discusses how strengthening the capacity of government, non-government and private sectors is essential for Africa's development goals.
The events in the Arab Spring have propelled youth employment and TVET on the political agenda at the highest level in Africa. Leaders of the continent learnt about the nature and scope of the likely impact of demographic pressures compounded with improved education opportunities and deeper ICT penetration in a context of youth’s unemployment, financial crisis, structural poverty and institutional fragility. In the absence of capacities to address this multi-facetted challenge, there were unambiguous signals that the increasing number of the youth population share in the demographic pyramid, long hailed as the promise and future of the continent can rather become a vector of social implosion, con! flict and political instability in Africa. As far back as 2004, the United Nations had anticipated this trend by asking “How have we let what should be our greatest asset, youth, become a threat to our security?” (UN, 2004).
In July 2011, the African Union’s Summit of Heads of States and Government held in Malabo (Equatorial Guinea) focused on the theme of “Accelerating Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development”. They decided “that the Commission in collaboration with its partners should elaborate a Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) framework, addressing specifically the domains of Agriculture and ICT, while accelerating the implementation of the Youth Decade Plan of Action.
The ECOWAS understood this as a reaffirmation of the primacy of people-centered regional integration articulated in its Vision 2020 (‘movement from an ECOWAS of States to an ECOWAS of the people’) and embedded in its flagship Protocol on Free Movement of People and Good and the Right of Residence in West Africa.
Founded in 1975 by the Treaty of Lagos, with a membership of 15 states of West Africa and occupy a surface area of 5,032,000SqKms (representing 17% of the total surface area of the continent), the ECOWAS is the largest regional economic community in Africa, with more than 300 Million citizens (2011 estimates) largely young (whereas the youth constitute only about 20 percent of the world’s total population, those in West Africa make up more than 60 percent of the region’s population), and an economy growing at a rate of 6.2 in 2010. The ECOWAS represents the 23rd GDP (PPP) of the world (estimated in 2011 at $ 703 268 Billions) and a GDP per capita of $2500 (2011).
In the ECOWAS sub-region, the renewed political commitment to youth employment at the highest level impressed a new impetus to the consultation already underway since 2009, through which the ECOWAS Commission was engaged in a dialogue with partners on ways of developing its institutional capacities to exert effective leadership in the TVET sub-sector in the sub-region according to the principles of the Paris Declaration and the Accra Action Agenda.
In West Africa, technical education and vocational training remain key ingredients for development and poverty reduction in the ECOWAS. While the sub-region has an overall record of significant advances in education, available knowledge reveals that the multiplicity of approaches to TVET, its shaky institutional set up and the differentials in levels of investment have so far tended to build national silos in skills development. Under the circumstances, the “weakness of formal education systems results in graduates entering the labor market with outdated knowledge and the lack of vocational education”.
This poses a significant barrier to regional economic integration, especially for the mobility of skills and labor across national borders and within the regional labor market. Whether willing (economic migrants) or forced ( refugees, internally displaced people), migrants within the ECOWAS space are challenged to have adaptable skills that can allow them to settle and lead alternative livelihoods in changing economic and socio-political environments.
At present, much is yet to be done to meet their needs in terms of productive employment. On the one side, skills and competences are neither certified nor mutually recognized between national education and training systems (with differences based on the respective French and Anglo-Saxon colonial legacies in the region). On the other side, the quality of education and training programmes remains weak in the absence of compelling regional standards, mechanisms of quality assurance, and the lack of a strategic drive to integrate TVET in the broader vision for pro-poor growth oriented regional integration. Hence the need for policies and practices in TVET that can promote resilience at the national and regional levels and the sustainability of current initiatives.
In 2009, the Ministers in charge of TVET in the ECOWAS framed the issue as that of weak institutional capacities within the Commission of ECOWAS to coordinate between member states, align and harmonize multiple initiatives of states, civil society and the private sector, and to harness donor’s support so as to achieve efficiency and increased impact in TVET. As such, the question of youth employment and TVET was specified not as one of substantive content and delivery of education and training programmes, but as that of capacity development to enhance regional and international cooperation to accelerate regional integration. They called for a collaborative institutional arrangement that would fo! ster synergy between TVET actors, policy coherence between interventions, facilitate the mutual learning from experiences and harness a more strategic engagement with donors.
The capacity development response to the issues above has been in the form of creating an institutional mechanism through which the Commission of the ECOWAS and its partners engage in a permanent dialogue on sequencing and investing in TVET intervention to spread benefits to all states and accelerate progress through harmonization and coordination under the leadership of the ECOWAS.
One best definition of Capacity Development is provided by the UNDP as ‘the process through which individuals, organizations and societies obtain, strengthen and maintain the capabilities to set and achieve their own development objectives over time’. In this respect, the ECOWAS and other partners agreed that an effective way of obtaining, strengthening and maintaining capacities in the TVET sub-sector was to enhance inter-agency coordination in West Africa. Hence the creation of the Inter-Agency Task Team (IATT).
The IATT was created in 2009. Under the leadership of the ECOWAS, the mission of the IATT is to promote coordination, harmonization, alignment and mutual accountability between the member states, the UN agencies and other regional institutions involved in the TVET sub-sector in the region. At present, members of the IATT include the ECOWAS, UNDP, the UNESCO-BREDA, the African Development Bank, the ILO, ONUFEMMES, ADEA, JICA, CIDA, Association of Community Colleges of Canada (ACCC), the World Bank, and UNIDO.
With the mission of enhancing the institutional capacities of the ECOWAS to provide policy oversight and lead and coordinate multi-agency TVET interventions in the sub-region, the IATT seeks to advance primarily the MDG 1 Target 1b which directly addresses youth employability. The IATT will work at country level with UNCTs and other partners through MDG-based PRSP and UNDAF and at the sub-regional and regional levels, through ECOWAS and regional mechanisms like the Regional Coordination Mechanism and Regional Directors Team. The focus of the IATT therefore will be “youth employability”.
The Inter-Agency Task Team is chaired by the UNDP (Regional Service Centre for West and Central Africa). The UNESCO-BREDA assumes the role of Secretariat. It has successfully contributed to the following:
Early learning can be drawn from the experience of the IATT: the relevance of institutional mechanism for stakeholders’ dialogue to advance regional integration; the importance of strategic partnerships between members of the IATT and; the need for a systematic approach to engage IFIs and bilateral donors in the mobilization of resources for youth employment and TVET in the sub-region. All areas in which the UNDP has a comparative advantage and a catalytic role to play.