Alleviating youth unemployment by addressing the African informal sector

KPMG Global Chairman joined Head of Oxfam Winnie Byanyima, Vice President of Ghana, Kwesi Amissah-Arthur, and entrepreneur Mandla Sibeko in a panel discussion which asked how Africa could alleviate youth unemployment by addressing the informal sector. The session chaired by the BBC’s Lerato Mbele focused on unleashing entrepreneurial dynamism, boosting access to capital, emphasising social protection and decent wages.

The consensus amongst panellists was that it would take political will to remove the barriers that impede Africa’s youth from participating in the formal economy but there was a realisation that informal is already the new normal.

Ghanaian Vice President Kwesi Amissah-Arthur, said that there were already financial systems that operated outside of the formal economy that could be harnessed to drive inclusive growth for African economies.  These includes the provision of microfinance, village lending schemes and other creative solutions that allowed people to transact informally.  

Head of Oxfam, Winnie Byanyima noted that there were significant gaps in access to finance across the continent particularly for the youth but that even more pressing was the need for a living wage. “There is not required minimum wage in many of the countries on the continent and so work does not become a route out of poverty but a trap,” she said. 

Entrepreneur, Mandla Sibeko was the voice for the youth on the panel.  His view is that the youth on the continent felt alienated from participating in their own economies.  “They want to create but need to be given the room to be innovative,” said Sibeko.  

Byanyima said that capital needs to sit alongside innovation but that Africa’s greatest resource was its people.  “In 25 years we will have 1 billion people who are eligible to work but we are not making the investment in these people right now.  We need to provide education.” 

KPMG global chairman, John Veihmeyer, said that it was up to business to create jobs and not government but that the private sector felt that government policies are anything but conducive to growth. He said it would take a collaborative effort from both government and the private sector to unlock significant growth on the continent. 

“Working together, we can make substantial progress.  The business sector must play its part, it has the responsibility to create an environment that increases jobs and this can be done through apprenticeships and other experiential work programmes.” He did however emphasise that not all work would emanate from the formal sector.  

“African youth need to realise that they have a stake in their countries and the continent,” he said. “The window of opportunity is now and the future of Africa is in creation.” 

Veihmeyer explained that 53 percent of economic activity on the continent is derived from the informal economy and thus the opportunity lay not in mainstreaming the informal economy but ensuring that both the formal and informal economies continued to grow.

David Okwara

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