Youth unemployment as an African Crisis: Somalia and Zimbabwe ‘better’ than many functional democracies

Youth unemployment as an African Crisis: Somalia and Zimbabwe ‘better’ than many functional democracies  

By Chris Zumani Zimba

1200px-Flag_of_the_African_Union.svg.pngAccording to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on 20th September, 2018, ‘by 2050 Africa’s young population, i.e., those aged between 0 and 24 years old, will increase by nearly 50%; making the continent with the largest number of young people, making up nearly twice the young population of South Asia and Southeast Asia, East Asia, and Oceania1. Speaking in Addis Ababa in April, 2019, the International Labour Organization (ILO) Assistant Director General and Regional Director for Africa, Cynthia Olonjuwon reported that “youth unemployment rate in Africa is expected to exceed 30% this year, and young people will continue to be 3.5 times more likely than adults to be unemployed”2.

According to the World Bank, ‘youth unemployment’ is defined as “the share of the labor force ages 15-24 without work but available for and seeking employment”3. Therefore, as we peruse and analyze the pattern of youth unemployment over two decades in the selected African countries, it is vital to bear in mind this definition as it is the basis of this article and all empirical facts cited thereof.

In his first state of the nation address since the ANC won May’s general election in South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa described the youth unemployment rate of 50% in his country as ‘a national crisis’4. But is this a South African crisis only? Should we simply say it is an African crisis? A perusal of the pattern and trends of youth unemployment in the following five (5) selected countries (currently with the highest levels in their descending order) based on the World Bank data between 1990s, 2000s and 2018 become useful:

  • Swaziland’s youth unemployment has grown from 34% in 1993 to 55% in 2018;
  • South Africa’s youth unemployment has evolved from 47% in 1990s, 32% in 1995, 57% in 2003 and 54% in 2018;
  • Namibia’s youth unemployment has grown from 41.3 in 1990s, 34.32% in 2012 to currently 47% in 2018;
  • Mozambique’s youth unemployment has grown from 38.28% in 1992, 43.2% in 2014 to 43% in 2018;  and
  • Libya’s youth unemployment has evolved from 44.36%, 38.4% in 2011, 47% in 2003 to 42% in 20185.

In the same vein, the World Bank data below show that the following five (5) countries have the lowest levels of youth unemployment in Africa over the same period to date:

  • Zambia’s youth unemployment has evolved from 37% in 1993, 22% in 2005, 27% in 2010 to 15% in 2018;
  • Somalia 11% from 1991 to 2013,  11% in 2014 to 10.9 in 2018;
  • Zimbabwe’s youth unemployment has evolved from 11% in 1991, 16% in 1997, 7% in 2005, to 8% from 2009 up to 2018;
  • Rwanda’ s youth unemployment has grown from 0.4% in 1991, 1% in 2001, 4% in 2012 to 2% in 2018; and
  • Niger’s youth unemployment has been controlled around 10% in 1991, 5% in 2000, 0.5% in 2011 to 0.5% in 20185.

Strange enough as empirically shown, Zimbabwe and Somalia are currently doing better than many functional states, Zambia, Ghana or Tanzania apart from South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique as cited above. Does the state and scope of youth unemployment have a bearing on the state of political stability and democratization? From this data, it is difficult to tell and conclude in the affirmative bearing in mind the cases of Somalia and Zimbabwe.  However, generally, high unemployment levels have a direct negative influence on the political stability of a given state. The “Arab springs” or revolutions of 2011 to 2019 in Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria and Sudan speak to valid this hypothesis6.

youth in Africa.jpgAccording to the World Bank, youths account for 60% of all of Africa’s jobless7. The bank adds that ‘Africa’s unemployment statistics exclude those in vulnerable employment and those who are under-employed in informal sectors’. The Brookings Institution Report of 2018 highlights that “more than 70% of the youth in the “Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Rwanda, Senegal and Uganda are either self-employed or contributing to family work”7.  With 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa has the largest population of young people in the world even today.


  1. Brookings, (2019:1), accessed from  Retrieved on 20-06-2019
  2. 7 Day News, (2019:1), accessed from, Retrieved on 21-06-2019
  3. The World Bank, (2019:1) accessed from, “Youth unemployment – Country rankings”, retrieved on 20-06-2019
  4. BBC, (2019:1), “South African youth joblessness called a ‘national crisis”, accessed from  Retrieved on 22-06-2019
  5. World Bank, (2019:1), accessed from;
  6. History (2019:1), “Arab Spring” accessed from Retrieved 12-06-2019
  7. UN, (2019:1), accessed from Retrieved on18-06-2019

Chris Zumani Zimba is a prolific Zambian Political Scientist, Policy Analyst, Author, Blogger, PhD Scholar, Researcher, Consultant, Public Health and Tobacco Control Advocate. So far, he has authored more than 10 political and academic books as well as published over 100 well researched articles. or; +260 973 153 815 for calls or WhatsApp. This article is made possible by Centre for Multiple Democracies, Good Governance and Peace (MDGGP) under Chrizzima Democracy University (CDU). But the views are attributed to the author and not CDU.  




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