. Last June, for example, Time magazine published graphic pictures of a naked woman from Sierra Leone dying in childbirth… Reinforcing the sense of economic misery, between May and September 2010 the ten most-read US newspapers and magazines carried 245 articles mentioning poverty in Africa, but only five mentioning gross domestic product growth.“

The recent coverage of the famine in East Africa, while warranted, is profitable to NGOs. The influx of aid monies and resources allows NGOs to proliferate in the region. In Ethiopiain 1984, the outpouring of food aid in Ethiopia was not generally accompanied by concrete efforts to bolster local food security or conserve local water sources. Neither the government nor the private sector made substantive action to stop drought and desertification. The government, entrenched in civil war, instead diverted resources toward the military, rather than toward the threat of famine. For this reason, the United States chose to give less aid to the Ethiopian government, Continue reading