Wednesday, February 21, 2024
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Should Ethiopia establish a ‘Ministry of Play’ to engage its youth?

Ethiopia has experienced significant economic growth in recent years due to opening up to foreign investment, international trade, and improved access to information technology. As a result, the country is well positioned to create many new jobs for its rapidly urbanizing, youthful population.

However, closer examination of the current statistics related to youth education and employment reveals serious challenges ahead. Government data shows that youth urban unemployment has reached 25.3 percent, with 30 percent of unemployed youth classified as NEET (not in education, employment or training).

49 percent of those who are employed work without pay, mainly in subsistence agriculture, and 61 percent of these are women. 40 percent of employed persons are seeking more work hours and can be considered underemployed.

Despite Ethiopia’s best efforts through initiatives like the Ten Year Development Plan, there remains a large population of unemployed and underemployed people, especially the youth. How can cities, zones and the country as a whole productively engage the tremendous energy and innovation of so many in the population, particularly young adults?

The concepts outlined below are not novel, but require commitment from policymakers to fully integrate into planning efforts alongside other crucial development work in areas like education, health, transportation and economic growth. Specific policies, programs and funding could leverage existing domestic resources in low-cost ways focused on personal growth and development outside solely employment pathways. These include opportunities for Play, Pray and Purpose.


Play offers benefits that extend beyond childhood. Regular exercise through recreational activities improves both physical and mental health. Sports also build skills like teamwork, discipline and leadership valuable for life.

Projects like Sport for Development in Ethiopia have rehabilitated or newly constructed 24 sports grounds across the country. In Addis Ababa, the recently opened Sar Bet sports venue in Ledeta sub-city shows promise leveraging space for community recreation.

The question is: What resources would be required to equip every village with publicly accessible fields, gyms, and other recreational facilities? At a minimum, outdoor exercise areas could be developed. Arts and culture also foster personal growth while celebrating local heritage.


A central part of our culture and society is faith. The multiple traditions that have found home in Ethiopia for centuries have been pillars to the strength and continuation of the diverse communities that make up the country. For For many youth, religious institutions are centers of socialization too.

Faith-based groups that support their respective programs and offerings are increasingly led by youth. The youth can connect across faiths to jointly learn the organizational and communal practices that are applicable across faith traditions. From organizing and managing choirs, to developing programs for children, and even audio/video production, there are numerous topics that can connect various faiths and their youth to jointly learn and grow.

But how can rites of passage connecting youth to faith traditions be further supported? What initiatives could facilitate interfaith exchange among youth, highlighting commonalities to strengthen all traditions?


As human beings, People seek meaning through diverse pursuits – academia, professions, arts, charity, family, independent study, advocacy and more, but for others it may be in other endeavors, whether in creative arts, charity, family, caregiving, independent study, or even peace and addressing climate change.

The increased access to technology has also connected the world, young people particularly, to discuss and share their passions and concerns on online social media platforms. Young people need avenues and guides to assist in discovery and pursuing their passions and connect with peers to learn and develop these passions together.

This begs the question: What programs and policies help all people, whether young or old, to identify, nurture and actualize their purpose for the benefit of themselves and the community as a whole?

Programs like those through UN Generation Unlimited initiative assist all ages identifying, nurturing and actualizing their purpose for self and community benefit.  Coordination and accountability are needed at federal and local levels. “Is it time for Ministries of Play, Faith and Purpose?” Ownership and resource sharing/mobilization are best centralized, while implementation relies on community-level departments. What small beginnings could such ministries take? How would impact-focused goals and social impact models reward outcomes? Systems must enable community-driven ideas over bureaucratic rejections.

Answering these questions could channel youth energy constructively into livelihoods and self-actualization amid complexity. Continued discussion moves these concepts from ideas towards tangible policy.

Contributed by Suraphel Tamremariam

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