Sub-Saharan Africa is home to one of the largest, fastest growing youth populations in the world. But this “youth bulge” could hurt African countries more than it helps them if job opportunities aren’t increased or health and education services aren’t improved, according to an index (pdf) released by the Commonwealth Secretariat today (Oct 21). Ten of the worst countries in the world for young people, those between the ages of 15 and 29, are in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the index.
The organization, which promotes human rights and development in the 52 commonwealth countries that were mostly territories of the former British Empire, ranked 183 countries based on 18 factors like employment, health, education, and political and civic participation. Each country was given a youth development index, or YDI, score.
Some of the rankings are not surprising. Central African Republic, the worst performing, has been mired in civil and inter-religious conflict since 2013. But Cote d’Ivoire, the third worst, has been one of the most promising and best-performing economies in West Africa. Its rank was pulled down by low scores on education, health and well-being, and civic participation, according to the full report (pdf) accompanying the index.
European countries ranked the highest, while the United States ranked 23rd.
Despite their low scores, African countries showed the most improvement of any region between 2010 and 2015, according to the Commonwealth Secretariat. Of African countries, the best-ranked were Mauritius, Ghana, Liberia, Seychelles, and Kenya. Kenya showed the most improvement in its YDI score of any country in the world with an increase of 22%, the result of growing civic participation, and improved well being and health services.
African countries outperformed their global peers in one area: political participation. Sub-Saharan Africa scored slightly above North America, Russia and Eurasia, and the Asia Pacific.
“While increases in civic and political participation—through voting or protests for example—in the region are encouraging, they will only get young people so far without corresponding improvements in access to health and education,” said Abhik Sen, one of the report’s authors, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.