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Charting a course for better employment for Rwanda's youth

April 26, 2016

Despite their country’s successes in poverty reduction and job creation, Rwandan youth face serious challenges when looking for work. IDRC and the MasterCard Foundation have invested in research to understand these challenges and identify measures to improve youth employment opportunities.

Making sense of the employment situation in Rwanda

This Central African nation has experienced rapid economic growth in the last 15 years, with its Gross Domestic Product nearly quadrupling over this period. Its agricultural production has grown fast and its population has become healthier and better educated. Poverty rates continue to fall, down to 39% in 2014 from 57% in 2006, according to the latest official statistics.

Rwanda’s current unemployment rate is just 2% – much lower than elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. Although below the official national target of 200,000, job creation is strong at close to 150,000 jobs created yearly.

But this unemployment rate doesn’t capture the livelihood challenges facing young Rwandans. In cities, the unemployment rate is almost 9%, and some 13.5% of young people with university education are unemployed. Young women in both rural and urban settings are more likely to be unemployed than young men, with their unemployment rate standing at 4.9% across Rwanda compared to 3.2% for males. 

Also, the unemployment figures in Rwanda use a very low threshold for employment: anybody working one hour or more per week is considered employed. This hides the fact that most people are "under-employed," working only a few hours a week, with low wages and poor working conditions, in rural or urban sectors. Many young people are self-employed, work without pay, or hold more than one job.

Creating opportunities for youth, a Rwandan priority

The Government of Rwanda is taking the country’s employment challenge seriously. In his keynote remarks addressing household survey results and unemployment figures released by Rwanda's National Insitute of Statistics, President Paul Kagame emphasized a government program to adapt training to the needs of the labour market: "We need to really continue investing heavily in … Technical and Vocational Education Training.” This training provides the kinds of skills that will help with unemployment and is a priority in Rwanda.

Improvements around education could be one part of the solution. There is growing recognition that Rwanda's education system needs reforming to enhance the employability of graduates. As researcher Dickson Malunda described in an IDRC-funded research project, the government has put in place training programs for both educated and uneducated youth. However, awareness of these programs tends to be limited and coordination between them needs to be improved.

Initiatives by non-governmental organizations are also helping to address the challenge, with support from donors like the MasterCard Foundation. These initiatives include

  • Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT) Rwanda, trains graduates to create start-ups

  • TechnoServe, provides entrepreneurial training, including under Kuremera, a government apprenticeship program for youth, especially school dropouts

  • Education Development Center, provides technical/vocational and entrepreneurial training

Consultations organized by IDRC and the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research, with support from the MasterCard Foundation, found that young Rwandans are also taking these challenges seriously. They acknowledge their own responsibility in finding opportunities however limited these may be.

A role for knowledge and solutions

IDRC, together with the MasterCard Foundation, has invested to support Rwandan efforts. Careful analysis of existing data can build knowledge about the complexities of the employment challenges and how they affect youth. New initiatives to create opportunities for youth can benefit from the carefully designed evaluations of previous efforts, improved design to help them go to scale, and better coordination between initiatives and actors.

Read the scoping paper on Youth employment in Rwanda

Find out more about the national consultations on youth employment in Rwanda, supported by IDRC and the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research, with support from the MasterCard Foundation.

Read about President Kagame’s reaction to Rwanda’s unemployment challenge

Learn about some of the initiatives led by non-governmental organizations in Rwanda: