PESA
Youth Unemployment and Empowerment in SADC

Youth Unemployment and Empowerment in SADC

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has a growing, young population. Almost three-quarters of the 274 million people living in the region are below 35 years of age (approx. 200 million)[1]. At a regional level 34.7% of the population are between the ages of 15 and 34 and 19.1% of the population is between 15 and 24[2]. This means that the region is ready and offer best conditions to exploit successfully the demographic dividend.

Table 1: SADC Youth Population, Share of Total (2018)

Source: UNCTAD 2019. UNCTADStat Database, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development: Geneva. Available At: https://unctadstat.unctad.org/ [Last Accessed: 16 May 2019].

The demographic dividend is “the economic growth potential that can result from shifts in a population’s age structure, mainly when the share of the working-age population (15 to 64) is larger than the non-working-age share of the population”[3]. Importantly, demographic dividend is driven by indicators including good health, quality education, decent employment and a lower proportion of young dependents (children and teenagers under 15 and presumable retirees and elders over 65). This will result in economic growth and sustainable development, assuming all or most of the working age population is economically active or employed. This is the central challenge undermining the potential of the demographic dividend in the SADC region.

Between 1995 and 2018 the average underemployment rate of people between 15 and 24 years old particularly has been 22.8%[4]. SADC policymakers have recognised the need to economically empower the youth in the objectives of the Article 5 (1) of the SADC Treaty, that places productive employment and effective utilisation of the region’s resources at the centre of the region’s development[5]. However, the high youth unemployment rate shows that SADC leaders have failed to honour these commitments. If this trend continues SADC will not be able to fully achieve its economic potential and could face increased political instability.

Policymakers are aware of the issue and the main theme of 38th Ordinary SADC Summit of the Heads of State and Government in August 2018 was “Promoting Infrastructure Development and Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development”[6]. The impact of the deliberations made during the Summit remains to be seen. SADC has worked with the New Partnerships for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) to create a number of programmes aimed at empowering the youth such as the: Agriculture Technical Vocational Education and Training; NEPAD Climate Change Fund; Southern African Network for Biosciences; Africa Power Vision; PIDA; PICI; Sustainable Energy 4 All and Capacity Development programmes[7]. However, it is difficult to assess the degree of implementation and the outcomes of these initiatives in SADC, because they largely rely on how individual member countries implement them.

Table 2: SADC Youth Unemployment Rates (1995-2018)

Source: ILO 2019. ILOStat Database, International Labour Organisation: Geneva. Available at https://data.worldbank.org/ [Last Accessed: 11 April 2019]. Note: (*) There is not data available from the Seychelles with regards to youth unemployment.

Similarly, the SADC’s partnership with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has created a number of educational programmes which can help address the issues of youth unemployment through Technical and Vocational Education and Training, and Science, Technology and Innovation programmes[8]. In addition, the UNESCO-SADC programmes involve youth in projects addressing social issues such as HIV and health education, water security, renewable energy, and disaster risk management. These initiatives also focus on creating jobs in the culture and tourism and communications and information technology sectors[9]. However, as with the NEPAD programmes, results have varied between countries and, in order to understand the true extent of the problem of youth unemployment in SADC, one needs to look at each country in the region in more detail.

The average youth underemployment rates in different SADC countries from 2016 and 2018 suggests that Madagascar has the lowest rate of youth underemployment at 2.8% in spite of it increasing 2.7% in 2016 to 5.0% in 2018. Madagascar is followed by Tanzania at 3.5% which increased to 4.8% in 2018 (2016: 3.4%); Mozambique at 6.9% which increased to 6.8% in 2018 (2016: 6.7%); Malawi at 7.3% despite increasing to 9.0% in 2018 (2016: 7.2%); the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at 7.8% which decreased to 6.9% in 2018 (2016: 8.0%) and Zimbabwe at 8.3% which increased to 9.0% in 2018 (2016: 8.2%). All the above-mentioned countries have maintained or achieved youth underemployment rates below 10.0% despite having a low score on the Human Development Indices[10]. This suggests that these countries have a sufficiently low rate of youth underemployment, which has allowed them to take advantage of the demographic dividend. All the countries, except for the DRC, have seen an increase in youth underemployment. In the case of the DRC, the improvements in youth underemployment may reflect the initial benefit of easing domestic political tensions since the most recent presidential elections or lower population growth rates exceeding GDP growth amongst the youth.

