Entrepreneurship, Stakes and Challenges in Reducing Unemployment and Underemployment of Youth in Cameroon

Introduction

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) (1), underemployment is considered to be a situation in which the duration or productivity of a person’s employment is inadequate about other possible jobs that the person is willing and able to do, which is interpreted as a major disruption of the labor market. For Alexander Chikwanda, former Zambian Minister of Finance (2), youth unemployment is a ticking time bomb, even if, according to the same ILO (3), unemployment rates in sub-Saharan Africa remain relatively low because the vast majority of young workers cannot afford not to work, but for the World Bank (4), young people account for 60% of Africa’s unemployed. The African continent population is expected to double by 2050, from 1.2 billion to 2.5 billion, there is an urgent need to create at least “450 million jobs over the next 20 years” to keep young people employed (AfDB, 2017) (5). In Cameroon, the unemployment and underemployment rates are respectively 3.3%, with the country’s overall working population representing 54.2%, 50.9% of whom are employed, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INS) through its Third Survey on Employment and the Informal Sector in Cameroon (EESI3) (6) of 2023 for the unemployment rate, and with an underemployment rate already at 65% (INS, 2021 ) (7). While it is true that entrepreneurship is not the only solution to unemployment and underemployment, just as it is true that African governments in general and the Cameroonian government, in particular, are unable to employ the majority of young people in the civil service, a strong private sector presents itself as a major solution to this problem.

However, the entrepreneurial ecosystem through the process of creating and developing businesses with a view to reducing unemployment and underemployment in the country requires a favorable environment that must provide sufficient material, financial, human, informational, and relational resources, and ensure their quality and quantity.

The main objective of this article is to demonstrate the issues and challenges of entrepreneurship in relation to youth unemployment and underemployment in Cameroon. It would therefore be interesting to study the influences of entrepreneurship in stimulating youth employment and combating underemployment before highlighting the issues and challenges of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Cameroon.

The State of  Unemployment and Underemployment of Youth in Cameroon

In Cameroon, according to the Central Bureau of Census and Demographic Studies (BUCREP) (8), the population of young people aged 15 to 24 in 2005 was already estimated at 3,606,696 individuals, including 1,731,567 boys and 1,875,129 girls, that is 20.7% of the total population. In other words, at least 1 in 5 of Cameroon’s total population is young and the unemployment rate was 6.1%,  compared to 3.84% in 2020, while the underemployment rate rose to 65%, a drop of only 4 percentage points over the period, according to the African Development Bank (9).

According to the main report of the Employment and Informal Sector Survey (EESI 2010) 78.2% of young people are literate with a higher proportion than that of the general population at 71.2%. The proportion of young males is significantly higher at 83.7% than that of young females (74.3%). The rate is around 93.4% in urban areas compared to 65% in rural areas. This observation has prompted several countries, including Cameroon, to define strategies to facilitate the socio-professional integration of young people into the labor market. Although several efforts are being made by the Cameroonian government to address the problem of youth unemployment, youth employability has not yet been improved.

According to the Cameroonian Minister of Employment and Vocational Training (10), the current education system produces thousands of young people with diplomas but no vocational qualifications, the immediate consequence of which is a high unemployment rate in the country, which is expected to exceed 6% by 2021. These unemployed young people opt for activities that contribute little to the development of the country.

It should be recalled that the training-to-employment gap is linked to the lack of a genuine public-private partnership in the development, funding, and implementation of technical education and vocational training programs. Experience shows that training programs that prepare young people for the labor market are most effective when they combine theoretical training at school with practical training in the workplace.

The Role and Challenges of Entrepreneurship in Curbing Unemployment and Underemployment Youths in Cameroon

Today, entrepreneurship is at the heart of several economic, social, and even cultural policies,  for most African countries. In 2013 the informal sector of entrepreneurship employed nearly 90% of the available workforce in Cameroon according to the International Development Research Center (IDRC) and the National Development Strategy 2020 – 2030 of Cameroon for structural transformation and inclusive development. This is seen as a major objective for the promotion of employment and the drastic reduction of underemployment of youths in the country, through the development of Very Small Enterprises (VSE), Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), and youth entrepreneurship.

Despite its significant impact on the country’s GDP today, entrepreneurship is still slow to play its full role in reducing youth unemployment and underemployment by offering sustainable jobs. In Cameroon, around 10% of self-entrepreneurs are registered with the trade regime, 31% have a tax card and 2% are affiliated with the National Social Insurance Funds (NSIF) (OIL, 2017) (11), which has a significant impact on the quality of jobs offered to young Cameroonians and can be explained by several difficulties faced by young entrepreneurs in particular and the private sector in general.

The Cameroonian government has made many efforts to promote entrepreneurship by improving the legislative and regulatory framework and setting up various support structures, but obstacles to business development remain in the country. Despite these efforts, Cameroon remains at the bottom of the world business attractiveness ranking, ranked 167th out of 190 countries with 46.1 out of 100 in 2020 (Doing Business Ranking, World Bank 2020) (12). In addition to the classic difficulties of taxation, administrative hassles, access to financing, default corruption of clients, and lack of infrastructure that entrepreneurs face in Cameroon, we have other difficulties that young entrepreneurs face, namely the access to private, low-cost business support companies. These low-cost support business companies usually help young people develop their business plans, monitor and supervise young promoters during the first years of their business, and strengthen their entrepreneurial capacities. This also helps in reinforcing the mindset of entrepreneurial culture which remains important because many Cameroonians become entrepreneurs when they are waiting for a possible opportunity in public service or when they no longer have the possibility of accessing it and this is confirmed through the MINPMEESA 2022 report (13). This report indicates that the age range of entrepreneurs is between 35 and 45 years old knowing that the age limit for access to the civil service for most competitions is 32 years old in Cameroon.

Conclusion

The second conference of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (14) of Ministries in charge of SMEs of member countries of OECD held in 2004 in Istanbul, Turkey reflects the growing recognition by policy-makers, civil society, national and international development partners of the importance of entrepreneurship in economic growth, in reducing unemployment and underemployment and in improving the quality of life. To develop entrepreneurship and enable it to play its role, this role in the country’s economy will have a positive impact on the economic inclusion of young people, poverty reduction, and sustainable economic development.

Recommendations

For entrepreneurship to play its privileged role of providing decent and sustainable jobs for young people, apart from the fact that the entrepreneurial ecosystem must be streamlined for good and competitive private sectors, it is also necessary to improve the quality of professional training in entrepreneurship. The objective is to empower young entrepreneurs in order to build a culture of entrepreneurship in the country. This will also contribute to adapting the professional qualifications of young people to the needs of the labor market by creating a state structure that will work in collecting labor or workforce career development data from various companies through their development plan in order to tailor the training offers of the Vocational Training Centers.

Laurent Brice Nsengue
Laurent Brice Nsengue
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Mr. Nsengue Laurent Brice is an SBEC Associate at the Denis & Lenora Foretia Foundation. He holds  a Master’s degree in Economics with a major in Public Policies and Sustainable Development and a Bachelor’s degree in Economics with a major in Money, Banking and Finance. He is an expert in regional integration and management of community institutions, in SME financing and in public policy for sustainable development.

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