"If I am both young and African, is the thought of finding myself a job a ‘wild dream’?" 

By Philani H. Dhlamini

Street Hawkers in Kampala, Uganda
25 year old Jumbwe Yusuf, one of many street hawkers in Kampala, tells me that he is employed. With the little English he can manage, he says, “This my job, every day here.” Jumbwe seems convinced that he is some sort of a business man, as I watch him trying to sell his bowl of bubble-gum and car accessories to uninterested drivers at a traffic light junction. When I ask him how the ‘business’ goes, he can only reply: “slowly, slowly.”

Jumbwe Yusuf
Youth unemployment in Africa is widely acknowledged as one of the many crises that reflect the problematic nature of the continent’s development process. Whilst it is important to remain optimistic about the future of Africa, it is even more important to be realistic about the situation at hand. Many young Africans are under-employed, having jobs that are lower than their academic qualifications. Even more find themselves self-employed or relying on informal jobs with a very low-income. Others are forced to depend on already strained ‘extended family’ structures for unpaid work. The rest can be found with Jumbwe at traffic light junctions, street corners and other urban spots which have much to promise but little to give.

Entrepreneurship has been presented as a sustainable solution to this crisis. However, in reality the young persons concerned do not have the individual capacity to become entrepreneurs of any significant value. The persistently high levels of poverty mean that very few are well educated, many do not have any marketable skills to offer and most of all their economic capacity is very limited. Even though African governments have taken steps to improve education systems and break the poverty cycle, no visible effort has materialized to rescue those already in crisis.

The policies being introduced and the initiatives being launched today will only bear fruit in the future. Hence the reason why many have become so optimistic about Africa’s ‘Future’, which has been marvelled at and anticipated as the next investment destination to come. What then happens to those youth currently trapped with no employment? So, if I am both young and African, is the thought of finding myself a job a ‘wild dream’?