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Youth Unemployment in the Great Lakes Region: A Challenge for Peacebuilding and Sustainable Development


Sebahara, P., Cizero Ntasano, E. 2014. Youth unemployment in the Great Lakes Region: A challenge for peacebuilding and sustainable development. GREAT insights Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 1. December 2014/January 2015.

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Youth unemployment is increasingly recognised as a driver of instability and violence in many African countries. Deeply concerned by this significant trend, the Heads of State and Government of the 12 Member States of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) (1) held a Special Summit on the theme “Fight against youth unemployment through infrastructure development and investment promotion” on 24th July 2014 in Nairobi, Kenya, where they adopted a Declaration in which they considered “the youth unemployment crisis as a disaster that can undermine our economies, threaten the peace and destabilise our institutions if it is not addressed”. (2) This article presents an analysis of lessons from ICGLR experience in setting up a policy framework for strengthening peacebuilding and identifying challenges to be addressed for its effective implementation.  

Youth unemployment as a driver of instability

Young people are potentially a tremendous force for change in conflict-affected countries, both positively and negatively. Accordingly, it has been suggested that large rates of youth unemployment make countries unstable in general and thus more prone to armed conflict. In a 2013 study by the African Development Bank (AfDB) on the effects of youth unemployment on political instability, the authors find empirical evidence that youth unemployment is significantly associated with an increase of the risk of political instability, particularly in countries where youth unemployment, as well as social inequalities and corruption are high. (3)  Indeed, there is a considerable body of literature that argues, both from theoretical and empirical perspectives, that unemployment is a driver for instability.

This is particularly relevant to many ICGLR Member States because, in recent years, they have directly or indirectly been impacted by political violence and conflict. The rate of youth unemployment, including those who have stopped actively seeking employment, stands at approximately 34% in many African countries. (4) Although empirical linkages between youth unemployment and violence remain somewhat contested (5), a large pool of youth cohorts can increase the risk of armed conflict as it may reduce recruitment costs for militia through the abundant supply of labour with low opportunity cost. (6) If young people are left with no alternative but unemployment and poverty, they are more likely to join a rebellion as an alternative way of generating an income. (7) Inequality can also play an important role. The mismatch between high rates of economic growth and job creation is widening income inequalities and ultimately fuelling social tensions. (8)

It is widely recognised in the broader development and peacebuilding literature that it is important to consider the relationship of identities, social cohesion and state legitimacy in fragile states. (9) Jobs can create economic and social ties and have the potential to build incentives to work across boundaries and resolve conflict. They can thus contribute to social cohesion, including how societies handle differences and manage tensions among different groups, and how they avoid and resolve conflicts. Employment may cause people to feel greater inclusion in a community either by generating higher levels of respect or through membership of professional groups, influence social cohesion through its effects on social identity, networks and fairness.

In sum, although the presence of a demographic bulge is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for violence, the presence of youth bulges does seem to increase the risk of conflict outbreak significantly; a conclusion that has important policy implications. We will concentrate below on the continental and the regional policy response in the Great Lakes Region.

Continental policy framework to address youth unemployment

African states have made significant progress in recognising the dire challenges and great opportunities that youth present in Africa. The Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) declared the period 2009 to 2018 as the “Decade on Youth Development in Africa” during the meeting held in January 2009, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (10) This was followed by the development of a Plan of Action for Youth Empowerment and Development in Africa, adopted by the Conference of Ministers in charge of Youth (COMY III) in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, in April 2010 which serves as a road map for implementing the African Youth Charter. Partner organisations have also been requested by the African Union Commission (AUC) to align their programming to the Decade’s Plan of Action, within the framework of the Charter. (11) In July 2011, the 17th AU Heads of State and Government Summit was held in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, on the theme of “Accelerating Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development”. The Summit deliberated on financing youth development and empowerment issues. It adopted a Declaration in which it was decided that AU Member States should advance the youth agenda and adopt policies and mechanisms for the creation of safe, decent, and competitive employment opportunities, by accelerating the implementation of the African Youth Decade Plan of Action (2009-2018). (12)

Following the commitment made by the African Heads of State at this African Union summit in Malabo, the Joint Youth Employment Initiative for Africa (JYEIA) was initiated on 11th April 2013, as a joint initiative by the AUC, the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the AfDB and the International Labour Organisation (ILO). (13)

