Employment, Under-employment and Unemployment in Africa

Lionel Stanbrook
10 October 2019

Africa’s fast-growing markets should be producing far more commercial opportunities for its businesses and yielding far more jobs for its people, but they are not. If there is genuine economic growth occurring in Africa’s major cities then current data and the view from the street are not reflecting it. Jobless growth haunts the cities of Africa.

Around 60% of Africa’s population is younger than 25 years old, and the average African continues to get younger. Each year, between 12 and 14 million young people enter the labour market, while only between 2 and 3 million of these find jobs. The vast majority of the others are severely underemployed, with many completely unemployed, and only a tiny minority of these appear in the official statistics. Official figures for unemployment in Africa are highly unreliable, with many even unusable, since the majority of all those who do some sort of work (in itself, a large majority) either cannot do so regularly, or are seasonal or temporary, are without contracts, or are paid in arrears, with many owed back pay for several months because of the informality of the arrangements. Even formal employment can be tenuous, fragile and temporary.

The ILO claims that 85.8% of employment in Africa is informal. This makes a nonsense of any national “official” unemployment figures, which in most African countries are apparently in single figures. The rate for the Cote d’Ivoire is a hilarious 2.6% of the adult population, that of Niger 0.2%. It is impossible to find the line dividing the two conditions of unemployment and underemployment.

People speak of the promise of the demographic dividend, but the scrip must be cashed to be valuable – the potential must be realised. Employing the continent’s youth is a major challenge not just for Africa but for the world, because the thousands of young Africans who annually try to migrat