12 April, 2018, Accra - With Africa’s growing youthful population needing jobs, political will is needed for a development agenda catapulted by a private sector-led growth through reforms. Policy makers should therefore raise confidence and create an enabling environment to attract private sector investment, says Ms Eugenia Kayitesi, Executive Director of IPAR-Rwanda.
Contributing to a panel discussion on “developing the requisite private sector that can create jobs for the youths”, on the opening day of the 5th Africa Think Tank Summit, Ms Kayitesi said African countries should stop producing people for white collar jobs but instead move them into technical and vocational education and training.
According to her, one of the ways to tackle the current high youth unemployment on the continent is to provide access to investment capital, particularly for SMEs and youths with entrepreneurial skills, so that more jobs can be created by the beneficiary companies or the youths themselves.
Studies show that two of the main factors militating against business growth in Africa, especially new start-ups, are the lack of investment capital and access to markets. If these two factors are guaranteed, according to Ms Kayitesi, the business environment in Africa will be revolutionised.
She therefore called for more access to investment capital, increased intra-Africa trade, and the revamping of Africa’s tourism sector to create more jobs for the youth.
She also made a strong case for agricultural transformation focusing on large scale farming for export, and agro-processing for value addition – the two being sine quo non to attract the youth into agriculture as currently agriculture is seen by the youth as not business but a chore, something that puts them off.
Another panellist, Mr. Cheikh Baye Ould Beddy, the Deputy Director of CMAP (Mauritania) noted the huge constraints hampering progress in agriculture, such as high interest rates charged by banks, and called for a change if the continent is to defeat the current crisis of high youth unemployment.
Mr Beddy suggested an action plan to improve the job market through encouraging entrepreneurial activities and the granting of incentives to SMEs to give them more impetus to create jobs and absorb the teeming unemployed youth. Additionally, he recommended the need for educational training to focus on technical and vocational education.
Contributing to the same discussion, Prof Ali Issa Abdi, Managing Director of HESPI (Ethiopia), noted that in Southeast Asia, “the State takes a long term approach to development and provides the environment for other sectors to thrive. Therefore since Africa lacks big corporations, there is need to incentivise and provide for SMEs to create the needed jobs for the youth.”
Another panellist, Ms. Lynette Chen, CEO of NEPAD Business Foundation (South Africa), observed that the task of job creation was the preserve of the private sector, not governments. Therefore there is need for a public-private sector dialogue to bridge the gap and get a common understanding of what the real challenges are.
She called for the creation of an African entrepreneurial hub that will annually bring entrepreneurs together to network. She gave examples of young African entrepreneurs who have come up with innovations such as waterless toilets and using waste to produce bricks, but need mentoring and investment capital.
During question time, a contributor from the floor noted that to create employment, governments needed to pay attention to developing a coherent FDI policy. Currently, he said, African governments unfairly give several incentives to foreign investors at the expense of local investors, and this need to change. “One solution to this is for countries to grow dynamic and vibrant domestic investors,” he added.
Ms. Kayitesi then explained that in Rwanda the youth are seen as assets and the Rwanda Development Board is driving most of the job creation which is yielding fruits.
She said that contrary to an opinion from the floor, “it is governments, not universities that make policies therefore any strategic policy should be between governments and the private sector. For instance, skills development are not the sole preserve of universities hence the need for the State to step in with policies to achieve this goal.”
A participant from Kenya noted that the government had set aside 30% of its procurement budget into a Youth Fund for youth entrepreneurial activities in the country.
Another participant from Cote d’Ivoire explained that the government had put in place incentives like tax policies to create a favourable business environment for job creation for the youth. But because there are a lot of university graduates in the informal sector, more incentives are needed for value addition.
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