Count­ing Africa’s in­vis­i­ble work­ers

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

sec­tor ac­tors, must de­velop meth­ods for un­der­stand­ing how the in­for­mal econ­omy works and how it can be im­proved. Only then will it be pos­si­ble to ad­dress un­em­ploy­ment and poverty ef­fec­tively and un­lock the po­ten­tial of Africa’s youth.

To be sure, some high-po­ten­tial ap­proaches are al­ready ap­par­ent. The Al­liance for a Green Revo­lu­tion in Africa re­ports that, though the con­ti­nent boasts 60% of the world’s un­cul­ti­vated land, it spends $60 bil­lion per year on food im­ports. In­vest­ing in the devel­op­ment of Africa’s agri­cul­tural re­sources is thus a no-brainer.

Young peo­ple could play a cen­tral role in that ef­fort. By iden­ti­fy­ing and in­vest­ing in those parts of agri­cul­tural value peo­ple by pro­vid­ing skills like dig­i­tal lit­er­acy. Such skills en­able young peo­ple to move not only out of the in­for­mal sec­tor, but also out of un­de­sir­able for­mal jobs, such as in South Africa’s pri­vate-se­cu­rity in­dus­try, which em­ploys more than 412,000 peo­ple.

The in­dus­try has faced crit­i­cism for poor work­ing con­di­tions; even where that is not the case, it does not de­velop the types of skills that can sup­port sta­ble and sus­tain­able eco­nomic growth.

As more peo­ple gain the skills and ac­cess the op­por­tu­ni­ties to fill pro­duc­tive jobs in the for­mal sec­tor, where they are reg­is­tered and rec­og­nized, gov­ern­ments will get a bet­ter sense of the labour mar­ket.

But to max­imise the ef­fec­tive­ness of ef­forts to pro­vide those skills and op­por­tu­ni­ties, not to men­tion en­sur­ing that those who re­main in the in­for­mal sec­tor are not in­vis­i­ble, ini­tia­tives aimed di­rectly at im­prov­ing data col­lec­tion are also needed.

One such ini­tia­tive is the Africa Pro­gramme on Ac­cel­er­ated Im­prove­ment of Civil Reg­is­tra­tion and Vi­tal Statis­tics, which was for­mally launched in 2011. While it may not pro­vide in­stant re­sults, it be­gins to lay the ground­work for the devel­op­ment and im­ple­men­ta­tion of pro­grammes based on hard data about African pop­u­la­tions.

Re­duc­ing un­em­ploy­ment and poverty are not the re­spon­si­bil­ity of gov­ern­ments alone. Pri­vate-sec­tor ac­tors and or­di­nary ci­ti­zens can also help.

For ex­am­ple, we can sup­port in­for­mal ac­tiv­i­ties, such as waste re­cy­cling, that give low-skill young peo­ple a chance to earn money. And we can en­cour­age and fa­cil­i­tate ap­pren­tice­ships that pro­vide tech­ni­cal skills and op­por­tu­ni­ties for civic ed­u­ca­tion.

Africa has ad­dressed com­plex and far-reach­ing prob­lems be­fore. For ex­am­ple, the HIV/AIDS epi­demic, which once seemed in­sur­mount­able, has now largely been brought un­der con­trol. The key to tack­ling that chal­lenge was co­op­er­a­tion among gov­ern­ments, devel­op­ment part­ners, and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties in col­lect­ing, pro­cess­ing, and us­ing data to ad­just strate­gies.

We should be do­ing the same to ad­dress the job short­age. If Africa’s economies are to ab­sorb the 122 mil­lion young peo­ple ex­pected to en­ter the labour force in the next few years, we must get the ac­count­ing right – start­ing now.

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