Ruth Rono graduated from Chuka University, Kenya, in 2015 with first-class honours. Without a job after many years of trying, Rono was forced to take menial jobs such as working on people’s farms. Down south, Banji Robert bagged a bachelor’s degree in economics and mathematics from the University of Zambia in 2016 and would have gladly accepted an entry-level job in one of those fields. Two years later, without success, a frustrated Robert is now a cashier in a grocery store. “It is not easy to pay bills, let alone start a family,” Robert, 25, told Africa Renewal. “The pressure is too much when you have education but no job.”
A graduate of development studies, Robert Sunday Ayo, 26, finds himself in a similar situation. “It is sad and very frustrating that it is not possible to find work, even with my kind of résumé,” he says regretfully, adding that he now drives a taxi in Abuja, Nigeria. Africa Renewal interviewed dozens of young people across the continent who expressed dismay that their education is not propelling them toward their career aspirations.
One of the reasons for graduate unemployment is that “far too many youths across sub-Saharan Africa emerge from school without the basic skills to advance in their lives,” says Siddarth Chatterjee, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Kenya. “It means there is something not working regarding investment in education.” In general, some 60% of Africa’s unemployed are youth, according to the World Bank, and many are resorting to crime, radicalisation, or the often-perilous migration journey across the Mediterranean to Europe in search of greener pastures, says Chatterjee. And because of increasing automation, the situation for graduates could worsen in the coming years.
According to the Accra-based African Center for Economic Transformation, a policy think tank, almost 50% of current university graduates in Africa do not get jobs. The root cause of the problem is a mismatch between the education they are getting and labour market needs, maintains Sarah Anyang Agbor, the African Union (AU) Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology.
Joseph Odunga, who has taught mathematics in Kenya and Botswana, agrees. “The lessons we used to teach in the 1990s are the same course content we are teaching today,” he says, implying that current education curricula for some subjects are outdated.
That view is shared by Agbor, who says that, “It is generally true that in most countries [in Africa], education systems have been geared toward getting a qualification rather than acquiring skills and competences that will enhance successful integration into the world of work.”