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Why no progress in defeating youth unemployment?

20 Jul, 2018

19 July, 2018, Yaounde - The huge risk that youth unemployment poses to the stability of Africa again dominated the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) 27th Board of Governors Meeting which opened in the Cameroonian capital, Yaounde.

For some time now, ACBF has been beating the drum of how the frightening youth unemployment problem on the continent has become a bomb ready to explode, and the Foundation has been urging African countries and leaders to provide a visionary and transformative leadership to prevent the bomb from exploding.

The topic once again dominated the 27th Board of Governors Meeting today, with all the key speakers hacking back to it. To be fair, the topic of the two-day meeting is “Youth Employment in Africa: Focus on Developing the Critical Skills”. 

Once again, Prof Emmanuel Nnadozie, ACBF’s Executive Secretary, led the charge. “Evidence today,” he said, “highlights the unstable economic conditions besetting the youth in Africa. A 2016 AfDB publication on ‘Jobs for Youth in Africa’ states that, of Africa’s nearly 420 million youth aged 15-35, one-third are unemployed and discouraged, while another one-third are employed vulnerably, largely due to skills mismatch with labour market requirements. This is indeed a paradox as the continent is currently grappling with serious shortages of key technical skills.

“Our study in 2016 on Capacity Requirements for the Implementation of the First 10 Years of the AU Agenda 2063 indicated that Africa had about 55,000 engineers of an estimated 4.3 million needed. Similarly, the continent only had about 80,000 agricultural scientists while needing an estimated 150,000 agriculturalists. What these figures show is that while Africa is investing in education, whether the scope and quality is sufficient to deal with the problem, remains a vexing question.”

Arab Spring could be like tea party

To Mr. Erastus MwenchaChair of the ACBF Executive Board, the answer to the “vexing question” is a simple one. “There is a disconnect between tertiary education and labour market needs on the continent and this necessitates sustained policy focus, particularly with regards to effective programmatic design and intervention,” he said.

“Most governments in Africa,” Mr. Mwenchacontinued, “have started to acknowledge that there is a problem with youth unemployment, and that the stability of the continent is going to depend largely on how we respond to this pressure. You saw what happened during the Arab Spring; when it starts in Africa, it will look like a tea party because the young people here cannot continue to sit and watch forever.

“So governments that are alert, I am sure, will try to respond, and ours [at ACBF] is not to prescribe solutions or give ultimatums and deadlines, because Africa does not need to respond with a panic button but in a systematic and quiet manner. And that is where we at ACBF are coming from.”

Contributing to the discussion, H.E Alamine Ousmane Mey, Cameroon’s Minister for Economy, Planning and Regional Development, and Vice Chair of the ACBF Board of Governors, said the issue of youth employment in Africa remained a vital challenge for the continent, especially “if we are to achieve the goals set in the 2063 Agenda of the African Union, and well ahead of this is the agenda of the UN Sustainable Development Goals of 2030.

“Youths are an asset, not a liability. Youths are an opportunity, not a threat. Youths are a source of innovation and transformative and creative power. Youths are a demographic dividend for our continent. All these we have to take into consideration in transforming our economies for the betterment of the living conditions of our population.”

More questions than answers

Joining the debate, Hon Gondwe Goodall, Chair of the ACBF’s highest governing body, the Board of Governors, and Malawi’s Minister of Finance, pointed to the manner of the ACBF contribution to the youth unemployment discourse.

In a speech read on his behalf because he was unable to attend this year’s meeting on account of last minute pressing issues back in Malawi, Hon Gondwe reminded participants of a significant study conducted by ACBF in 2015, entitled African Critical Technical Skills: Key Capacity Dimensions Needed for the First 10 Years of Agenda 2063.

“This study draws our attention to the importance of the skills deficit currently being faced in Africa,” Hon Gondwe explained. “The Decade for Youth Development (2009–2018) is coming to an end, with many African countries experiencing some high economic growth rates which unfortunately have not translated into tangible job opportunities for our youth. Youth unemployment therefore remains a major developmental challenge for many of our countries.

“In this regard, despite concerted efforts, it appears we are yet to record meaningful achievements that could lead us to celebrate the ‘Decade for Youth Development’. Time is now of the essence. We must act purposefully to ensure the successful implementation of developmental programmes that will create diverse and accessible employment opportunities for the youth.”

According to him, the key questions left are: “Why are we not achieving the progress we had anticipated? Are we lacking effective policy options? Is it due to an inadequate skill base? Is there a lack of demand for labour, or is it labour rigidity?”

To move forward, Hon Gondwe said Africa must have conceptual clarity on where the challenges lie so it could design appropriate solutions with specificity to its different contexts.

He, therefore, asked the meeting (which brings together stakeholders from government, the private sector, youth organizations, development partners and civil society) to carefully reflect on country specific challenges and to explore opportunities to share experiences across countries and regions.

Calling on African countries to reflect on the critical technical skills needed for the successful implementation of the flagship programs and projects under the First 10-Year Implementation Plan of Agenda 2063, and the UN Agenda 2030, Hon Gondwe said he had a few suggestions”:

“What are the specific capacities and critical technical skills required to enhance youth employment opportunities?” he asked. “How can African countries and the various stakeholders tap into the expertise of universities, Think Tanks, and the private sector to build the required technical skills? What are the existing initiatives in our respective countries aimed at building the required critical skills? What can we learn from each other when it comes to effectively strengthening the capacities to better support skills development?”

