Sierra Leone's Minister of Foreign Affairs has revealed that more than 17 million youths within the Mano River basin grouping Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire are either unemployed or underemployed.
"We have a figure like seventeen million youths in our four countries that are either unemployed or underemployed" Minister Mr. Samura Kamara said.
Studies have shown that unemployment especially for young people in the MRU basin is a recipe for civil crisis.
According to a recent survey by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, the rate of youth unemployment in MRU countries runs as high as 88 per cent. They include marginalized and vulnerable youth, including ex-combatants and former child soldiers
Mr. Samura made the revelation in Monrovia Friday at the end of the MRU Technical Meeting on Education, Training and Research.
The Foreign Minister who represented Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Guinea, Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire and Sierra Leone, rallied MRU member states for a collective international approach to achieve the organization's medium term goals and objectives, terming the situation as important.
He added: "I think this is a very important revelation because the MRU population is a little over 40 million. This figure represents over one-third of the MRU total population. This is a big challenge, and we have to address it."
Youth unemployment and underemployment, Foreign Minister Kamara noted, are two important challenges that MRU member countries must tackle in order to make progress.
"Youth underemployment is where a youth is employed but he or she feels she's being underpaid for the qualification or potential she has. Youth unemployment is where some feel they are qualified but not employed or do not have a job to do.
We have to take it as a sub-regional challenge to be able to meet our objectives," he said.
In order to address the situation, Mr. Kamara proposed a regional knowledge sharing amongst member states, saying, "Therefore, without pre-empting the reports of our experts, we want to emphasize what we called Regional Knowledge Exchange. This knowledge exchange amongst the MRU member states would be important.
"It means that MRU countries should exploit fully the comparative advantage positions in the areas of education, training and research, especially in the context of the need to modernize our labor markets in all sectors of our economies including agriculture, and agro processing, as well as gas and oil manufacturing and processing.
"We may have the same natural resources but the levels at which we are expecting them may be completely different. Therefore, we need to share our knowledge and expertise in these areas.
It is better for us to start within the sub-region before you can venture going outside of the region for experts," Minister Kamara told delegates at the Corina Hotel Friday.
He also cautioned MRU member countries to create a platform that would allow their youths to venture into areas of agriculture, gas and oil, as well as attempting in other industrial activities, emphasizing technical and vocational training programs as important integral to achieving such agenda.
"We have to address the issues of technical and vocational education in order to make our youths employable in a manner that is consistent with the requirements of the labor market today.
"We need to look at areas such as agriculture, forestry, and, infrastructure, in manufacturing, as well as venturing in petroleum and gasoline and also in the mining industry," Minister Kamara suggested.