Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

Retail trading: a new source of income for African youths

Article from AFRIC Editorial
According to the United Nations Development program, Africa has the youngest population in the world. In 2015 Africa’s youth population (aged 15-24) was at 226 million and this number is expected to double by 2055. A report from the African Development Bank states that African universities produce millions of graduates every year, but the jobs created yearly are not enough to provide stable employment for these young graduates. As a result 60% of all unemployed Africans are youths. In a bid to find a means of sustenance for themselves and for their families, most of these young people have resorted to self-employment, and the most common is petty trading.

Petty trading is a growing socioeconomic activity in many African countries; especially in urban areas which involves selling inexpensive items on a small scale. This is carried out by many young people; both university graduates and uneducated youths. The sizes of these small businesses depend greatly on the initial capital of the trader, which is usually not much. For those who are lucky to have a substantial sum of money, they open small kiosks by roadsides where they sell their items. Others have no choice than to carry their items on their heads and hawk around the major streets in urban areas.

Reasons why many youths resort to petty trading

High unemployment rates

Many African youths are forced to turn to petty trading as a means of survival because of the high rate of youth unemployment on the continent; 60% African youths are unemployed. Since many youths find it difficult to find jobs in a labour market where priority is given to older people, they have no other choice than to fend for themselves on the African streets.

 An increase in the number of refugees

Many young African refugees especially girls living urban areas are forced to sell items such as peanuts, chin-chin, locally made beauty products and pastries to make a living. This is because it is difficult for them to get jobs, since most of them do not have identification papers and are either illiterate or undereducated.

Rural-urban Migration

Due to the difficult nature of life in the rural areas, many young people have moved to the cities to make a better life for themselves. Most of them get disillusioned when they are unable to get good jobs, and instead of going back to the village, they prefer to hang around streets selling what they can to make fast cash.

Limited access to agricultural land and lack of interest in agriculture

Agriculture employs about 60% of Africa’s total workforce but many young people are not involved. While some youths do not have access to agricultural land due to urbanisation, land dragging among other reasons, others do not have interest in agriculture which is considered tedious and time consuming. They are more interested in trading which will give them quick money, though not substantial amounts.

High levels of illiteracy

Many young people in Africa are not educated, especially those in the rural area. Most of them abandon school as a result of juvinal delinquency, while others lack the means to see them through school. As a result, they are qualified to work in offices or do formal work so they turn to petty trading.

Most of those engaged in petty trading are orphans

Life expectancy in Africa has dropped significantly as compared to previous years. Today, life expectancy across the continent is 61 for males and 64 for females. Some parents are not fortunate to live up to this age due to illnesses. As a result, their orphanned children have no one to care for them so they have to fend for themselves. They end up on the streets of African cities trying to sell what they can to make money.


Poverty is one of the major driving forces behind petty trading. Many petty traders do not have the funds to invest in their businesses and usually do not have people to invest in them. They usually start their businesses with very little; between 10 to 50 dollars. The lucky ones are able to double the amount and the size of their businesses while the others usually end at very small levels because they have to spend the profits on their personal needs.

What can be done to improve on the situation?

It is quite impossible for any government to provide employment for all her citizens; especially in Africa, reason why the private sector is of great importance in job creation as well as self-employment. In this light, the government has to take measures to regulate petty trading, especially in urban areas. It is not sufficient to pass out laws that prohibit people from selling things along the street if a better option is not given.

These young people need all the support they can get in order to establish and build businesses that can grow and provide employment for others. The Petty Traders Empowerment and Credit Fund is an example of initiatives taken to provide facilities for business empowerment for petty traders in Nigeria.

A youthful and push full population is an asset to any economy, and if managed effectively will contribute to economic growth and development. Africa needs to create an enabling atmosphere for young people; whether educated or not because they can be very instrumental in building the continent.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

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