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Jumoke Oduwole: Opportunities to improve youth unemployment in Africa are in reach, but they require investment

Amujae Leader and Special Adviser to the President of Nigeria on Ease of Doing Business Dr. Jumoke Oduwole recently delivered a keynote speech at the inaugural African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) Centre of Excellence for Unemployment and Skills Development Blended International Conference at the University of Lagos in Nigeria. 

Dr. Oduwole began her address by considering the continent’s economic outlook for the coming year against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. She touched on some of the COVID-19-related challenges that African economies face, including “disruptions to global supply chains and low demand for African products,” reduced demand and collapse in oil prices, fragile healthcare systems, and travel bans. She also highlighted the impact of lockdowns, which have disproportionately disrupted the work of those in the informal sector— 74% of whom are women in sub-Saharan Africa. However, Dr. Oduwole noted that the GDP of emerging market and developing economies, including those in sub-Saharan Africa, is predicted to fall less than the expected worldwide contraction: 3.3% of versus 4.4%.

Talking about challenges related to youth unemployment amid the pandemic, Dr. Oduwole shared that millions of Africa’s youth are in vulnerable employment, and that unemployment rates are much higher in urban areas. She went on to talk about the potential of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to alleviate youth unemployment, lift 67.9 million people out of moderate poverty, and deliver wage increases of approximately 10% for both skilled and unskilled workers by enabling increased trade of goods and services within Africa.

Dr. Oduwole noted that, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of African governments have implemented economic stimulus packages or increased federal spending on healthcare, with the intent of protecting household welfare, helping businesses weather the storm, and maintain the stability of financial systems. In addition to these investments, Dr. Oduwole recommended the adoption of gender mainstreaming to account for the specific impacts of the crisis on women. This was highlighted alongside a broader range of proposals which included the need to formalize the informal and micro-business sectors, to invest in industry and infrastructure, and to prepare Africa’s youth for future opportunities with skills training. Dr. Oduwole also suggested that there is an opportunity for public-private partnerships (PPP) to provide new frameworks for the investment and training required.

Concluding her speech, Dr. Oduwole reflected that Africa has performed relatively well throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but she argued that governments across the continent should now take the opportunity to invest in youth and small businesses, and take into account the informal workforce and related gender-specific concerns, in order to improve prospects for the future.

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