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Africa doesn’t share social mix behind Arab Spring: ILO

The Arab Spring was sparked by a mix of youth unemployment and political repression, conditions that don’t exist across all of Africa, the regional head of the UN labour agency said Thursday.

“One year ago, no one could have anticipated the Arab Spring, but the big problem that arose was that there was a huge social injustice based on the lack of jobs for young people,” said Charles Dan, regional director of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

“The big difference with sub-Saharan Africa, where there’s also a youth employment problem, is that in North Africa there was a lack of political freedoms, press freedom, and freedom of association, along with a distorted social dialogue,” he said.

“The population was suppressed and that situation can’t be generalised across Africa,” he told AFP on the sidelines of an ILO regional meeting.

Sub-Saharan Africa has experienced “a democratisation, certainly with some difficulties, but you can see progress,” he said.

Youth employment is a problem across the continent, where 70 percent of the population is under 30 years old.

In its regional report, the ILO said 17 African nations had made gains in respect for workers’ rights, such as freedom of association and collective bargaining.

Egypt, the report said, is moving to reform its labour laws.

“The greatest threat to Egypt’s tenuous economic progress is its tremendous lack of decent work opportunities for young people aged 15-29,” it said.

“The Arab Spring was an explosion that shows the need to reinforce the right to assembly and to organise unions. Otherwise people see that their problems are not being addressed and that they’re prevented from putting them on the table,” Dan said.