Young and motivated: Making it in the Gambia
Young people in the Gambia are choosing to ‘make it’ at home rather than go abroad, whether it’s in the arts or agriculture, tech or tourism. In fact, youth in the Gambia – one of Africa’s smallest countries – have big dreams and are willing to work for them.
‘The youth are eager and hungry to be successful, to be job creators and to help develop our country,’ says self-proclaimed rebel fashion designer Awa Conateh of Yaws Creations.
Modou Lamin Fatty, a poultry farmer and third-year student at the University of the Gambia, says agribusiness is the future: ‘Not many young people are interested, but if you want to become a millionaire, agriculture is the fastest way.’
Software architect Hassan Jallow of Assutech, who programmed his computer to react to voice commands, says: ‘You cannot be jobless if you have a skill in this area and you’re talented.’
Betty Madeline Tebbs, a student at the Gambia Tourism and Hospitality Institute, says she gained skills that she can use in her daily life: ‘I’m trained on how to communicate, how to talk and how to approach people nicely.’
After more than two decades of dictatorship, this West African country celebrated a new democratically elected government a year and a half ago. The peaceful transition under President Adama Barrow opened the way for political and economic reforms as well as the rebuilding of bridges to the rest of the world.
Thousands of people – especially youth – who fled the country in hopes of finding jobs and opportunities elsewhere now have a reason to return home.
Across all age groups, unemployment is highest among Gambians aged 15 to 24 – more than 44% – according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
The World Bank says Africa will need to create 450 million new jobs by 2035, while it is on track to generate only 100 million. The time for action is now.
Creating and maintaining positive change requires a united vision by youth, government, business and civil society. In May, they partnered to launch the national Youth and Trade Roadmap.
The roadmap is designed to help tackle the root causes of youth unemployment and competitive market constraints, which are at the heart of irregular migration. It aims to sharpen the skills of – and create jobs for – young Gambians and directly supports the National Development Plan, which targets economic reforms to restore growth and stability in the country.
‘My government is fully committed to leading and implementing the Youth and Trade Roadmap to turn the tide of youth migration,’ said Vice President Fatoumata Tambajang at the launch event.
Through its Youth Empowerment Project (YEP), the International Trade Centre (ITC) is supporting implementation of the roadmap, focusing on sharpening the job-ready skills of youth while fostering value addition in the priority sectors of nuts and agro-processing; information and communications technologies; and tourism.
Arguably one of the biggest challenges to addressing youth unemployment is the gap between what job seekers offer and what employers need. In other words, there is a skills mismatch – young people need training on workforce-ready skills.
About 35% of companies report poor levels of skills among young graduates, according to a recent ITC survey on competitiveness in the Gambia. The skills gap is particularly marked with youth trained in technical and vocational education and training institutes, so building up the capacities of these institutes, including those in rural areas, is a key priority.
The European Union, through its Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, has been working with ITC through YEP to provide youth with practical training as well as entrepreneurial and mentoring programmes.
Working with YEP, 1,250 Gambian youth have gained skills in industries including agribusiness; tourism; information and communications technology; fashion; and construction. Youth with bankable entrepreneurial dreams have received capital and equipment to launch their start-ups.
In the Gambia, micro, small and medium-sized enterprises employ 60% of the workforce. Investing in these businesses can help them become more competitive, create jobs, increase incomes and fuel economic growth.
Through YEP, 250 enterprises in the key sectors of agribusiness, information and communications technology, and tourism have received training and support to improve their productive capacities, increase market linkages and boost the quality of their goods and services.
This is the way forward for Gambian youth to not only survive, but thrive.