Southern Africa has the highest unemployment levels in Africa

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Persistently high levels of youth unemployment in Southern Africa pose a threat to regional peace and stability, a new report by the African Development Bank (AfDB) shows. 

Titled “Coping with the COVID-19 pandemic”, the report found that compared with other regions, “Southern Africa has the highest unemployment levels, averaging 12,5 percent between 2011 and 2019, followed by North Africa averaging 11,8 percent over the same period.” 

Warning that increasing levels of unemployment do not bode well for the region’s peace and stability, the AfDB says: “In terms of youth unemployment, more countries are struggling. Nine out of the 13 countries experienced double digit youth unemployment levels, with the worst-affected countries being South Africa (53,2 percent), Eswatini (47,4 percent), Namibia (44,8 percent), Botswana (37,5 percent), and Lesotho (33 percent). Youth unemployment rates were generally double the average levels.” 

Madagascar had the least youth unemployment in 2019; while Zambia, Madagascar, Malawi, Lesotho and Mozambique significantly reduced youth unemployment between 2011 and 2019, the report says.

“Countries that experienced an increase in youth unemployment include Namibia, Mauritius, South Africa, Botswana and Angola,” says the AfDB.  “Overall, the high level of unemployment, especially among the youth, is due to inadequate skills, skills mismatch, limited economic diversification, and low absorption capacity of industries, growth models driven by capital intensive sectors (eg diamonds in Botswana), a lack of functional institutions, slow economic growth, and a lack of pro-employment macro-economic policies.”

The AfDB recommends employment creation be mainstreamed in all national (fiscal, monetary and economic blue-prints) and sectoral policies.

“However, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment is likely to escalate especially in the hardest hit sectors such as tourism and hospitality, entertainment, retail and trade and agriculture, where most of the people in the region are employed,” the report states.

It says SMEs and the informal economy in general – big employers in several SADC countries – have been negatively affected by national lockdowns and slowdown in business activity occasioned by the pandemic.

“Without government support, the majority of workers are at risk of losing jobs, thus, compounding the unemployment statistics,” the report notes.