By Kalima Nkonde

Story highlights

  • Orphaned Youth with Mathematics university degree in education commits suicide after failing to get a teaching job for three years alleging corruption in teaching postings in his suicide note ( Zambian Observer, January,2019)
  • I am always reminded of the Arab Spring when I address the issue of youth unemployment. We all know what happened to our friends in North Africa, where disgruntled unemployed youths can help to bring down Governments( Former Minister for Labour and Social Services, Fackson Shamenda,2015)
  • 168,119 applications for the Zambia Army, Zambia Air force and Zambia National Service for an estimated 1,500 positions in 2016 ( Zambia Daily Mail,2016 )
  • 57,601 applications for the Zambia Police Service 1,000 constable positions in 2018 ( Zambia daily Mail,2018)
  • Youth unemployment is a ticking time bomb that now appears to be perilously close to exploding ( Former Minister of Finance, Alexander Chikwanda, 2017)

The motivation behind this article is twofold, first is the sad story i recently read about a young man of 31 years, who was a Mathematics University graduate and an orphan, who committed suicide after failing to get a job for over three years. The news made me breakdown as a parent with children of similar age and grand children as i wondered what sort of country we are leaving for them. I just had to write about the Youth unemployment problem. The deceased alleged that he failed to get a job as a teacher because the allocations of teaching jobs are laced with corruption. This case should be investigated by authorities so that teaching job allocations are based on merit and the young man’s death is not in vain.

The second motivation is the silence by Zambia’s political players about the issue of Youth unemployment. This is an issue i consider to be the number one problem that Zambia faces today. It is amazing that political parties on both sides of the aisle are oblivious to this problem and have not been talking about it and providing practical, innovative solutions and programmes to the problem. It gives any observer the impression that Zambian politicians are all motivated by getting into power and enjoy the gravy train themselves rather than by public service and solving societal problems thus the voter apathy especially among the Youth. There is an urgent need to keep youth unemployment front and centre of our country’s economic and social debates.

There is no doubt that Youth unemployment in Zambia does pose a serious threat to peace, security, political and economic stability, given that they make up a higher proportion of the Zambian population. The opportunity cost of not fighting youth unemployment is extremely high to the young people and the society as a whole. The consequences of youth unemployment include crime, alcohol and drug abuse, prostitution, violence including political violence, vandalisms, suicides, early marriages and of course a serious threat to the political stability of the country.

The former Minister for Labour and Social Security Mr. Fackson Shamenda recognized the risks inherent in not addressing Youth unemployment when addressing the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Africa regional workshop on youth empowerment in October 2015.

“I am always reminded of the Arab Spring when I address the issue of youth unemployment. We all know what happened to our friends in North Africa, where disgruntled unemployed youths can help to bring down Governments. This is why we must, as continent, seriously address the challenge of youth unemployment,” Mr Shamenda said.

When officiating at the Pensions and Insurance Authority (PIA) event, the Minister of Labour and Social Services, Joyce Nonde- Simukoko in late 2018 disclosed that Zambia’s unemployment rate is 41.2%. Earlier in 2018, the Oxford educated and respected academic, Dr. Sishuwa Sishuwa, estimated that Zambia’s unemployment rate was 60%. There are others who have estimated the unemployment at ridiculous rates of 15.35%. However, regardless of what the statistics are, what is not in dispute is that unemployment especially among the Youth is very high and the evidence on the ground does support this assertion.

In order to put the gravity of Youth unemployment in context, last year in 2018, the Zambia Police Service had received 57,601 applications for jobs advertised as part of their recruitment exercise for the 1,000 constable positions. In 2016, the Ministry of Defence advertised an estimated 1,500 positions and received an incredible 168,119 applications for the Zambia Army, Zambia Air force and Zambia National Service .In my generation, these jobs we neither seriously considered nor rushed for and were left for those with very poor education results.

Although private companies and other public institutions do not disclose the number of applicants for jobs that they advertise, they also must be overwhelmed with thousands of job applications. The question is what is the cause of all this high level of unemployment despite record foreign direct investment inflows in the past 27 years especially from the mines and the Chinese and record debt contraction by government especially on construction?

The causes of youth unemployment are well known and varied but it is important to highlight the major ones so that, when solutions are being sought, there is proper focus in order to ensure that proper solutions are devised having diagnosed the causes properly. It follows, therefore, that for the record, these are outlined. There are five major factors contributing to the high Youth unemployment in Zambia.

