Why Job Creation Is King in Africa, Just Like Everywhere Else

By Andy Wales, Head of Sustainable Development for SABMiller plc

Why Job Creation Is King in Africa, Just Like Everywhere Else

At the recent Africa Economic Summit in Cape Town, one of the themes of debate was the ‘post 2015’ goals, which the United Nations community will set itself when the existing Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015.

I spoke at an event hosted by Business Fights Poverty where the audience seemed divided over whether these new goals should include an emphasis on economic growth — perhaps focused on job creation or competitiveness. Some felt that, without a clear growth message, any social development and environmental goals would continue to run a poor second in real political importance — parallel to the mainstream international political discussions focused on the economy and security. However, others felt that growth is over-emphasized as a default process for improvement in the world, and that it would be more powerful to only target social development outcomes such as improvements in human rights, which could be achieved by a variety of means.

ONE, the development campaign organization founded by Bono, has taken the important step of actually asking young people around Africa what they want for the post 2015 process. The results are fascinating, particularly the indication that in two of the three research countries — South Africa and Zambia — getting a job, and then a good education (presumably to get that job) rank as first and second priorities, ahead of concerns around food, healthcare or any of the other perceptions we may have in the developed world of Africans’ most pressing concerns. You could argue that whilst NGO campaigns in Europe and the U.S. are, once again, defining Africa in terms of food shortages, Africa’s view of itself is going a different way.

The other big debate concerning the ‘post 2015’ goals was why we need development goals at all. Some influential African voices argued that we should instead set global goals, as applicable to Europe as they are to Africa. After all, youth unemployment is as big an issue in Spain or Greece as it is in many parts of Africa. With many emerging markets maintaining growth whilst Europe falters, why shouldn’t we take a new approach? That’s a compelling view. It’s also supported by the World Bank’s Doing Business Entrepreneurship Survey, which shows a splintering of the traditional regions when it comes to the ability of people to start a new business — one of the core drivers of job creation. Whilst the UK, Botswana and Mauritius score highly, Kenya, Greece and Uganda score much lower down.

Maybe it’s time to consider a focus on jobs and improved incomes everywhere. Alongside minimum social development standards and dramatic efficiency improvements in natural resource use, it might create a post 2015 agenda that feels like the whole world could own it.

Editor’s Note:

This blog was first published on Huffington Post, and is reproduced with the permission of the author.

Follow Andy Wales on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@AndyCWales

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4 Responses

  1. This is a frustrating debate that I struggle with not only in the context of Africa but globally. The environment, society and the economy are inextricably linked. We can not continue to pitch the choice as jobs or environment in the context of Africa especially when jobs tend to be unsustainable jobs created within the extractive industries or created through unsustainable agriculture or manufacturing jobs fueling unsustainable consumption. In the ‘developed’ countries the over reliance on the financial services sector (or the elements of the financial services that are sufficiently disconnected to the real economy) is one of the reasons for the high levels of unemployment with little prospect of finding ways to bring that down. The debate needs to be taken to the next level where – before investing in industries simply to create jobs or before making a decision to promote something that is arguably more ecologically sound – the environmental, social and economic impacts (both the costs and the benefits) are understood, debated and downsides mitigated or eliminated. To do that the state, business, other society organisations etc need to be prepared to do the work to answer these questions in an objective,comprehensive way vs. justifying a decision based on the social or environmental impact. It may delay some decisions but then these debates have been raging for the last 20 / 30 years and nothing really seems to have changed – at least not for the better with respect to the environment or society’s well-being in general. 

  2. Timothy thanks – useful comment. I don’t believe growth and sustainability are exclusive. Or, perhaps I should say that they needn’t be if business, government and civil society work hard at developing solutions together. A good example is South Africa, where the Strategic Water Partners Network, under the leadership of Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa, is bringing together business and government to define how we will bridge the water demand / supply gap of 17-30% by 2030. The best news is that doing so we can enable growth, improve water provision for communities, and reduce costs for business. Details are here: http://www.dwaf.gov.za/Communications/MinisterSpeeches/2013/Ministe… 

    Now that’s just one case study, and there are many places in Africa where resources are not being managed in such a collaborative way, but it does show what can be done when all sectors recognise, as you say, how interdependent, growth, sustainability and human developent are.


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