Four of the five countries mentioned above performed within the top five in SADC for GDP growth from 2010 to 2015[11]. The DRC, Mozambique and Zimbabwe achieved an average GDP growth rate above 7.0% from 2010 to 2015, and Tanzania achieved an average GDP growth rate of 6.8%. Similarly, four of the five countries are amongst the top five projected GDP growth for 2017 to 2022[12]. Due to the relatively lower youth underemployment, these countries have been able to achieve the top GDP growth rates in SADC. In addition, these countries have also taken advantage of the demographic dividend to lower youth underemployment.

South Africa has had the highest level of youth underemployment in SADC at 52.9% in 2018 (1995: 52.5%)[13]. South Africa is followed by eSwatini at 44.2% in 2018 (1995: 41.2%), Namibia at 44.4% (1995: 39.7%) and Botswana at 37.1% (1995: 37.2%), and who have all struggled to keep their youth underemployment rates below a third of their working age youth. Lesotho is next amongst the worst countries with a youth underemployment rate of 33.2% but its underemployment has declined considerably (1995: 51.3%). These high youth underemployment rates affecting South Africa, Botswana, eSwatini and Namibia reflect the generally poor GDP growth performance in the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) area. Four of the five SACU countries are amongst the lowest performing SADC countries in terms of GDP growth. From 2010 to 2015, all the SACU countries achieved GDP growth rates below 5.0% except for Botswana and Namibia[14].

Youth empowerment in South Africa encompasses a process of increasing capacity to influence behaviour, emotions and lifestyle. In this process, youth are equipped with knowledge, skills and competencies to enable them overcome challenges associated with education, unemployment health and poverty in particular[15]. Despite policy imperatives on youth development captured in policy documents including the National Youth Policy (2015-2020); the National Youth Development Agency Act (2008); the Youth Employment Accord; the Employment Tax Incentive Act to mention but a few, current trends suggest that there has been little progress[16]. A scenario leading to mixed feelings. On the one hand, there is recognition of efforts that are being made to change the course of history and the negative trends attached to the process of youth empowerment along the years. On the other hand, the current level of youth underemployment outlines and points to little impact of such efforts on the ground questioning thus the effectiveness of such policies. An adequate and appropriate response should involve a review of the ways in which these policies are formulated and the efficiency in the implementation process.

The South Africa case is an example of how many countries in SADC are struggling to make local initiatives to address its high rate of youth unemployment count and even countries who report low youth unemployment rates may still need to focus their energies on providing more opportunities to youth who are not full-time students.

In terms of reducing youth underemployment, Angola achieved the largest improvement at 16.9% in 2015 (2000: 53.2%)[17]. Angola’s success is largely due to the end of the Angolan Civil War in 2002 and the booming oil industry. In fact, youth contribution during the period particularly between 2009 and 2014, helped invigorate various subsectors of the country’s economy which ultimately registered significant growth. These include electricity (with an annual average growth of 44.0%), banking and insurance (22.0%), telecommunications (18.7%), transport (11.6%) as opposed to agriculture and public administration which registered an annual average growth of only 1.9% and 0.6% respectively[18]. This is most likely because of less involvement of youth in these sectors. Such is an example of how to harness demographic dividend. However, youth underemployment has increased slightly in Angola since the oil price crashed in 2014 registering an annual average growth rate of 16.9% over the last three years[19].

