What Do We Do with the Hard-Earned Education?

Med Ssengooba, Young African Leader from Uganda


Just two days ago, I met a young man (Bekele) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia who was driving a cab that I took to a hotel as my flight was cancelled.  As we talked, he told me he graduated at the top of his class seven years ago, with a degree in Information Technology, but he is still struggling to make ends meet, even when he felt lucky he at least had a job as a cab driver.

Bekele’s situation resonates with many young Africans who have great qualifications but have never had the chance to work, hence the question: What should such young Africans do with the education they earned after paying lots of money? And whose responsibility is it to help them derive a livelihood out of their investment in education?

Over the past 5 years, global unemployment has been on a record high among youth. In 2009 for example, unemployment among young people is said to have reached its peak, with 75.8 million young people ready and willing to work, but not finding gainful employment.[1] Of course numbers are higher comparing youth and adults. In 2010, 12.6 percent of young people were unemployed compared to 4.8 percent adults; and 24 percent of employed youth were classified as working poor; meaning 152 million youth workers were living on less that $1.25 per day.[2]  In Africa, unemployment rates among youth are dauntingly high—way higher than the above global statistics. A report by the Africa Development Indicator (ADI) in 2008/2009 for example shows that in Uganda, unemployment among young people between 15-24 was at 83 percent.[3] Of course numbers are even higher for marginalized youth including young women, and youth with disabilities.[4]

Over the past 3 years, mainly in my capacity as advisory board member at the Open Society Foundation Youth Initiative, I have had a chance to meet very interesting young people from all over the world running very innovative businesses and projects; and I have learned that education is just like a calculator; it never gives you the formula or how to solve a problem, but helps one maneuver around the problem and find a solution easily. Africa still has all the factors of production especially land, and labor that young people no matter the qualifications can adequately tap. It is about change of attitude about work, advocating for better policies with support from all stakeholders including media and civil society, team work, innovation and mapping out unique ideas that can help solve community needs.

Just like Bekele said: “I will do anything gainful as I wait for a job in my profession… since human needs won’t wait.”


[1] United Nations, World Youth Report, Fact Sheet, Youth Employment: Youth Perspectives on the Pursuit of Decent Work in Changing Times.

[2] Ibid

[3] The World Bank, Africa Development Indicators 2008/09, Youth and Employment in Africa, The Potential, the Problem, the Promise, available at http://publications.worldbank.org/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=23069, September 18, 2013.

[4] See WHO and the World Bank “World Disability Report 2011”, available at http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2011/9789240685215_eng.pdf, September 18, 2013.  See also World Youth Report, Fact Sheet, Youth Employment: Youth Perspectives on the Pursuit of Decent Work in Changing Times, supra.