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Sustainable job growth is key to poverty reduction in Africa: UN report

Sustainable job growth is key to poverty reduction in Africa: UN report

Despite strong economic growth from higher prices for oil and other commodities, high unemployment remains endemic in Africa and poverty will not be arrested until millions of new jobs are created each year, according to a new UN report.

“The creation of decent jobs that can be performed by poor people is the single most effective way to reduce poverty in Africa,” said K.Y. Amoako the former Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). According to ECA, some 8 million jobs must be created each year to satisfy the growing number of job seekers.

In its annual Economic Report on Africa 2005, released today and entitled “Meeting the Challenges of Unemployment and Poverty in Africa,” ECA says that the region’s economic growth increased to 4.6 per cent in 2004, a significant improvement over the mid-1990s, when it averaged less than 3 per cent.

ECA attributes this to governments’ improved economic management, better performance of the agricultural sector and more stable political conditions in many countries.

However despite higher growth, average unemployment rates have remained at around 10 per cent since 1995, the second highest in the world after the Middle East. The actual situation is worse since the official statistics in many countries count people who are working in the informal sector as “employed” even though most earn very little.

The most visible consequence of such high unemployment is growing poverty in Africa. At least 61 million more Africans go hungry today than in 1990, ECA reports. Between 1994 and 2004, the number of workers living on less than a dollar a day increased by 28 million in sub-Saharan Africa.

Young people are 3.5 times more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the labour force, the study says. There is evidence that they often turn to crime, become child fighters or leave to migrate to neighbouring countries or to industrialized nations.

To redress the situation, the report states, that donors should forgive debt, increase their official development assistance, and, critically, support universal education in Africa.

“Basic skills in today’s global economy are not limited to the ability to read and count, they also include computer literacy,” said Janvier Nkurunziza, a senior economist at ECA. Countries like Burundi have announced that they would like to make primary education free but do not have the money to do so.

“The international community recognizes that education for all is a good policy. They need to support it,” he said.