Youth unemployment and the role of regional organisations: The case of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)

Youth unemployment is one of the biggest challenges that the African continent is facing. Regional organisations are addressing this challenge through regional frameworks, but are in practice often thrown over by domestic priorities of member states.

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    Youth unemployment is one of the biggest challenges facing the African continent. This paper explores the drivers and blockages to addressing youth unemployment through regional frameworks such as the 2016 SADC Youth Employment Promotion Policy Framework (YEPPF) and the Labour Migration Action Plan (2016 -2019). The paradox in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region is its high levels of youth unemployment despite high literacy rates.

    By looking at these, the paper discusses the implementation gap of these frameworks and the reasons behind it. Although all countries in the SADC region face a similar challenge and have adopted frameworks at a regional level, member states tend to focus on domestic priorities at the expense of regional commitments, raising questions about the relevance or specific value added of a regional youth agenda.

    Moreover, regional organisations might also learn from national initiatives and programmes developed by member states, such as disbursement of youth funds to promote youth businesses, though this raises questions about the value added of operating regionally. The paper suggests ways in which SADC and the African Union (AU) might address the youth unemployment challenge. These include:

    • a clear working modality between the AU and Regional Economic Communities to avoid duplication of efforts through frameworks and policies that aim to achieve similar outcomes;
    • a focus on genuinely regional areas like the implementation of the SADC National Qualifications Framework to ease labour mobility of its youth;
    • promotion industrialisation, potentially through regional value chains that can create jobs as well as ensuring young citizens are given a platform to engage with formal regional and national structures.
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