President HH needs to press the reset button and intervene immediately
By Mwansa Chalwe Snr
The New Dawn administration -UPND- was ushered into power in August, 2021 by the Youth who voted in unprecedented numbers to get rid of the Patriotic Front (PF), in what was essentially an electoral revolution. The Youth placed their hopes for quick jobs in President HH under the mantra: “Barry will fix it”, but this, has not yet happened, and there are no promising signs. The Opposition and other Critics have accused the government of having no clear roadmap for the creation of jobs for the Youth. They allege that the administration has forgotten about the Youth and put them at the backburner in preference to foreign interests.
To date, there has not been anybody who knew how the Zambian Youth felt about the New Dawn administration’s ten months in power. However, for the first time, there is some independent empirical evidence suggesting that they are on a wrong path to youth job creation. This is a very important feedback that needs to be reacted to by government and taken seriously by the President.
Zambia and African Youth Perception of their Governments
According to the Africa Youth Survey (AYS) 2022, sponsored by Ichikowitz Family Foundation of South Africa, 84% of Zambian Youths are dissatisfied with the government’s job creation efforts. And in a bar chart illustration, 90% think the country is heading in the wrong direction. It is the first time since the election of 12th August, 2021, that the degree of Zambian Youth discontent or dissatisfaction has been scientifically highlighted.
Zambia was among the 15 African countries in the sample surveyed. The scientific data was gathered by the consulting firm Penn Schoen Berland (PSB) Insights of South Africa. In general, the majority of African youth have lost confidence in their own countries and the continent as a whole, to meet their aspirations, and a rising number are considering moving abroad, Kaamil Ahmed reported in the UK Guardian Newspaper.
“According to the survey published on 13 June, 2022, by African Youth Survey, in 15 countries, almost all countries at least two-thirds of young people surveyed believed their nations were going in the wrong direction, apart from Rwanda and Ghana, where 60% and 56% were optimistic about their country’s direction. Only 32% of the 4,500 young people interviewed, aged 18-24, were optimistic about Africa’s prospects. Ivor Ichikowitz, whose South African family foundation commissioned the report, hopes the survey’s data will be used by governments to support the aspirations of their young people,” The Guardian Newspaper reported.
The Lagos-based Pan-African business news provider, Business Insider Africa, whilst commenting on the survey, observed that: “The Africa Youth Survey (AYS), thanks to the depth of these interviews, has become an authoritative source for understanding the opinions of Africa’s rising generation.”
The AYS suggests that Africa’s Youth want to see their governments prioritising job creation and not foreign direct investment, which they put at 6% as a priority, because it does not benefit them sufficiently or the local economy.
“Six in ten believe foreign companies have been allowed to take advantage of their country’s resources without sufficiently benefitting or contributing to the local populations. In order for the African continent to progress and move forward, youth think that the top priority should be creating new, well-paying jobs, followed by reducing government corruption. More than two-thirds (69%) say they are dissatisfied with how their national government is performing on creating new employment opportunities for people like them. Youth in Nigeria (87%), Zambia (84%) and Malawi (82%) are particularly dissatisfied with job creation efforts in their country,” the Survey noted.
Zambia’s Youth unemployment Conundrum
In order to put the Zambian Youth unemployment problem in context, a few numbers can give the reader the magnitude of the problem. According to the United Nations Population Fund, 82% of Zambian population is below the age of 35 years old. In 2018, Zambia’s Youth unemployment rate was last officially put at 41.2% but many analysts believe it could be between 60-70% now given the last two years of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is estimated that between 300,000 and 350,000 youths enter the job market from education institutions yearly. The formally employed are estimated at 1.2million (6.67 % of population),whereas informal employment is about 6.8milllion.The former Commerce Minister, Bob Sichinga claimed that there were about 7.5million Zambian Youths unemployed. The reality is that the number of Youths unemployed are in millions and any solutions ought to be based on these numbers.
President HH is urged to take immediate action. He should personally pursue this youth unemployment issue by intervening with the same vigour as he is doing with trade, investments, debt restructuring and mining incentives. These strategies will take time to produce any results. Youths need immediate results. In any case, the aforementioned strategies will not create the critical mass of jobs required. Strategies for solving Youth unemployment that the Author is privy to, are not mutually exclusive to the pursuit of foreign direct investments and trade promotion. The two strategies could be implemented in parallel. There are latent jobs out there in the economy that just need activation with a bit of common sense and innovative thinking plus looking outside the inner circle for solutions.