The first major cause of Youth unemployment in Zambia’s low economic growth rate which is insufficient to generate enough jobs. Inasmuch as there is some validity in this argument, there is some limit to the credence of this argument, in Zambia’s case. The Zambian experience has shown that even when the economy was growing at about 7%, enough jobs were not being created. The reason is that the growth in the economy was coming from “wrong sectors” and was based on the export of raw copper with little value addition and foreign financed infrastructure projects with very little local content in them including the supply chain.

In addition, a chunk of contribution to the economic growth rate is and was dominated by foreign investors with negligible local companies’ participation, resulting in most of the multiplier effects not flowing into the country but going outside country. For example, the construction industry which in most countries jumpstarts economies was foreign and Chinese driven with limited local multiplier effect. In other words, Zambia has been exporting millions of jobs instead of creating them at home. The current laissez- faire model to foreign investment does not generate enough jobs to absorb the Youths that are coming out of schools, colleges and Universities.

Zambia’s current education system is very poor and is churning out Youths who are unemployable. The standards of education in Zambia have gone down over the last 27 years and the proliferation of education institutions has coincided with the deterioration of education standards. This has resulted in the mismatch of skills between what the education system is producing and what the labour market wants. This is certainly a major contributor to Youth unemployment as jobs may be there but Zambians have the wrong skills and so foreigners with requisite skills are being employed.

The technological advances in the 21st Century have resulted in the mechanisation of most tasks in most sectors of the economy resulting in less jobs being done by human beings and machines have taken over. In the 21st Century, there is need to develop a new set of skills fit for the Knowledge and ICT economy which is unfolding. Zambian Youth simply do not have those skills.

The current population growth rate in Zambia is also rather high, resulting in the economy not being able to cope given the low economic growth rates. The higher population growth rates than economic growth rates means there is a continuous gap between the two rates which is resulting in the high unemployment levels that the country has been experiencing.

Finally and most importantly, there is the lack of priorities, interest and political will in tackling and implementing most of the job creation initiatives developed and lying idle in government offices. The absence of political will and willingness to take bold steps to address the problem is a major contributing factor to Youth unemployment. It is not a false accusation that the government and Opposition parties have over the years given lukewarm attention to job creation. Politicians promise youth jobs in their speeches during election campaigns without concrete programmes and plans on how they will do it and consequently nothing is put in practice after they are elected.

It is vitally important that Government realises that Jobs are created by the private sector and most of the skills and ideas for job creation reside outside government and so they should consider looking outside the government bureaucracy in order to solve Youth unemployment. The involvement of the private sector, cooperating partners, labour Unions and the civic society is imperative. There are Zambians out there including this writer with innovative and practical solutions for job creation in the short term, medium term and long term. The solutions are there begging to be seized.

It amazes me how we seem to be so short of people with foresight in leadership positions in Zambia across the political spectrum.; have our leaders and their advisors stopped thinking and are more focused on primitive accumulation of wealth and the thirst for acquisition of political power? There is a serious lack of application risk management strategies whereby issues are anticipated and mitigation measures put in place.

Whereas a good number of Zambians who are outside the political arena are able to foresee some of these problems, before they happen, our leaders and their advisors, only see them when they happen and react to the situations- fire fighting management! No wonder we are now obsessed with acquiring all manner of fire fighting equipment- including second hand ones- instead of putting in measures that prevent fires in the first place. In Zambia, one gets the impression we seem to run our private and country affairs based on a “Fire fighting management Model” or the “ Fikasova (things will sort themselves out) model.

There are so many examples where this writer and others had warned about certain economic issues that needed to be addressed by government in a timely manner but the advice was ignored until it was very late. The issues include the following : implementation of proper taxing of mines and addressing illicit financial flows, the danger of accelerated massive infrastructure projects which made them the poisoned well of the economy, the negative impact of excessive debt, the need to rein in excessive expenditure and to avoid big government, the need to finalize the IMF deal quickly in 2015/16 to support balance of payments and prevent kwacha depreciation, the need to solve the Chinese conundrum by negotiating better deals to create jobs at the same time control the influx of low skilled Chinese immigrants with little value addition to the economy who end up depriving Zambians business opportunities. The list goes on and on.

In the light of the advice given in the past by this columnist’s articles and others having proved to be true, one hopes that the problem of Youth unemployment highlighted in this article is attended to immediately by both the Opposition, who should consider themselves as governments in waiting and should be outlining clear policies and positions as part of checks and balances on this issue, and the ruling PF party, before the ticking time bomb explodes.

The writer is a Chartered Accountant by profession, a Private Sector Development expert and an Entrepreneur. He is an independent, non- partisan finance and economic commentator/analyst and a Patriot.

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