“African gov­ern­ments, with the help of pri­vate-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 po

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

The bil­lions of dol­lars in aid de­liv­ered to Africa an­nu­ally may do the con­ti­nent much good, but it can­not de­liver a so­lu­tion to poverty. Only cre­at­ing more high-qual­ity jobs can do that. The ques­tion is how.

Africa boasts a large and cre­ative la­bor pool, but­tressed by a youth pop­u­la­tion that is ex­pected to dou­ble, to over 830 mil­lion, by 2050. That should be a boon for economies across the con­ti­nent.

But African pol­i­cy­mak­ers con­front a se­ri­ous prob­lem: they do not know how many peo­ple they are deal­ing with, where they live, or how they earn a liv­ing. Sim­ply put, they don’t have enough data.

In 46 of 54 African coun­tries, of­fi­cial track­ing of vi­tal statis­tics such as birth, mar­riage, and death is lim­ited. As the Mo Ibrahim Foun­da­tion re­ports, only “a third of all Africans live in a coun­try where a cen­sus has been con­ducted since 2010,” and the cen­sus pro­grammes that do ex­ist are of­ten un­der­funded and un­re­li­able. More than half of all Africans live in coun­tries that have not con­ducted a la­bor-force sur­vey in at least a decade.

Mean­while, young Africans are largely work­ing in the in­for­mal econ­omy, where they en­ter into ad hoc ar­range­ments that lie be­yond the purview of govern­ment reg­u­la­tion and tax­a­tion. They may be do­ing pro­duc­tive work, but in economies where in­for­mal­ity is ef­fec­tively in­sti­tu­tion­alised, ow­ing to a lack of data-col­lec­tion mech­a­nisms.

With­out an ac­cu­rate pic­ture of the state of the labour mar­ket, gov­ern­ments are ham­strung in their abil­ity to re­spond to the chal­lenges af­flict­ing it. Ini­tia­tives aimed at re­duc­ing youth un­em­ploy­ment, while nu­mer­ous, can only be so ef­fec­tive if we don’t know which types of jobs al­ready ex­ist and which are needed. With an es­ti­mated 122 mil­lion peo­ple ex­pected to join the African work­force by 2022, keeping up with la­bor trends – and de­liv­er­ing enough good jobs – will only be­come more dif­fi­cult.

Bring­ing the pic­ture into sharper fo­cus through im­proved data col­lec­tion does not mean sim­ply im­i­tat­ing the labour­track­ing meth­ods used in OECD coun­tries, where the in­for­mal econ­omy does not ac­count for such a high share of em­ploy­ment.

In­stead, African gov­ern­ments, with the help of pri­vate- chains where young peo­ple can con­trib­ute, African lead­ers can cre­ate de­cent for­mal job op­por­tu­ni­ties in, say, light man­u­fac­tur­ing for rel­a­tively low-skill work­ers. Only a small amount of skills train­ing would be re­quired to lift work­ers – such as the 120 now em­ployed at a tomato paste fac­tory in Nige­ria – from the bot­tom of the value chain.

Another promis­ing ap­proach is ex­em­pli­fied by Jo­han­nes­burg’s Vulindlel’ eJozi pro­gram, which aims to elim­i­nate bar­ri­ers to en­try-level em­ploy­ment for young

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