102nd International Labour Conference

Statement by Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission

Statement | Geneva | 17 June 2013

Excellency, Mr Guy Ryder, Director General of the ILO,
Honourable Ministers,
Distinguished Representatives of Regional and International Organizations,
Excellencies Ambassadors,
Distinguished Participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to thank you, Mr. Ryder, for the invitation to the African Union to address this august assembly on the occasion of the 102nd ILO International Conference.

I look forward to your recommendations on job creation, social protection and social dialogue for billions of workers in our global village, particularly the youth, women and low income earners in rural settings.

Three weeks ago, we commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the OAU/AU. It was an opportunity for us to reflect on our past but also to look forward to the future with hope, and agree on what should be done in the next fifty years to fully realize the objective of the African Union to build a united, prosperous and integrated Africa, at peace with itself and representing a dynamic force in global affairs.

There was unanimity among African leaders that job creation was among the most important factors for achieving this objective. And this unanimity was reflected in the Solemn Declaration and the decisions adopted by the Summit.

In both meetings, African leaders renewed their commitment to accelerate and enhance national and continental efforts to fight poverty and unemployment, with a particular emphasis on youth and women employment.

Already in April of this year, the 9th Ordinary Session of the AU Labour and Social Affairs Commission unanimously agreed that promoting employment and social protection should be a global concern and a separate development goal in the Post 2015 Development Agenda.

Allow me also to mention a joint initiative developed by the AU Commission, the African Development Bank, the UN ECA and the ILO which also goes in the same direction of promoting youth employment. We look forward to its speedy adoption and implementation.

Basically, this joint initiative focuses on three main areas:
  • policy advice and advocacy during the development of youth employment policies;
  • direct interventions and capacity building in favor of the youth, notably over the creation of quality and sustainable jobs and the provision of entrepreneurship skills and work experience for the youth; and
  • knowledge production and sharing.

The transformation of the OAU to the AU put a strong emphasis on the socio-economic development and integration agenda of the Organization.

The AU extraordinary summit in Ouagadougou in 2004 laid the ground for the AU strategy on employment. In 2008, the AU adopted its Social Policy Framework (SPF) for Africa, addressing 18 key priority areas, notably labour, employment, and social protection. Its implementation is a major objective in the AU Commission’s Strategic Plan for 2014-2017.

The AU’s emphasis on youth employment is critical in the light of the demography of the continent.

By all estimates, our continent is a continent of young people, and it is getting younger. By 2025, it is estimated that the African youth will make up one-quarter of the world’s population. By 2040, half of the world’s youth population will be African, the majority of which will be women and girls. This means that in the next fifty years, approximately 1.1 billion of the workforce will be African.

By contrast, the African Development Bank Group estimates that presently, the youth make up only 37% of the labour force in the mainstream economy. Yet it constitutes 60% of overall unemployment.

It is therefore imperative that we invest in our people’s health, nutrition and education and have them acquire the skills that will enable them to become productive members of our society.

But to be properly employed, the youth must be employable. Young people must be well prepared to respond to the professional and economic needs of the time.

The kind of education they should receive must therefore help them to adapt to the economic realities of the time. It must give them the necessary skills to be productive employees and, beyond that, to be job creators. Science and technology, ICT innovations, R&D in all aspects of human endeavor, must be areas where African education is focused for Africa to be prosperous and peaceful.

Take the case of ICT. Our youth have actively embraced it and in some instances, they are making innovations in many areas, including banking.

If we properly invest in youth and women, they can become a great asset to drive Africa’s social, economic and cultural development, failing which they can be a serious liability.

In addition, national governments should create an economic, political and security environment conducive to the realization of the youth potential.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
I stated earlier that to be employed, the youth must be employable. Let me also add that job opportunities must be created.

The continent holds abundant natural resources, some of which are still untapped. It has plenty of arable land and a variety of minerals. Its coastlines and oceanic spaces hold rich marine resources. These hold great prospects for Africa’s industrialization and economic prosperity if exploited judiciously and to the benefit of the people.

Africa has great potential for agriculture. It can produce enough food to feed the continent and, to some extent, the world. It can also generate a lot of revenues if it processes and exports what it produces, instead of the present situation where we are spending billions of dollars in food imports.

Modernizing agriculture and fisheries will improve productivity. We should also pay special attention to the creation of, and investment in, small and medium agricultural and fishing businesses and processing plants. These industries can spur local production and create jobs by outsourcing some of their activities to local communities.

Infrastructure development is another key element for job creation. It is also a driver for economic growth, and its absence is an impediment on development. We have already developed an intercontinental project called PIDA, Programme for Infrastructural Development in Africa. This includes transport infrastructure in all its dimensions – road, rail, maritime and air -, as well as ICT and energy infrastructure. Some work is being done, especially at the level of the Regional Economic Communities. But it needs to be accelerated. We should strive to achieve interconnection of all the regions of the continent before the year 2063.