The Angolan government put in place youth empowerment strategies such as human resource development (HRD) as a response to the growing underemployment rate registered in the country over the last four years. HRD is to ensure access to inclusive education, quality and equitable, and to promote lifelong learning for all. The aim is to substantially increase the number of youths with relevant qualifications, technical and professional skills, for employment and most importantly entrepreneurship[20]. Considering its multi and cross dimensional nature, HRD is being implemented through an inter-ministerial commission which include the Ministry of Basic Education and Training; Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation; Ministry of Public Administration Ministry of Labour and Social Security; Ministry of Territorial Administration and State Reform; Ministry of Economy and Planning[21]. The strategy is under execution and time will tell how effective the strategy was with regard to youth empowerment.

Madagascar also registered a significant improvement with respect to youth underemployment sitting at 2.7% in 2018 (1995: 9.2%). In fact, youth empowerment in Madagascar entails enabling the youth to cope with the demands and constraints of a modern society, develop a sense of responsibility and mutual assistance amongst the youth, prevent the youth from any form of exploitation and social exclusion, the promotion of nationalism and love for Madagascar cultural and moral values amongst other things[22]. In this respect a multi sectorial task force integrating various ministries namely Health; Food; Education (education, culture, leisure); Employment; Migration (habitat and environment) and Integration (institutional framework and advocacy) has been working and produced youth-oriented programmes that are being implemented at the national, provincial and local levels[23]. These include the Ministry of Youth and Sports[24]. Such is an example of how to make local initiatives to address the high rate of youth unemployment count.

In summary, youth underemployment is the main obstacle to achieving the benefits of the demographic dividend in SADC. The average rate of youth underemployment has been persistently above 20.0% for the last 24 years in SADC. In order for governments to eliminate youth underemployment and take advantage of the demographic dividend they need to invest in improving human capital and encourage youth involvement in the economy. Unless SADC leaders are committed to improving youth economic involvement, and the region will not be able to effectively exploit the demographic dividend to promote broader economic and social development. If not addressed meaningfully, the current status of youth underemployment in SADC will go from bad to worse. However, the success of Angola and Madagascar within the region illustrates the possibilities for policymakers in the region to exploit the demographic dividend which depends on making significant gains in improving the lot of young people in SADC.

