Part of the Jobless 6 protesting
Part of the Jobless 6 protesting

A lot has been said about the six University of Zambia students who staged a demonstration over the high rate of unemployment in this country. To begin with, I would like to express my utmost relief at such brevity. Indeed it is about time that youths protested peacefully in order send a strong message to our leaders. Do not be intimidated. It’s your right and it’s legal.

While many are hitting the airwaves and social media to talk about this issue, I was thinking about the six million Zambians who are jobless, underemployed and underpaid. As it stands, Zambia’s formal sector employs less than one million people out of the working age population of over seven million people. That’s a six million shortfall. Why are we not talking about this group?

Looking for employment or starting a business in Zambia is an absolute nightmare. I have treaded on that path of unemployment and even traded on the streets of hopelessness in Lusaka. It’s exhausting, expensive and dehumanizing. This is why I totally support the students. Their experiences now resonate very well with me. It’s not very long ago when I landed in Lusaka, equipped with my American education and looking forward to contribute to this country that I love so much. Unfortunately, foreigners were offered jobs even when I had better education and work experience. In addition, contracts were awarded to foreigners and subsequently frustrating my efforts to do business.

The idea therefore, of saying graduates should not wait for government to provide jobs is easier said than done. To start a business in Zambia is not a joke. Needless to say, one needs the money to do so. The other options available such as banks, Youth Development Fund and the Citizen’s Economic Empowerment Fund are marred with corruption and nepotism. Only MMD officials and their relatives accessed the government related funds during the time I was applying for one. I remember an official from CEEC suggesting that I appeal my case through the Minister and Commerce or the MMD Secretariat. Sadly, that’s how things work in Zambia and the six million jobseekers face these obstacles on a daily basis.

Zambia’s labor force is growing extremely fast while the labor market is registering minimal or near zero growth. It is estimated that 100,000 prospects of employees are added to the labor force every year creating a huge deficit. What exactly is the current government’s plan to ensure that the six million people together with the six graduates are given a chance in life to earn a living? The Patriotic Front Government promised that they will create one million jobs by 2016. Going by their numbers (200,000 per year), they should have created close to 800,000 now.

Like I have suggested before, this government can create jobs in various ways. Part of the heavily borrowed money could have used to revamp dying industries around the country. Here is part of the article I wrote February, 2013:

1. Create local industries and put restrictions on importing competing products. I strongly believe that real jobs can be created if industries such as clothing factories in Livingstone can be revived. Meanwhile, impose tariffs and quotas on all imported clothing. Ban Salaula. Yes some marginal jobs are created through Salaula but have no long time benefits to the economy. We need to start encouraging entrepreneurship through having corresponding legislation. To encourage many Zambians to get involved in business, similar strategies can be adopted in other industries.

2. Agriculture, agriculture and more agriculture. This cannot be over-emphasized. There is clearly no plan by the administration on how they will create 550,000 jobs in agriculture in the next five years with their no-plan budget. Here are a few points the government can pick up. Firstly, just like above, the government needs to revive the dead or dying food production industries like Mwinilunga Canning Factory. Similar industries for processing fish in Western Province, beef in Southern Province, beans in North-Western Province, groundnuts in Eastern Province, tomatoes in Central Province and so on. This will create real jobs that will employ local people in these areas. In a similar fashion, restrict the importation of certain foodstuffs so that we can promote our own. This will mean that government has to proactively go out there and look for real partners who are going to work with local people.

3. Youth Empowerment. Zambian youths need to be empowered with firstly knowledge and skills. Introduce skills training as early as grade five. By the time they are grade twelve, we will have young people who will invent a nshima-making gadget. It is then that it makes sense to fund their projects using the Youth Empowerment Fund or Citizens Economic Empowerment Fund. In addition, can we have a law that will require every new investor to have a Zambian partner before investing in Zambia? If an Australian mining company discovers gold in Mtenguleni Village I should sure receive royalties by virtue of my heritage.

Unemployment is no doubt the number one problem that is facing Zambia today. For this reason, leaders need to devote themselves one hundred percent to this cause. Unfortunately, many African leaders are not motivated enough to tackle this problem because it lessens their grip on power and the ability to manipulate the largely poor population. The more poorer and less educated the population is, the more rich and powerful they become.

By Wesley Ngwenya

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16 COMMENTS

  1. A lot has been said about these guys. The thing is that the way we criticize them is slightly harsh. The real blame goes to the whole system, the education system and us Zambians. The education system in Zambia is made in such a way that people think that a job and an office is waiting upon graduation, and us Zambians are hindered from think out of the box and we put all our energies in acquiring that piece of paper that states we have graduated. Our education system needs SERIOUS reforms, starting from lower levels, were we can recognize talent, see who is a genius in medicine or who are athletes, spend time and money developing these, then entrepreneurship classes at high levels in order for graduates to be job makers not seekers.

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    • @ray ray I accept that our Education system needs reforms. The real problem is poor Governance. If we sort out the problem of poor Governance system then will sort out the issue of Education system, Health and economy in general. Zambians should realize that we need a national strategy bases on our philosophical foundations-A. who are we? B. What do we want to be? C. How do we achieve our dreams? In answering the (who) we are talking of the Constitution. In answering the (What )we are talking of shared goals and Vision being drawn in our “National development plans”. In answering the (how),we are talking of policies and activity based Budgets,followed by implementation and strict monitoring.
      currently Zambians we lost and wondering all over the shore like wild beast.