It was obvious that there are more questions than answers, a situation that Prof Nnadozie tried to diffuse by saying: “On our part, we believe we have made our own contributions [as ACBF] and will continue to make even more contributions.”


Looking back at the performance of the Foundation in 2017, the Executive Secretary said, “overall, during the period of the World Bank additional financing, 2014-2017, ACBF achieved its Program Development Objectives (PDOs), and its performance was credibly measured.

“During this period, the Foundation’s planned results were achieved. Indeed, all 4 PDO-level indicators as well as all 12 Intermediate Results (IRIs) were either achieved or exceeded.” 

Furthermore, he said, the Foundation achieved significant results across Africa.  For instance, ACBF provided support in policy research and analysis that led to concrete achievements in service delivery in Rwanda, preventing election violence in Ghana, evidence-based economic policy-making in Kenya, and domestic revenue mobilization in Ethiopia.

Other achievements included building public sector management capacity to improve public service delivery in West Africa; strengthening financial systems through capacity building in banking and finance in Southern and West Africa; and promoting critical skills in science and technology in Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Tanzania that supported the sub-regions.”

ACBF also supported regional integration across Africa, two concrete examples of which were the enhanced effectiveness of financial sector institutions in the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) region, and the creation of COMESA’s research unit, which made significant contributions in regional integration agenda.

ACBF also recorded success in promoting knowledge and learning in Africa by supporting the AU in identifying the capacities required to successfully implement Agenda 2063 and the strategies at addressing them.

The Foundation also supported the development and sharing of enhanced data and empirical evidence on capacity development for informed decision making through ACBF’s Africa Capacity Report.

“Our achievements also include the establishment of the flagship African Think Tank Summit for peer-learning and exchange of innovative solutions to support Africa’s development agenda as well as the management of the enhanced knowledge brokerage on Management for Development Results (MfDR), through a community of practice, that has advanced national and regional development processes,” Prof Nnadozie said.

He expressed sincere gratitude to all ACBF Member States and Partners, in particular the African Development Bank Group, UNDP, Afreximbank, BADEA, and the World Bank Group, for their tremendous support in making it possible for the Foundation to deliver for Africa.

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Speaking in the same vein, Mr. Mwenchasaid the initiatives undertaken by ACBF on the continent demonstrate its continued relevance as a credible interlocutor in addressing capacity challenges. He therefore calledon governments and non-state actors to collaborate in a synergistic way in addressing capacity gaps relating to youth employment on the continent.

“The successful resolution of the youth unemployment challenge requires cohesive efforts and a multi-stakeholder approach,” Mr. Mwenchasaid.  “We all have a duty to understand the nature and magnitude of the problem and to play our part in resolving the challenge. This may include sharing of best practices relating to policy development, strategic interventions and establishing key priorities to address the challenge of unemployment on the continent.”

Continuing, Mr. Mwenchasaid: “Now more than ever, Africa needs ACBF to not only continue playing its current capacity building coordination role, but to intensify efforts being made to effectively address development bottlenecks and better support skills development interventions. The Foundation is well placed for this role on the continent given that it has accumulated immense experience and knowledge on capacity development.”

For this reason, Mr. Mwenchacalled upon development partners to continue supporting the Foundation to allow it to continue providing the services which are so badly needed by its member countries.

He thanked African governments for their increased financial contributions to the Foundation which, he said, demonstrated strong continental ownership of the organisation.

“However,” he said, “the task ahead requires even greater resources and a heightened level of political and financial support. Together, let us continue to build the Africa we want, an Africa capable of achieving its own development.” he added.


Thomas Kwesi Quartey

ACBF has been granted the status of a specialized agency because of the potential to transform Africa through capacity development.

H.E. Thomas Kwesi Quartey, Deputy Chairperson, AU Commission
Erastus Mwencha

The recognition of ACBF as the African Union’s Specialized Agency for Capacity Development launches the beginning of a new era for capacity building by ACBF, which will require an appropriate level of political commitment and financial support from all stakeholders.

H.E. Erastus Mwencha, Chair, ACBF Executive Board
Lamin Momodou

The remarkable achievements ACBF has registered over the past 26 years is not by accident in our opinion. They have come through hard work, dedication, commitment, purposeful leadership, support from the member countries as well as productive partnership building.

Mr. Lamin Momodou MANNEH, Director, UNDP Regional Service Centre for Africa
Goodall Gondwe

Africa needs ACBF as much, probably more now, than at the time it was created in 1991.

Hon. Goodall Gondwe, former Chair of the ACBF Board of Governors and Minister of Finance – Malawi
Ken Ofori Atta

Ghana’s partnership with ACBF is a tremendous blessing for us and therefore the opportunity for Ghana to host the 26th ACBF Board of Governors Meeting is something that we treasure.

Hon Ken Ofori Atta, Chair of the ACBF Board of Governors and Minister of Finance - Ghana