Today, Africa has around 2,000 universities and colleges. However, employers and officials complain that education and training is outdated and sub-standard.
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There has been an escalating need for more and better skills to support the wave of democracy that swept Africa during the 1990s followed by rapid economic growth. The inability of education systems to produce sufficient numbers of skilled and employable youths has been stalling development, and this crisis has ratcheted up the political agenda of governments. The problem is particularly acute in rural areas, where education institutions are most scarce and neglected, obstructing opportunities for young people.

At the continental level, the Rural Futures strategy of the African Union and its implementing agency NEPAD, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, is about propelling countries towards greater employment. According to NEPAD’s Director of Programme Co-ordination and Implementation, Estherine Lisinge-Fotabong, agriculture and agri-processing account for 30 to 60 per cent of gross domestic product in some countries, and an even larger share of employment. She argues that states should play a central role in redirecting national economies to drive rural economic transformation, and concludes that “Africa’s fight against poverty will be won or lost in rural areas, because this is home to about 63 per cent of the population; 73 per cent of the poor live in rural areas.”

With one billion people in Africa today and 2.3 billion people projected for 2050, the continent faces the challenge of harnessing this expanding reservoir of human capital. “By 2040, Africa will have the largest workforce in the world, surpassing China and India,” Lisinge-Fotabong points out, adding that while the proportion of rural youth is declining around the world, their number in sub-Saharan Africa is set to increase until 2030 or 2040.

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