ICGLR political commitment to tackle youth unemployment

A Comprehensive Regional Policy for promoting youth employment

Following a decision at the 4th Ordinary Summit of the ICGLR Heads of State and Government Summit held in Kampala, Uganda, on 15th and 16th December 2011, directing the ICGLR Regional Inter-ministerial Committee (RIMC) to discuss unemployment, particularly among the youth, and present the report to their respective Heads of State for relevant action, a study and consultations were conducted in 2012 and 2013 on the causes of unemployment and the status of initiatives taken to date by Member States to address it. The process involved key stakeholders, namely, national experts on youth, employment and labour as well as youth, private sector and donors representatives and was facilitated by ICGLR Levy Mwanawasa Regional Centre for Democracy and Good Governance, a Think Tank of ICGLR Secretariat. The outcomes of the process include two research reports (14) and a draft Regional Policy on the fight against youth unemployment. The latter was submitted to the Special Summit of ICGLR Heads of State and Government held in Nairobi on 24th July 2014 and adopted through a Declaration on the “Fight against Youth unemployment through Infrastructure Development and Investment Promotion”.

The 40 resolutions of the Nairobi Declaration constitute strategic objectives aimed at tackling main causes of unemployment and facilitate the region to benefit from youth bulge. Its key recommendations include “considering the youth unemployment crisis as a disaster that can undermine our economies, threaten the peace and destabilise our institutions if it is not addressed”, and to “commit to harmonise employment policies in the Region including labour force management plans and develop guidelines for foreign direct investors on preferential employment of youth from the region” (resolutions n°1 & 3). It also “calls upon the United Nations to address youth employment as a Stand Alone priority goal and deliverable in the post-2015 Development Agenda” (resolution n°2). Another 37 resolutions are classified under eight key areas, namely creating a favourable environment for investments and socio-economic development; harnessing infrastructure development in order to fast-track opportunities for decent jobs and inclusive growth (15); reviewing the education system and promoting entrepreneurship and innovation; facilitating young entrepreneurs’ access to funding; ensuring youth representation in decision-making bodies; monitoring, evaluation and coordination of public policies and interventions; and strengthening good governance and transparency.

From policy to practice: developing a realistic Action Plan and its implementation

The next step after the adoption of the Nairobi Declaration is to develop an Action Plan with both national and regional components for its implementation. However, three challenges, among others, need to be addressed.

First, translating resolutions of the ICGLR Special Summit into a National Action Plan taking into account existing policy frameworks and filling the gaps of or extending ongoing interventions on youth employment. This should facilitate ownership and home-grown solutions. Some difficulties to be addressed include lack of complete and updated data for evidence based planning.

Second, the development of a regional Action Plan for implementing the Nairobi Declaration to be adopted by the 6th ICGLR Ordinary Summit in 2015. Based on different national Action Plans, it will identify relevant interventions taking into account existing policy frameworks and interventions at regional and continental levels. Consultations with key actors intervening in this area, namely AfDB, African Union, UNECA and ILO should facilitate identification of roles where the ICGLR Secretariat can have added value at the regional level.

The third challenge is the availability of resources to conduct necessary consultations for developing the Action Plan as well as its implementation at national and regional level in midterm. This requires mobilisation of additional resources for youth initiatives as agreed in the Nairobi Declaration and availability of development partners to support home growing solutions. A support to the ICGLR Secretariat and its Regional Centre which have mandate to facilitate, coordinate and monitor the implementation of Nairobi Declaration should contribute positively in implementing the policy on the ground.


Youth unemployment is clearly high on the policy agenda, both at continental and regional levels. The Nairobi Declaration has two main strengths. One is the political commitment of the Heads of State and the legal framework as it is a requirement of the ICGLR Pact on Security, Stability and Development in the Great Lakes Region. (16) Second is the bottom-up approach used for developing the draft declaration through consultations with key stakeholders and which resulted in a comprehensive regional framework to address causes of youth unemployment.

However, the implementation of the Nairobi Declaration requires long-term perspective, as a number of structural reforms will be necessary. One of the challenges to be handled is the diversity of ICGLR Member States in terms of initiatives related to youth employment as well as on their security situation. In this context, expected results should differ from country to country. The Declaration will contribute to conflict prevention and sustainable development and therefore stability in countries involved; to peacebuilding and post-conflict recovery for others while it will be part of the management conflict policy for those that are still facing conflict like the Central African Republic and South Sudan.

