African youth lead varied and complex lives. They face diverse situations and opportunities. The recurring theme is one of challenge. On one hand, Africa is experiencing unprecedented population growth, with limited formal sector employment prospects. Despite new economic opportunities, formal jobs and wage employment remain elusive. On the other hand, investments in primary education have created better access to education and have contributed to a new era of prosperity and opportunity across Africa, yet opportunities for youth are uneven across the continent. It is within this context that Africa’s young people are pursuing opportunities that embrace a mix of livelihood activities.
Development programs that fail to acknowledge these young people’s realities risk being limited in scale and impact. Frequently, solutions to youth under- and unemployment have focused on employment growth in the formal sector and training young people for specific jobs that may not exist, mainly owing to the private sector’s limited capacity to absorb all potential job seekers. Much of our collective research and knowledge on youth unemployment is drawn from these interventions, without a complete understanding of young people’s livelihoods. But what kinds of livelihoods do young people actually pursue? How does access to economic opportunity vary between young men and young women, and between different countries and diverse regions? How can we best design interventions for disadvantaged young people in Africa?
Drawing on research with young people from rural Ghana and Uganda, aged 18–24, this report documents how rural young people pursue “mixed livelihoods” to generate income, combining temporary and seasonal work in the informal and formal sectors by working for themselves and others, in household agricultural production, and on social and reproductive activities, such as looking after children, cooking and cleaning. Conducted using a diaries approach, whereby young people met regularly with youth researchers over a year-long period, the research ensured a robust longitudinal understanding of livelihoods, cash flows, and the nature of rural work. This research cohort included more than 240 young people, evenly split between sexes. The inclusion of two countries allowed for the examination of similarities and differences across contexts and economies.