Working with young people for employment in West Africa

Magalie Laliberté Youth, Youth employment

For International Youth Day Marième Soda Ndiaye from RENF and Oxfam’s Magalie Laliberté reflect on the process of supporting active citizenship and youth employment opportunities in West Africa.

All over Africa, especially in West Africa, the proportion of youth in the population is increasing. In sub-Saharan Africa, 70% of the population are less than 30 years old. Mali (with an average age of 16) and Niger (with an average age of 15) rank among the youngest countries in the world. Yet, African youth must deal with a disturbing lack of opportunities to find adequate and sustainable work or self-employment. The continent is experiencing considerable strains on its capacity to absorb the 10 to 12 million young workers knocking on the door of its labour market each year.

To address the recurring challenges facing young people in West Africa, especially the most vulnerable, Oxfam commissioned an in-depth study in 2016. The aim was to strengthen our action for youth employment in the region and help young people play a meaningful role in developing inclusive and sustainable economies in six West African countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal). As part of this work we have organised national workshops and a regional workshop in Benin.

Developing a shared vision

Twenty two young leaders, Oxfam partners and allies met in April in Cotonou, Benin, to develop a shared vision and find solutions to youth unemployment and underemployment. The workshop focused on developing a results-and-research-based regional programming framework built on three main pillars:

  1. Empowerment, skills and abilities
  2. Economic opportunities
  3. Supportive environment (policies, official and informal standards)

We also included an internal pillar to inspire regional synergies and encourage peer learning within a community of practice. After the workshop each country is to implement its own action plan in partnership with young people.

Forming partnerships

Young people face similar inequalities and challenges regardless of country. As they realised the strength in their numbers, there were many positive results. Networking, activities and projects developed by Oxfam and youth organizations emerged, along with new alliances. Sharing and exchanging information on programmes, projects and activities undertaken in each country enabled the youth to build on each other’s experiences and learn from one another’s work. Lastly, participants successfully transcended language barriers that could have hindered communications between youth from different sub-regions, by striving to work together towards a new active citizenship for the region.

For example, Marième Soda Ndiaye was recently put at the helm of the Network of French-speaking digital entrepreneurs (RENF) in Senegal. This was partly due to a volunteer in Benin who informed her of an Organisation called Internationale de la Francophonie, which had a call for tender to train young digital entrepreneurs in West Africa.

For Oxfam, the study and the workshop made us reflect on the importance of placing young people at the heart of country-specific strategies and venturing further to broaden our partnerships with even more youth organizations. For instance, new partnerships were formed with youth organizations leading the way in active citizenship, such as the Social Change Factory – Voix des jeunes (Senegal) and BENIN SLAM (Café Bamboo Numerik, Benin).

Thanks to the technical and financial support of Oxfam in Mali, the Youth Association for active citizenship and democracy in Mali (AJCAD Mali) delivered popular education workshops on the right to decent employment and various government services to help young people find employment or start a business.

Supporting youth action

A lot of work remains to be done, but the young people Oxfam works with have demonstrated their willingness to be proactive and influence stakeholders engaged in state-development issues. They do not want to be instrumentalized, they want to be involved and consulted. Through continued efforts to secure funding and implement programmes, we must reflect together on advocacy measures.

We need to recognise the concerns of this demographic, which accounts for 65% to 70% of the West African population. It must be central to public policy at national and regional levels.

The following video (in French), recorded at the workshop in April 2016, gives an overview of the energy and the co creation process of building the programming framework.


Fenella Porter


Matthew Spencer