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Lack of jobs fuels unrest: World Bank

JOHANNESBURG -- The recent uprisings in North Africa highlight how youth unemployment fueled unrest, World Bank officials said.

Seven million to 10 million youths across Africa join the unemployment line each year, said Obiageli Ezekwesili, vice president of the World Bank's Africa region, speaking to journalists Thursday via video conference from Paris.

β€œIn light of the recent unrest in North Africa, it is clear that youth under-employment, if unaddressed, can increase the risk of urban unrest and possibly violence,” read a World Bank report describing the bank's new approach on Africa.

The approach emphasizes job creation, which officials said is key to stability in a region on the brink of economic takeoff much like China was 30 years ago. By improving education, particularly for youth and women, the World Bank said it could create the greatest difference in helping Africa create jobs. Africans have the lowest level of skills acquired through training in the world, with only 5 percent of the eligible population enrolled in universities β€” the same rate seen in Asia and Latin America 40 years ago, the report said.

Ezekwesili said increasing access to universities and supporting leadership training programs was only part of the solution. The other part, she said, involved strengthening citizens' voices through social accountability such as public procurement systems and independent audit agencies. She said educated citizens would demand more results from their governments.

The World Bank's updated approach, emphasizing anti-corruption and government accountability, comes in the wake of weeks of pro-democracy protests in northern African countries like Egypt and Libya, where citizens have rallied against longtime dictators.

While the World Bank can outline recommendations, the primary responsibility to implement reform lies with governments, Ezekwesili said.

The plan also included increased infrastructure development, which World Bank officials say will increase foreign investment. The World Bank says Africa has significant potential to increase its role as a producing continent rather than a consuming continent, especially through agriculture, the biggest private-sector activity on the continent. Investing in improved water management and access to cheap energy will make the farming less susceptible to the effects of droughts and floods.

Although foreign investment in the continent is increasing, local labor laws, particularly in South Africa, limit employment opportunities and inhibit business growth, she said.

Africa is the world poorest inhabited continent, with 35 African countries ranking among the lowest 41 in the world in human development, according to the 2010 United Nations Human Development Report.

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