Finally, the success of the Nairobi Declaration depends primarily on the capacity of ICGLR Member States to take the leadership in its implementation. This will require, inter alia, mainstreaming youth employment in other sectors such as agriculture and livestock, extractive industries, ICT, transport and tourism as well as mobilising additional resources for youth issues. It will depend also on the capacity of the ICGLR Secretariat and its Levy Mwanawasa Regional Centre to facilitate regular and inclusive consultations, sharing experience and monitoring implementation process and advise where adaptations are needed. It will further require willingness of development partners to coordinate their interventions through national frameworks and support the implementation process at national and regional levels.

Pamphile Sebahara is Head of Research, Training and Documentation Department at ICGLR Levy Mwanawasa Regional Centre for Democracy and Good Governance in Lusaka, Zambia.

Edgar Cizero Ntasano is a Research Assistant in ECDPM.


1. ICGLR is a regional intergovernmental organisation composed by 12 Member States, namely Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. They signed the Pact on Security, Stability and Development in the Great Lakes Region on 15th December 2006. See

2. Resolution n°1 of the Declaration of the Special Summit of the ICGLR Heads of State and Government on “the Fight against Youth unemployment through Infrastructure Development and Investment Promotion.” Nairobi, Kenya, 24th July 2014. Available online at

3. See Azeng, T. F. &Yogo, T. U. 2013. “Youth Unemployment and Political Instability in Selected Developing Countries.” Working Paper Series, Nº171, May 2013, Tunis: African Development Bank.

4. International Labour Organization (ILO). 2012. Africa’s Response to the Youth Employment Crisis: Regional Report. May 2012. Available online:—africa/documents/publication/wcms_184325.pdf

5. Cramer, C. 2010.  “Unemployment and Participation in Violence.”Background Paper for the WDR 2011. Available online:

6. See Collier, P. 2000. “Rebellion as a Quasi-Criminal Activity,” in Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 44, pp. 168-183.

7. Urdal, H. 2006. “A Clash of Generations? Youth Bulges and Political Violence”, in International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 50, N°3, pp. 607–630; Urdal, H. 2012 “A Clash of Generations? Youth Bulges and Political Violence.” Expert Paper N° 2012/1, United Nations Population Division, New York, USA. Available online:

8. Karongo, A. 2012. “Regional Report on Youth Policies and Violence Prevention in the Great Lakes Region, 2nd Year.” Paper commissioned by UNESCO. Pp. 16. Available online:

9. Herbert, S. 2013. “Promoting National Identities.” GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 978. Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.

10. African Union Commission. 2011. “The Plan of Action for the African Decade for Youth Development and Empowerment.” Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Available online:

11. International Labour Organization. 2011. “Youth Employment Interventions in Africa: A Mapping Report of the Employment and Labour Sub-Cluster of the Regional Coordination Mechanism (RCM) for Africa.” Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia, p. 13.

12. Ibid.,p. 15.

13. International Labour Organization. 2013. “The Joint Youth Employment Initiative for Africa.” Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia. Available online:—africa/—ro-addis_ababa/documents/newsitem/wcms_210399.pdf/

14.ICGLR Levy Mwanawasa Regional Centre for Democracy and Good Governance. 2014. Youth Unemployment in Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and Republic of Congo. A challenge for the States and Societies. Research Report N°1, Lusaka, Zambia; ICGLR Levy Mwanawasa Regional Centre for Democracy and Good Governance. 2014. Youth Unemployment in Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. A challenge for the States and Societies. Research Report N°2, Lusaka, Zambia.

15. Two key resolutions under this area are “to develop national and regional action programmes in key sectors of the economy namely agriculture and livestock, extractive industries, ICT, transport and tourism” (resolution 9) and “to establish regional projects for the joint exploitation of natural resources, infrastructure projects, and processing of products that are available in the Region” (resolution 10). Available online at:

16. ICGLR recognises the need to empower and involve the youth in social, political and economic dynamics of the Region since its inception. Articles 27, 33 and 48 of the 2004 “Dar-Es-Salaam Declaration on Peace, Security, Democracy and Development in the Great Lakes Region”, which is part of the ICGLR Pact on Security, Stability and Development (2006), recognise the need for finding jobs for the youth as a basis to strengthen stability in the Region.
 This article was published in GREAT insights Volume 4, Issue 1 (December 2014/January 2015).

Economic Transformation and TradeSecurity and ResilienceResponses to Violent Conflict and Crisis in AfricaEmploymentPeacebuildingCentral AfricaEast Africa