Suggested Solutions to New Dawn Administration
In order to change the Zambian Youth’s perception as per Africa Youth Survey (AYS), and regain their confidence, the New Dawn government needs to take two major steps immediately to give the Youth hope. First, they need to quickly design a Road Map for Youth Job Creation. It should be credible, comprehensive, coordinated and communicated to Zambians. The President himself should communicate it to the nation for it to be taken seriously. The Comprehensive Road Map should include outlining the seven major causes of Youth unemployment and how the planned interventions will solve them; identify the four main youth demographics and the different solutions applicable to them; provide short-term, medium-term and long-term solutions for solving Youth unemployment. The Roadmap should also be cross-cutting among the four Youth cluster Ministries. The one size fits all approach to resolve Youth unemployment like the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), Youth Development Fund (YDF) etc are unlikely to be successful. Secondly, the New Dawn should quickly implement shovel ready short term initiatives for fast-tracking youth job creation.
While in Opposition, about two years ago, President HH wrote a Youth job creation policy brief on his Facebook page. He mentioned one brilliant and practical idea capable of fast tracking the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs. The President may have forgotten about the idea due to his busy schedule. My associates bought into the idea and decided to extensively research on it. They found its validation in the African Development Bank documents relating to the Bank’s Jobs for Youth in Africa (JfYA) Strategy (2016-25). Together, we subsequently designed a technology-based, practical entrepreneurship programme for implementing President HH policy idea in practice. It is called the “Digital Entrepreneurship Value Addition (DEVA) programme. The solution is mobile technology-based and is capable of transforming the Youth job market the way mobile money has done to financial inclusion. It is one of the quickest solutions to solve youth unemployment and a possible game-changer. We would recommend it to any African government struggling with Youth unemployment. The proposed initiative could easily create over 100 000 jobs within the next six months by tapping in the blue ocean of latent jobs that only require activation with smart technology and innovative practical ideas.
In the light of the findings in the Africa Youth Survey(AYS), it is advisable for the New Dawn government to press a reset button, and recalibrate its priorities as the Youth have clearly given them unequivocal feedback. They should not make the same mistake that the PF made of ignoring the voices of the youth, as well as some of us, who are passionate advocates for youth employment creation, who offered solutions based on empirical evidence, hands on experience and exposure, as we are doing now.
It would be in the spirit of cooperation between the public and private sector, as per recently set up Public Private Dialogue Forum, that we could easily assist in crafting a Youth Employment Creation Roadmap and implement a fast track youth job creation initiative with our partner, the 3 million member Zambia National Marketeers Cooperative Association (ZANAMACA) in a tripartite Public Private Partnership with government. All the President has to do, is to intervene by giving us the signal and support, because the Civil Service on its own, from our experience, is full of inertia and bureaucracy and nothing urgent like this will ever be done without the Presidential directive.
To conclude, it would be useful to quote the AYS Sponsors comments’ on the Survey results so that our government and other African governments are guided and avoid being complacent about their security of tenure in office given this demographic’s power.
“The 2022 African Youth Survey provides us with an indication of how our next generation of African leaders will respond to new demands. I have no doubt that this can become one of the most critically important development tools for the continent. The youth won’t stand by idly. The era or one man, one vote, once, is long gone on this continent. This has emerged in both surveys – then in full sight in Zambia in 2021.The youth want to preserve the natural resources that are their heritage. They will start their own businesses and they will move to where they believe those greatest opportunities lie.
“African youth remain focused on their personal and entrepreneurial ambitions, they want to be in charge of their own destinies. Three-quarters of youth know what they want to do with their lives, and a similar proportion have plans to start their own business within the next five years despite challenges for both their personal and professional ambitions – lack of access to capital and widespread and affordable internet limit entrepreneurial ambition,” Survey comments Suggest.
The writer is a Chartered Accountant and Author. He is a semi-retired international MSMEs Consultant, an independent financial commentator and a Mentor/Advisor. He is also an Op-Ed Contributor to the Hong Kong based, Alibaba owned, and South China Morning Post (SCMP). Contact: [email protected]