Africa is now facing a major demographical challenge. According to recent UN forecasts, the continent is expected to double its population by 2050, from 1 billion to nearly 2.4 billion inhabitants. Most importantly, half of that population will be less than 25 years old, which raises the urgent question of whether its economy has the capacity to absorb the millions of new arrivals that will soon flood its job market.
Today, World Bank figures show that young people represent 60% of the unemployed population in Africa. Even among those who do have a job, the vast majority are in the informal economy. The most recent report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) on the topic, published in 2018, indicates that 94.9% of people between the ages of 15 and 24 in Africa work in the informal economy. This figure is as high as 97.9% in West Africa. If nothing is done in the coming decades to stimulate the creation of high-quality jobs and rein in demographic growth, rampant youth unemployment and the multiplication of precarious jobs could represent a driver of serious social protest and forced mobility. Conversely, if the demographic transition is supported via strong measures for youth training and employment, through both public policy and private sector involvement, it is an incredible opportunity for the continent’s development.
That’s why, in its road map adopted by African heads of state and government in January 2017, the African Union invited the latter to “take full advantage of the demographic dividend,” defined as “the potential that can result when a relatively large share of a country’s population is of working age due to a decrease in fertility.”These economic opportunities can only be created if there is “sufficient investment in health, autonomy, education, and employment through public action and involvement by the private sector,” warns the African Union.