ACCRA, Ghana, Nov 25 (IPS) — The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated Africa’s already dire employment crisis. The solution lies in a long-term political and economic transformation.
Africa is facing a serious employment crisis. But if nothing is done to find a solution, it may get worse in the not too distant future, because world Bank 2017 projections show: by 2035, Africa’s working-age population will increase to 450 million.
At the same time, however, only 10 crore jobs are expected to be created in the same period. And that was before the Covid-19 pandemic hit: Africa was badly hit and its economies experienced contraction up to 2 percent in 2020, UNECA estimates that approximately 30 million Africans pushed below the extreme poverty line.
In the years before the pandemic, particularly between 2016 and 2020, Africa had experienced solid economic growth, Nevertheless, such growth was primarily driven by higher commodity prices and has not translated into the creation of permanent employment. This is especially concerning given the demographics of Africa.
By the year 2050, Africa’s youth (15-35 years old) is expected to double 830 million people And the total population of the continent is about . will reach 2.5 billion people, Today Africa is the world’s youngest continent – its average age in 2020 was 19.7 years, And Africa will remain the world’s youngest continent for decades to come.
A progressive approach to employment
It is a modern-day tragedy that millions of young Africans will not be able to find jobs, will not have enough resources to support their families, or will not realize their full potential. And although there is a very active and informed international debate about how to create jobs, it does not produce viable solutions that would make a significant difference to the employment situation.
It often appears that governments do only frivolous service to democratic processes and institutions.
Africa’s employment crisis is so complex that it requires fundamental thinking about the direction of structural change on the continent. Do the gradual industrialization approaches that work for East Asia work in Africa as well?
To what extent is free trade part of the problem and not part of the solution to the employment crisis? How can real change happen if governments are undemocratic, corrupt, and preventive of reform?
A progressive approach to tackling the employment crisis in Africa, which could inspire and inform both leaders in Africa and European policymakers, is long overdue. This progressive approach is based on two interdependent sets of principles – political and economic. Here are some thoughts.
First and foremost, the political side means establishing solid democratic institutions to organize and oversee structural changes and economic reforms. It often appears that governments do only frivolous service to democratic processes and institutions.
Without accountability, implemented through democratic institutions, would not be reflected in the popular development model. Without the corrective work of democracy, development will lead to more inequality and benefit only the privileged few.
Political reforms also need to incorporate a bold stand against corruption. Africans are fed up with governments that are primarily concerned with staying in power to pocket state resources.
There is a need to counter the possession of the state by shifting power from the executive to a politically independent and efficient judiciary that is capable of implementing accountability and democratic principles.
Basically, it is the responsibility of the state, governed by democratic institutions and an active civil society, to ensure that economic growth actually translates into job creation.
Broad social coalitions, including democratic trade unions, NGOs, activists, environmental groups and progressive political leaders, must take the lead here and articulate their demands for a democratic turn toward greater accountability. Notably, women will have to play an important role in this process as they are disproportionately affected by the current employment scenario.
Together, these groups need to put more pressure on governments to actively involve civil society, academia, labor representatives and the private sector in the formulation of strategies to generate jobs and monitor the performance of employment programmes. This is not just an inconvenient exercise, but a significant effort to improve the quality of political decisions and outcomes.
Economic principles should be followed and demanded with the same energy as political principles. Basically, it is the responsibility of the state, governed by democratic institutions and an active civil society, to ensure that economic growth actually translates into job creation.
For this to be successful, revenue raising systems have to be improved. First, the focus may be on the commodities sector – a major source of income in many African countries. Many are exporting oil, gold, metals, cocoa, but are struggling to negotiate agreements that guarantee a fair share of these exports.
More money can be withdrawn from multinationals operating in Africa. In addition, some parts of the vast informal economy in Africa, remaining in the informal sector for reasons of tax evasion – such as some professionals in urban economies – may be another source of revenue. The loopholes in the tax system also have to be actively addressed.
African states have to invest heavily in public goods such as education, healthcare, energy and digitization. Infrastructure is critical to the transformation of economies.
For example, the construction sector can be one of the sectors where significant jobs can be created. In public tendering processes for large infrastructure projects, financed by African countries or international financial institutions, African companies should receive preferential treatment.
Well-designed public works programs across the continent require significant state investment. They are both a strategy towards poverty reduction and job creation. Keeping costs under control requires ongoing evaluation of public works programs and appropriate exit strategies.
In addition, states would have to initiate programs to make bank accounts available to all citizens – transfer of basic income could be an element for direct support.
decades old project
It is a fallacy to believe that only the states can solve all the challenges of employment. The main source of employment will be the private sector and most of the jobs will be created in urban areas, mainly in the service sector.
so called ‘Industry Without Smokestacks‘, i.e. tourism, agri-business, remote office services, creative industry, have some potential for employment generation. However, creating long-term sustainable jobs and decent jobs will require significant transfer of knowledge and technology from developed countries to African countries.
Last but not least, trade between African countries – accelerated through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA), which began its operations on 1 January 2021 – could lead to economic growth and employment effects. Also, free trade can have an adverse effect on immature industries in Africa.
Hence the pockets of industries should be nurtured and protected against competition. Also, the areas likely to be affected by the AfCFTA’s negative impacts, their loss should be compensated,
Dealing with Africa’s employment crisis is a process that will take years if not decades. Small steps are more realistic than leaping fantasies. However, political discourse often places short-sighted emphasis on how favorable economic factors can stimulate job creation.
But it is important to understand that sound political and economic principles, primarily viewed by those affected by change, must go hand in hand – as both are setting out a progressive approach to economic growth and job creation in Africa.
Johan Ivanov Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung is the resident director of the Ghana Office and coordinator of the Ghana-based Center for Economic Policy Competence for Sub-Saharan Africa (EPCC). Prior to this, he worked with FES India as Deputy Resident Director and Desk Officer at the FES Head Office in Berlin. He holds a BA degree in Political Science from the Free University Berlin and an MSc in International Political Theory from the University of Edinburgh.
Source: International Politics and Society (IPS)-Journal Published by the International Political Analysis Unit of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Hiroshimastrasse 28, D-10785 Berlin
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