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The dire issue of youth unemployment

The dire issue of youth unemployment

Bereket Gebru 09-08-16

Amidst the recent violence in parts of Amhara and Oromia, the executive committee of the ruling party EPRDF took the time to review the past fifteen years. Its assessment of the period was mixed with exciting achievements on one hand and threatening realities on the other. In light of the recent unrest in large parts of the country, the party conceded that there have been not enough opportunities created for the youth that make up a whopping 70% of the population.

The analysis makes sense as the protests in various towns and cities across the country mainly feature the youth. For all the absence of identifiable leaders in the recent protests, the huge influence of the demographic group is unmistakable. As has been admitted by the EPRDF and largely witnessed by the people, the youth are making their disappointment known.  

As a result, the government has been trying to engage the youth in a dialogue to change the existing problems for the better. From the news items aired recently on the issue, one can infer that the main aspect of this engagement targets creating more employment opportunities for members of this demographic group so that they would have better lives and hopes.

In light of this recent reality and the key role youth employment is expected to play in the sustained political and economic stability of the country, let’s take a closer look at the plight of the youth and the possible solutions to the chronic problem of youth unemployment.

Youth unemployment and underemployment

The “trading economics” website cites the central statistical agency of Ethiopia as stating that the unemployment rate in Ethiopia decreased to 16.80 percent in 2015 from 17.40 percent in 2014. “Unemployment rate in Ethiopia averaged 19.88 percent from 1999 until 2015, reaching an all time high of 26.40 percent in 1999 and a record low of 16.80 percent in 2015.” With unemployment rates the highest among the youth as compared with other age groups in the working section of the population, the rate would obviously go up even further than the figure stated above.

Within youth unemployment is embedded urban and rural youth unemployment. In this respect, there is a general understanding that unemployment is an urban problem. This notion is, for instance, reflected by a research paper entitled: “Youth Unemployment: Ethiopia Country Study.” The study states:”…the country’s unemployment rate is driven almost entirely by unemployment in urban areas. While unemployment appears to be an urban problem, the proportion of employed Ethiopians who were underemployed was present in both rural and urban areas.”


Others, however, call this a misguided approach. In an article entitled: “Youth Unemployment in Ethiopia: An Overview,” Hiruy Wubie who teaches employment law, human rights law and land law argues that the case of urban and rural unemployment has to be separately considered as the causes and effects are different. “The rural youth population is incomparably higher than the urban one. If we take the often cited urban-rural population ratio in Ethiopia, we can say the rural youth constitute more than 80 percent of the youth population in Ethiopia.”


Hiruy goes on to argue:


Since the rural youth is predominantly engaged in agriculture, I believe that the unemployment issue has to be considered from the point of view of access to rural land. The Ethiopian constitution has made land and natural resources out of the private domain. One among the justifications why private ownership of land is constitutionally condemned is to create job opportunities to the landless youth by providing land by way of redistribution. However, redistribution is not being done in many parts of Ethiopia. There are regions where it has not totally happened since the regime change in 1991. Even in regions where this has been done, two decades have already passed. This means the new generation does not have first hand access to rural land to earn its leaving which is the most significant means of employment.


With regard to unemployment in urban areas, Hiruy argues that both the public and private sectors have a very limited labor absorbing capacity. “Years before it was only those who couldn’t find university degrees who had difficulties in getting jobs. By now even those with a masters degree are in trouble to get employed. It is not very uncommon to see university graduates without a job for two years or more.”


His argument holds water as the EBC reported of a recent survey in Addis Ababa indicating that there are 135,000 unemployed people in the city, 20,000 of whom are graduates of higher education institutions. The reality is that there are unemployed graduates in all regional states. With the wide ranging expansion of access to education throughout the country in the past fifteen years, millions of Ethiopians have accessed higher education. The country produces hundreds of thousands of graduates from its universities. Considering the soaring individual, familial and social expectation that follows completion of higher education, the subsequent unemployment and underemployment definitely causes some serious disappointment.


Even the majority of the employed do not make enough money to lead their own lives let alone help out their families. Especially in Addis Ababa where the rent and the rest of life’s expenses are eye wateringly expensive, it is extremely challenging for a young graduate to start life independently.


Effects of youth unemployment


What such a condition does to young graduates is that it eats away their hope of a better tomorrow and the energy to serve society. Their focus entirely becomes finding a short cut to financial success. The enthusiasm for social justice that characterizes fresh graduates fades with the increasing urge for financial success as their principles make room for personal gain no matter how.


Hiruy pointed out some effects of youth unemployment that seem very relevant to the current condition in the country. These include:  


ü  The immediate effect of rural youth unemployment is starvation of the youth and their family;

ü  In rural areas a young person who does not have land cannot establish a family. Similarly, an unemployed young person in urban centers cannot do the same. This will inevitably be a source of very serious social problems in the foreseeable future;

ü  It seriously affects the country’s economy;

ü  It makes the youth vulnerable to substance abuse;

ü  It makes the youth hopeless in education. If the educated can not get a job, the children of today couldn’t imagine a future worth suffering in the educational world. This in the long term affects the future of our continent;

ü  Unemployed youth can easily be manipulated for any cause of which one could be armed groups rebelling against governments. This will take our continent to the vicious circle of civil war and instability.


The way to solve youth unemployment in rural areas, according to Hiruy, has to do with ensuring access to rural land by the unemployed youth. In cities, it has to do with creating job opportunities for fresh graduates.

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