How East Africa's youth can create more employment opportunities


Despite agribusiness being a large sector of potential, traditional production and farming that young people engage in East Africa is not always enough of an incentive to stay in rural areas, this is one of the findings from the MasterCard Foundation and Restless Development research report.

The 10-month peer-to-peer conducted interview research conducted by 15 young people provides insights on youth economic opportunities in East Africa and comes on the back of less than appealing unemployment figures across Africa.

According to the foundation, the Youth Think Tank was established in 2012 to ensure that young people are engaged in improving their economic opportunities in Africa.


“Some of the key findings from their work looked around some of the challenges of transitioning into the labour market, specifically around skills mismatch, the choices that go into migrating from rural into urban areas, as well as a huge desire to be involved in some of the programmes and the policies that are impacting them,” said Steve Cummings, Senior Programme Manager for Youth Livelihoods at The MasterCard Foundation.

They also found that young people are committed to improving their skills by engaging in volunteer work and using information and technology to acquire them.

The youth in rural areas want to pursue opportunities in agriculture but have a limited access to finance and limited management skills.

Another obstacle faced is that despite the region’s government initiatives, some shortfalls exist – for instance, individual loans and training rather than group issued ones.

Cummings says they were looking for something specifically around skills training, internships, small business development and opportunities for young people for employment and start businesses that when young people interview their peers, they look specifically around what motivates them.

“To either stay in rural areas or migrate to urban centres, and some of the traditional production and farming that young people were engaged in was not always a huge incentive to stay in rural areas but when they had the opportunity to look at agro-processing and agro-business value addition, then there was incentives to stay in rural areas build up businesses.”

He observed that the jobs that young people were looking at in urban areas were more services based but also highly informal leading them to face pressures from government and others that were trying to mitigate that level of informality.

He believes there was a lot of thought given by young people when it came to deciding to stay in a rural area or migrate to the urban areas.

Some of the barriers to youth succeeding in the sector are gender inequality and lack of access to resources and information but the foundation has been partnering with organisations across Africa to provide training for young people to allow them opportunities within the labour market said Cummings.

“What is unique about this research is that it is youth-led and the people involved came up with the research questions, they came up and were supported in the development methodology,” he said.

He adds that this will feed into a broader process that informs policymakers on how to develop effective programmes, based on what the youth want to see in the programmes that affect them.