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With almost 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24, Africa has the youngest population in the world. And it keeps growing rapidly. According to recent estimates, the number of young people in Africa will double by 2045. If this trend continues, the continent’s labor force will reach one billion by 2040, making it the largest in the world.
Youth unemployment figures will increase unless Africa moves swiftly to make youth employment a priority, turning its human capital into economic opportunity, says the 2012 edition of the African Economic Outlook launched on Thursday September 13, 2012 in Addis Ababa.
The report warns that high unemployment among youth poses a serious challenge for the economies of African countries, whose recovery from the 2011 global economic and financial crisis had been remarkable. In his opening speech which was attended by senior officials, Emmanuel  Nnadozie, Director of ECA’s Economic Development and NEPAD Division, unpacked the report and praised the spirit of the four partners that wrote the it which are: UN Economic Commission for Africa, the African Development Bank, the UN Development Program and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The theme of the 2012 report is both timely and important in that it underlines the joint efforts of the four institutions to help African countries recognize opportunities and address challenges in order to make the most of benefits from the emerging demographic dividend on the continent.
The report also offers country-by-country analysis and policy recommendations on the promotion of youth employment and warns of looming domestic and external risks posed by the continued economic crisis in the Eurozone area. This crisis threatens to constrain growth by lowering the demand for Africa’s exports, reduce tourism earnings and financial flows from foreign direct investment, Official Development Assistance and remittances, according to the report.
Emmanuel Nnadozie stated that challenges facing youth employment often vary across African countries and different income groups, he added, stressing the fact that in low-income countries, “youth in vulnerable employment and working poverty are the largest majority”, while “discouraged or inactive youth” are the most common group in middle-income countries.
He also said that the reports contains a series of policy recommendations, especially one which suggests that schools and training centers in Africa should provide youth with more on-job training opportunities, among other general and country-specific policy recommendations.
Also addressing participants at the launch, the UNDP Country Director for Ethiopia, Ms Alessandra Tisot, called the report “a reminder to African governments and policy makers to focus on removing obstacles to the many informal groups and support them to grow and create decent jobs”.
She identified challenges which need to be addressed and said they relate to “strengthening the link with different industries in the job market and providing practical skills, access to credit, microfinance easy access to information and technology to enhance employability”`.
She described the youth as “that domestic, national wealth to be tapped, provided we look at them as the vital sources for that equitable inclusive growth which brings stability, and productive sustainable growth”.
Africa’s youth population is not only growing rapidly, it is also getting better educated. Based on current trends, about 59pct of 20-24 year olds will have had secondary education in 2030, compared to 42pct today. With the number of youth in Africa set to double by 2045, creating productive jobs for young people will continue to pose an immense challenge, according to reports.