The recent disclosure by the Director General of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), Jose Graziano da Silva, that African countries should create 12 million new jobs annually over the next 20 years to confront and halt ravaging unemployment on the continent, is a wake-up call on African governments.
African countries must heed to the advice of the FAO boss because unemployment, especially youth unemployment, remains a ticking time bomb, which may explode anytime with dire consequences. We are worried that successive governments in Africa are rather paying lip service to the unemployment problem instead of confronting it decisively.
Although unemployment challenge differs from country to country in Africa, its magnitude is high throughout the continent. While unemployment was hardly a problem in Libya under the late Muammar Gaddafi, the situation is not the same now that the country is suffering from instability. Most North African countries have less unemployment.
But, the unemployment situation elsewhere on the continent is dire. Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, has the most unemployment challenge. The Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) recently put the number of the unemployed as at Q3 2017 at 15.99 million and the underemployed at 18 million. The youth constitute about 40 per cent of the unemployed population
As a direct response to this challenge, millions of these youths brave the risk of voluntary enslavement in other countries in their search for greener pastures. Some of them travel through the risky Mediterranean Sea on their way to Europe. Some have died in the process.
There is hardly any justification for the grave unemployment situation on the continent. Government in Africa must create more jobs for the unemployed, especially in rural areas. The growing army of unemployed people in Africa must be gainfully engaged for the continent to develop. Africa cannot develop when those that constitute the active population are not working.
We agree that creating 12 million jobs over the next 20 years, which would translate to 240 million jobs, is a good starting point. African countries can even go beyond this estimation.
African governments must use agriculture to create more jobs and develop the continent. Agriculture remains the continent’s best route to full and gainful youth employment. But, to attain the laudable goal, a lot of attention and resources must be committed to rural and integrated infrastructural development and transformation.
In Nigeria, the government must seriously invest in agriculture, especially in rural areas to ensure that our youths are engaged. This is the right time to mechanise our agriculture and make it attractive to young people. In the First Republic, regional governments took agriculture seriously and made the necessary investments that made it the largest employer of labour and major contributor to our Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Farm settlements, complete with modern and enough infrastructure support were established in well-targeted parts of the country. Agriculture provided adequate employment for the rural populace and largely addressed the problem of unemployment.
What is needed now is a return to agriculture. For that to be feasible, basic modern infrastructure must be provided in the rural areas. These include transportation and communication facilities, adequate power, affordable and comfortable housing, access to land and cheap funds for agriculture.