There is an urgent need for Africans to invest in the sea transportation sector. African presence in the major seaways and African ownership of shipping companies will stimulate trade between island states and the rest of the continent. It will also end the physical isolation of island states by facilitating the safe movement of people and goods between the islands and the coasts. Intra-African tourism stands to benefit much from this development.

Energy generation is critical in industrialization. At present, sub-Saharan Africa is only generating the same amount of energy as Spain even though it has twenty times Spain’s population size. Between 2006 and 2009, only 28 % of the African population had access to electricity, compared to 70% in other parts of the developing world. Increasing investments in energy, including hydro, geothermal and solar power, will therefore be critical to Africa’s transformation in both economic and social fields. It will also help create jobs.

If we attend to all the infrastructure, transport, energy, ICT and industrialization needs, we will be able to increase both intra-African and external trade. We will also be able to unlock the intra-African tourism and increase the revenue of our people. We need to harmonize our regulations and increase our cooperation to improve the movement of goods and people and accelerate job creation, particularly in favor of the youth.

Tourism is another sector with a great potential for job creation. The revenue generated by tourism is usually passed on to many segments of society, from the big hospitality industry to small sellers of souvenirs and cultural artifacts.

Africa is widely recognized for the abundance of wildlife and the diversity of its ecosystems and cultures. But, on the whole, the tourist industry in Africa remains generally weak because of poor infrastructure and its dependence on external demand. Additionally, the tourist industry makes little efforts to attract African tourists perhaps because of the lingering notion that Africans are not interested in tourism.

This situation must change. At the AU, we are looking into how to help member states to showcase the variety of their cultures and ecosystems and build a sector that caters not just to the curiosity of expatriates but serves as a support to intra-African cultural exchanges and the enhancement of our rich cultural heritage. This will help with job creation, especially for our youth and women.

Governments have a major role to play to create an environment conducive to the creation of decent and sustainable jobs.

I am keenly aware of the challenges facing any government that seeks to implement macro-economic policies that are inclusive and pro-poor, while at the same time trying to spur economic growth.

In the Preface to a book on how Seychelles succeeded in transforming its economy in a short period of time – in four years – President James Michel wrote the following:

Too often, economies are allowed to slump deeper and deeper into crisis simply because leaders are reluctant to make tough decisions because they are concerned about possible social unrest.

President Michel writes that he decided to put the future of his country above everything else and put political consideration aside. He believes it was the right thing to do because the people of Seychelles needed a change in mindset, from dependency to a new attitude of “get up and do something for yourself”.

Seychelles has demonstrated that it is possible to apply macro-economic policy that spurs growth and improves the conditions of living of the population. This country’s success is due, among other factors, to the investments that it has made in education – schooling is free and mandatory –, free health care and low-cost housing for low income people.

The experience of Seychelles shows that even if the fundamentals are right, Africa needs courageous and visionary leadership, good planning and good implementation to realize the objective of the AU to build a united, prosperous and integrated continent, at peace with itself and representing a dynamic force in world affairs.

Governments also need to create conditions that promote social protection for the workers by enforcing legislation that protect them against arbitrary dismissal or promote a healthy working environment.

Social protection should also include protection of job security for women around issues of pregnancy, paid maternity leave and child care. Some progress has been achieved on this issue, but it needs to be expanded.

Governments should also enforce legislation that promotes social dialogue in the workplace whether it is between management and workers, or between employers and unions.

Labour migration remains a major global challenge and will continue to be so in the coming years as more and more young people look beyond the borders of their countries in search of decent work and decent pay. In Africa, this phenomenon affects young people, especially young girls.

Unfortunately, these young migrants tend to be unskilled and therefore to be employed as domestic worker and, sometimes, sex workers.

As part of the solution to overcome this problem, we must accelerate regional economic integration to increase intra African trade, accelerate infrastructural development, achieve integrated labor market governance, and improve services and productivity, and enhance the free movement of people and goods on the continent. We must also educate them and provide them with professional skills so that, even if they wish to migrate, they would not be as vulnerable. All these measures will also attract many of skilled Africans in the Diaspora back to the continent and reverse the brain drain.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
In conclusion, there is a lot of optimism about the continent and rightly so because in the last decade, African economies have sustained high level of growth. But for growth to be sustainable, we must make sure to implement all or commitments on the elements I have described above.

The African Union is committed for the next 50 years – and beyond – to modernize Africa, industrialize, continue to transform our economies so as ensure social services as well as decent work and decent remuneration for all African workers, regardless of their sector of activities.

We are determined to step up our efforts to promote job creation, work for the eradication of poverty, and achieve growth and allow equitable distribution, particularly for women and the youth.

We invite our international partners – in particular the ILO – to join hands with us in our efforts to raise the productivity and income of this category of workers, and create the conditions favorable to their gradual participation into the mainstream economy.

With these words, I wish you all a fruitful session and a productive outcome.

Merci beaucoup!