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The Challenge of the Youth Bulge in Africa and the Middle East

Education and Employment in Sub-Saharan Africa

Surely one of the greatest challenges emanating from the African continent today is how to ensure that the burgeoning youth population, or "Youth Bulge", can be directed towards becoming positive demographic dividends. The alternative, that such an explosion in the youth population caused by countries achieving reduced infant mortality while maintaining high birth rates, might worsen the socio-economic environment and even lead to radicalisation and violence, which is a scenario most would agree is to be avoided with the utmost of effort. For this reason, the NSD-S Hub embarked on a tri-paper project tackling three fundamental aspects of the Youth Bulge.

This paper deals with the challenge of education, job skills development and youth unemployment over the next 30 years in Africa and the Middle East with a specific focus on Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). While this focus does not imply diminished importance of the youth bulge across Africa and the Middle East as a whole, it is intended to highlight the phenomenon where, for the next three decades, it is likely to be the most extreme and creating the greatest cause for concern, therefore being the most relevant for NATO.

The analysis highlights that the demographic transition path SSA is following has not been experienced by any other major region before, in the sense that growth rates will remain higher for longer, which leads to a considerable increase in the total population. In this respect, the countries concerned will not only have to generate significant growth in gross domestic product (GDP), but also ensure sufficient employment to facilitate the social integration of the new arrivals. Thus the development of the education sector is an essential lever for these countries and the exceptional nature of this demographic transition means that new solutions must be identified.

In order to maximise the demographic dividend, each country will need to invest massively in its education system in order to 1) increase access to education; 2) improve the quality of the education provided, in particular so that young people's skills match market expectations; and 3) increase social inclusion.


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