ABIDJAN — Creating quality jobs and graduating qualified candidates will be among the keys to harnessing Africa’s youth potential and bringing the continent into the modern economy, business leaders and officials at the EU-Africa Business Forum said on Monday.
The meeting, coming ahead of the European Union-African Union Summit later this week, brought together private sector actors from both continents to discuss the challenges and opportunities for business in priority sectors such as the digital economy and agribusiness.
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“Quality jobs matter — for people and for a country’s development,” European Commission Vice President Andrus Ansip told the forum. “Africa’s private sector can help to tackle youth unemployment [and] help to provide sustainable quality jobs and create inclusive growth,” he said.
The forum specifically focused on opportunities stemming from the recently developed EU External Investment Plan, a 4.1 billion euro ($4.9 billion) instrument that aims to offer financial guarantees for investment on the continent as well as improve the overall business environment. The European Commission believes EIP will help to leverage 44 billion euros ($52 billion) in investment by 2020. The goal is to provide a single clearinghouse for public development finance institutions and other interested private and public investors.
The EIP targets sectors such as renewable energy and sustainable connectivity, in addition to providing financing for microenterprises and small- and medium-sized enterprises with a focus on job creation — particularly in fragile states. The plan will also offer technical assistance and will work to improve the business environment in partner countries through structured dialogues with businesses in-country, policymakers, and governments.
“It’s not just about pledging more money, but being a partner in sharing and analyzing solutions,” Stefano Manservisi, director general of the EC Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development, said.
Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank, argued that more attention should also be placed on skills development for the digital economy. Africa, he said, is “already late” to the game. “We cannot keep training people for the jobs of yesterday, but [instead] for the jobs of the future — computer science, robotics, digital technology,” he said, urging AU member countries to dedicate more resources to STEM fields.
Uganda’s Minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development Matia Kasaija addressed another aspect hindering progress: access to primary education. “If we want to handle this issue [of youth unemployment] properly, we have to give every child primary education and give every child a skill,” he said.
Agriculture was a particular focus of discussions. The sector accounts for up to 70 percent of many countries’ workforces. Michael Hailu, director of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation, told Devex that in order to attract youth to the sector, discussions must center around agribusiness instead of agriculture.
“When youth hear of agriculture, they think of smallholder farmer, sustenance farming, long hours, intense labor — and they usually want to leave the village as soon as possible,” Hailu said. “But the moment you speak of agribusiness, they hear about making profits, adding value, using technology, mechanization, and this concept has been the focus of the last 5-10 years.”
He urged countries to introduce youth mentorship programs to help children make career choices. “When you know which options are possible, you can be more successful and determine how you want to earn money,” Hailu told Devex.
Nearly 70 percent of Africa’s working youth — or 64.4 million people — live in extreme or moderate poverty, according to the 2016 International Labour Organization’s World Employment and Social Outlook. The report argued that the fundamental challenge is to improve the quality of work available for youth, especially for those underemployed or engaged in informal jobs.
Read more Devex coverage of EU-Africa relations.