CHUMA: Africa needs value addition, new jobs skill sets and infrastructure

Thursday June 22 2017

One of Africa’s biggest challenges has been

One of Africa’s biggest challenges has been lack of statistical information to inform public policy, and initiatives that governments and partners pursue to address the challenge of unemployment, underemployment and informality. PHOTO FILE | NATION 

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Aeneas Chuma: The International Labour Organisation regional director for Africa speaks about employment issues on the continent.


  • Age: 62
  • Education:Master’s degree in Applied Economics from the University of California.


  • Before his current appointment, he was deputy special representative for consolidation of democratic governance at the UN Mission in Liberia.
  • He also served as the UN resident co-ordinator, humanitarian co-ordinator and resident representative.
  • Prior to his posting in West Africa, he was the UN resident co-ordinator, humanitarian co-ordinator and resident representative in Kenya.
  • 2003 to 2008: He was the resident co-ordinator and resident representative of the UN in Zambia.
  • 2000 to 2003: He was the UN deputy resident representative in Mozambique.
  • He also held various positions with the UNDP in New York, Oman and Zimbabwe.


What are the major causes of unemployment in Africa?
One is absence of macroeconomic growth to generate jobs. Africa has a very young population, thus plentiful labour, which is an asset, if you consider that in more advanced countries a large part of the population is ageing.

But the danger we face is that our formal economies have not been able to generate enough jobs to absorb these large numbers of young people.

The ILO has observed that in the past 20 years or so, African economies have grown at a rate of five to six per cent. But the growth has not really impacted employment much. There has instead been an increase in inequality and vulnerability.

What is being done about unemployment?
African countries and partners should promote macroeconomic growth that is job-rich. The growth that I have referred to was based on trade in primary products like gold concentrate.

It is important for African countries to transform their economies through industrialisation in order to add value to their primary products. The objective should be exportation of finished rather than primary products.

There is no need for African governments to say, continue exporting cashew. Value addition is important because that is where decent jobs are located. When you export unprocessed products, you are actually exporting jobs.

Above all, there is need to equip young people with skills so they can get employed or become entrepreneurs. Often there is a mismatch between the demand for skills by industry and those skills supplied by the education system. This gap needs to be narrowed.

How do you encourage value addition?
We work with governments and partners to whom we propose policy options. At the ILO, we do not have the capacity to open up a factory to process cashewnuts or gold concentrate. Our mission is to draw attention to the importance of employment creation.

We bring to the table debate about the need for African countries to pursue growth strategies that provide more jobs. We also stress the need to provide for skills in entrepreneurship and self-employment.

Our role in value addition is to trigger the debate around which other players can be involved as they are better informed about particular investment options.
How will technology affect job creation in the industrialised African economies of the future?

With technology, you can produce the same level of output with fewer people, but technology also produces tremendous opportunities for new types of jobs.

The history of work has shown that every time a new technology comes in, it opens opportunities for new kinds of jobs. That is critical.

Our governments should understand that the arrival of digitalisation and robotics will displace workers but will also create new types of jobs that will require workers with new skills. What African governments should do is to invest in the skills of the future.

Governments should always ask what skills will be needed to support the economic transformation we are talking about. In the future, one will not need more than just one skill. In my generation, once you finished university, you were done.

You bagged a degree and landed a good job where, hopefully, you worked for a pension. In the future one must continuously update their skills set. African governments should encourage this approach known as life cycle learning.

How do you rate Tanzania’s industrialisation vision?

I am not in a good position to talk about the country’s industrialisation, but I have seen some of the development strategies that the government is pursuing. They tie in with what I have said on economic transformation.

Notable are investments in infrastructure such as power generation that will promote industrialisation. I have also seen the country working with others in the EAC to facilitate sharing of skills, goods, services and to pursue greater economic integration.

Such integration will increase the number of consumers as well as draw investments into the region. East Africa has done much to promote movement of people, goods, cross-border investments within the region.

The ILO just held an Africa regional meeting of labour statisticians in Dar es Salaam. What occasioned the meeting?

One of Africa’s biggest challenges has been lack of statistical information to inform public policy, and initiatives that governments and partners pursue to address the challenge of unemployment, underemployment and informality.

This workshop brings together statisticians from all over Africa to look at statistical standards that have been developed over time and strengthen these. The workshop will then come up with a standardised model of statistical work.

How big a problem is the lack of statistics for Africa?

It is huge. The larger problem is that, if you cannot measure it, then you cannot monitor progress. You can’t tell your story yet even when you make progress you do not know it because you don’t have the figures to demonstrate trends.

Statistical capacity is important because it allows you to monitor, to measure and above all to tell your own narrative. Otherwise your story will always be told by others based on their understanding.

But if you have concrete figures from your own national statistical base then you can make informed policies, legislation and development strategies.