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Unemployment and economic issues are the main concerns of African youth

Creating sustainable economic growth and jobs is one of the pillars of the EU’s Strategy for Africa
Creating sustainable economic growth and jobs is one of the pillars of the EU’s Strategy for Africa
Sep 21 2020

Working together with African countries is a priority for the European Union. During Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s first official visit to Ethiopia, she stressed the importance of a partnership of equals, and moving past decades of donor country-aid recipient relations.

Developing a partnership of equals implies understanding the challenges, interests and aspirations of African citizens. This has been the focus of a JRC report assessing the results of a recent Afrobarometer public opinion survey.

The report shows that unemployment or fear of unemployment is the problem that most worries young people in Africa. This concern was found to be common across the continent.

Half of all respondents between 18 and 35 years of age identified economic issues as their primary concern, with unemployment being the highest ranked among the specific types of economic issues faced by youths.  

Concerns about jobs are common both for those in employment and those not, suggesting that existing work positions are precarious. These findings are particularly significant in view of the potential economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Although unemployment was the highest-ranked issue overall, it was not the highest-ranked in every country of the survey. Other concerns include:

  • food shortages, which was the top concern in four countries;
  • the water supply, top concern in two;
  • management of the economy, top concern in two;
  • health, top concern in two;
  • corruption, taxes, and crime and security – each top concern in one country.

Youth jobs concern all, but so do environmental issues

The findings come from an analysis of data from the 2016-2018 edition of Afrobarometer, a comprehensive survey conducted in 34 African countries.

While it mostly focused on the 18-35 age group, the research warns that economic concerns are the issue that most worries the older generation as well, albeit to a lesser extent.

Beyond the issues mentioned above, poverty, infrastructure, education and corruption were also highly-ranked concerns for young Africans. While the gender of the respondents produced only negligible differences in responses, there were slight divides in opinion between rural and urban residents.

Despite it being the top concern for rural respondents, almost twice as many urban respondents as rural indicated unemployment as their primary concern. For those in the countryside, insecurities with water and food supply were more significant than for their urban counterparts.

Similarly, environmental issues figure more strongly among the concerns of the less highly educated. While 12 % of those with only primary education regard environmental matters their most important concern, only 3 % of university graduates do the same. For university graduates, unemployment is the major issue, even more so than for African youth taken as a whole.

EU and Africa: strengthening cooperation

The report  will help to develop the Africa-EU relationship and to inform the EU’s policies in collaborating with African partners, where youth is a cross-cutting priority. Tackling youth unemployment is emphasised both in the Comprehensive Strategy with Africa and the European Consensus on Development.

The EU’s Strategy for Africa has named creating sustainable economic growth and jobs as one of the pillars of the strategy, alongside green transition and energy access, digital transformation, peace and governance, and migration and mobility.

Implementing the strategy would strengthen already close relations. EU Member States are responsible for almost half of the total aid received by Africa, their foreign direct investment is five times higher than that of either the US or China, while the volume of African trade with the EU is almost twice as large as that with China.

The European Consensus on Development also treats youth unemployment as a crucial issue. In the document, EU Member States pledge to support "lifelong learning and equitable quality education" in target countries.