By Ken Kalala Ndalamba


[1] SADC 2016. SADC Youth Employment Promotion Policy Framework (2016). Southern African Development Community: Gaborone Available At: https://extranet.sadc.int/ [Last Accessed: 22 April 2019]. It should be noted that in SADC and other African regions a youth is defined as a person between the ages of 15 and 34, whereas the United Nations and other international organisations define youths as being between the ages of 15 and 24. This can lead to confusion when it comes to understanding the degree of youth unemployment in the continent but both definitions point to a similar trend. From here on out we will use the UN definition of youths, unless explicitly stated.
[2] See Table 1.
[3] UNFP 2016. Demographic Dividend, on the United Nations Population Fund Website, viewed on 18 June 2019, from https://www.unfpa.org/.
[4] See Table 2. It should be noted that the unemployment rate consists of the number of unemployed persons as a share of the labour according to the United Nations and other international organisations definition whereas underemployment rate includes even discourage or structurally unemployed people. On this basis, data presented speak to the trend of underemployment rate which is higher than unemployment.
[5] SADC 2016. SADC Youth Employment Promotion Policy Framework (2016), ibid.
[6] SADC 2018. Announcement of the 38th SADC Summit in Windhoek, Namibia, on the Southern African Development Community Website, viewed on 15 April 2019, from https://www.sadc.int/.
[7] NEPAD 2016. Southern African Development Community (SADC), on the New Partnership for Africa’s Development Website, viewed on 15 April 2019, from https://www.nepad.org/.
[8] UNESCO 2017. UNESCO-SADC Cooperation 2017, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization: Paris. Available At: http://www.unesco.org/ [Last Accessed: 15 April 2019].
[9] UNESCO 2017. UNESCO-SADC Cooperation 2017, ibid.
[10] UNDP 2018a. Human Development Indices and Indicators 2018 Statistical Update, United Nations Development Programme: New York. Available at http://hdr.undp.org/ [Last Accessed: 5 May 2019].
[11] PESA 2017. Impact of Slow Global Growth in SADC, on the Political Economy Southern Africa Website, viewed on 20 June 2019, from https://politicaleconomy.org.za/.
[12] PESA 2017. Impact of Slow Global Growth in SADC, ibid.
[13] ILO 2019. ILOStat Database, International Labour Organisation: Geneva. Available at https://data.worldbank.org/ [Last Accessed: 11 April 2019].
[14] PESA 2017. Impact of Slow Global Growth in SADC, ibid.
[15] Buntu, B. & Lehmann, S. 2015. Youth Policy Field and Institutional Analyses at Municipal Level in South Africa, South African Cities Network: Braamfontein. Available At: http://www.sacities.net/ [Last Accessed: 16 July 2019].
[16] PoZA 2015. National Youth Policy 2015-2020, Presidency of South Africa: Pretoria. Available At https://www.gov.za/ [Last Accessed: 18 June 2019]; GoZA 2009. No. 54 of 2008: National Youth Development Agency Act, 2008, Government of South Africa: Pretoria. Available At: https://www.gov.za/ [Last Accessed:17 July 2019]; GoZA 2013a. The Youth Employment Accord, Government of South Africa: Pretoria. Available At: https://www.gov.za/ [Last Accessed:17 July 2019]; GoZA 2013b. Employment Tax Incentive Act 2013, Government of South Africa: Pretoria. Available At: https://www.gov.za/ [Last Accessed:17 July 2019].
[17] See Table 2.
[18] GoAO 2018. Plano de Desenvolvimento Nacional 2018-2022, Government of Angola: Luanda. Available At www.mep.gov.ao/ [Last Accessed: 20 June 2019].
[19] IMF 2018. Angola: 2018 Article IV Consultation. International Monetary Fund: Washington, D.C. Accessed At: https://www.imf.org/ [Last Accessed: 21 May 2019]; See Table 2.
[20] GoAO 2018. Plano de Desenvolvimento Nacional 2018-2022, ibid.
[21] GoAO 2018. Plano de Desenvolvimento Nacional 2018-2022, ibid.
[22] GoMG 2004. Loi n° 2004-028 du 9 Septembre 2004 portant Politique Nationale de la Jeunesse, Government of Madagascar: Antanarivo. Available At http://www.mjs.gov.mg/ [Last Accessed: 17 July 2019].
[23] GoMG 2011. CIJ: Comité Interministériel pour la Jeunesse, Government of Madagascar: Antanarivo. Available At http://www.mjs.gov.mg/ [Last Accessed: 17 July 2019]; GoMG 2016a. Politique Nationale de la Jeunesse, Government of Madagascar: Antanarivo. Available At http://www.mjs.gov.mg/ [Last Accessed: 17 July 2019].
[24] GoMG 2016b. Réseau Service ami des jeunes, Government of Madagascar: Antanarivo. Available At http://www.mjs.gov.mg/ [Last Accessed: 17 July 2019]; GoMG 2016c. CJSOI, Government of Madagascar: Antanarivo. Available At http://www.mjs.gov.mg/ [Last Accessed: 17 July 2019].

Ken Kalala Ndalamba

Ken is a Senior Analyst at PESA.

Serge Basingene Hadisi

Serge is a Senior Analyst at PESA.

Tšepiso Augustinus Rantšo

Tsepiso is a Senior Analyst at PESA.

Ross Oliver Douglas

Ross is an Editor at PESA.

Charl Swart

Charl is an Editor at PESA.

Thabo Thandokuhle Sacolo

Thabo is a Senior Analyst at PESA.

Ken Kalala Ndalamba

Serge Basingene Hadisi

Tšepiso Augustinus Rantšo

Ross Oliver Douglas

Charl Swart

Thabo Thandokuhle Sacolo

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