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    • @SIDO, you are right. We lack national identity, we lack goals & strategies, yes, this is due to bad governance, this is another set back,. but y i stressed on education its cuz bad governance comes from lack of good education which can constantly offer checks & balances to the gov., we don’t have that. nd speaking of goals, the current gov. lacks goals, there is nothing the national is working together towards, everything is running at random selection. E.g, Lusaka, livingtone, copperbelt just to mention a few should have goals such as keeping Lusaka clean and restoring national order, restoring tourism, C-belt should hav copper related goals and implementation strategies, these are simple ideas that would have people knw what we are working on as a national and could spark development

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  2. Thanks Wes – I remember your 2013-post and man, we ain’t seen nothing yet! The sh!t hit the fan long time ago, Zambia needs a redeemer. Well articulated and TTP 🙂

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  3. Lets call a spade a spade. Zambia was on the right path under Mwanawasa ,things started to go very bad under RB and have been made worse under Sata.Now under Lungu we are near the intersive care unit. Zambian’s curse comes out of-1. Tribalism in voting for leaders.2.Corruption and Nepotism.3.Loss of values and National identity.
    Zambians who voted for PF are like ticks sucking blood from a sick person. they will continue to suck even if the blood is diseased. when that person dies they will remain sucking until they are buried together with the dead person. They eventually die in the grave stack in side the pants of a dead person.
    I am appealing to all youths born in mixed families to raise up and fight this cancer.

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  4. The author in this article raises some pertinent issues that concern us as a society. But first, I would like to question some huge claims the article makes which need to be substantiated. The article claims “that there is a population of six million people of working age that are unemployed.” Really? just where did this figure come from? And how exactly is ‘formal employment defined? I ask these question not that I want to dismiss his article but I would like to contribute to the debate. My younger sister left early. She told me she wanted to do business after training on the job hair dressing. Guess what? she now employs more than six people not only in her saloons but she has also diversified into import and export and leisure business-mabars. Does she count as in formal…

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    • SIDO, recall that a country needs both formal and informal sectors to be doing well in order to develop. The fact that Zambia has around 1.3million jobs in the formal sector, paying tax based on income, is not good for the govt revenue side. In an economy there is need for a viable formal sector which is a good source of Income Tax for the govt to run on, if this is a small base, the alternative is to heavily tax this sector. I hope you have an idea of the effect of high taxes on income. Just to give you heads up, it means diminishing disposable income (buying power of consumers) and the direct effect is failure of the informal sector to grow into formal sector (entrepreneurial concept) which leads to economies growing. I hope you can comprehend with this concept.

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  5. employment or she is counted as unemployed? How about all those millions that are self employed as traders of various shades, which category do the fall in?
    Again the author seems to be calling for protectionism as a way of reviving the employment sector or market as I call it. That is all good but just think for a moment if all countries we trade with decided to do the same protect their market?
    I personally think that the solution is between the government creating some jobs but mostly making the business and investment environment conducive not only for foreigners but also or locals. My sister in the example above could be incentivised to create even more employment by, for example, giving her tax breaks which the ZRA pursue relentlessly.

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  6. They should just go a sell STELLA’s tomatoes. THEY CAN GET A LOAN FROM SAKWIBA SIKOTA to pay back with interest when they are MILLIONAIRES. Ring SAKI’s IN THE DRAGON’S DEN you non innovative half-baked graduates.

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  7. What you want the government to set up parastatal companies in the food industry which will be privatised by HH should the MMD party come back to power again!

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  8. How much money does your sister make per annum. How much tax does she pay. How much does she pay her employees. Are the employees able to meet their monthly ‘food baskets’ with their income.
    The answer to these questions will tell whether those are real jobs or just survival activities comparable to my fisherman uncle who earns K12000 pa. While he is hardworking & staunch christian his earnings are not enough to meet his basic needs.
    He needs support to improve on his fishing methods, get the right equipment & so on. That’s where govt comes in. People have ideas but the environment is rotten.

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  9. We have become a nation of shopkeepers, we export very little, hence a deficit, and debts the size we have.

    What this country needs is a return to industry and manufacturing on a level that competes with the rest of the world.

    Also what our graduates need to seriously think about is how some ‘uneducated’ chaps that sell veggies and fruits at traffic lights manage to employee others, build houses, have taxis and still hassle all day without shame.

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  10. its high time we also overhauled, re-design and re-organise our employment system, work culture and eventually the mode of payment and remunerations…. let us move away from the culture of monthly salary to hourly rates….we are very much used to working from Monday to Saturday…and month-end salary of X Kwacha…lets have contracts of minimum hours per week…and would only work three or four days in a week…easy for govt to implement minimum wage and a lot more will be absorbed from the jobless Six million….

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  11. The government should create an environment that enables SMEs to thrive. I’m a pork producer, but can you imagines that most of pork in Zambia is imported and we subjected to low prices by the owners of abattoirs and this , this thing you call government does nothing. We can create massive employment as Zambians ourselves but the government as control in all we do. They allow products that we can produce to be imported. Therefore, its not absolutely easy to be selling tomatoes in Zambia because who know may be some of is also imported flooding the markets.

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  12. I happen to know the culprit who instigated and speared-headed this inward looking, ‘inside the box’ lunatic way of thinking and reliance on govt. You guessed correctly, it’s KK! Does anyone here remember Alick Nkhata’s song that exactly epitomised the typical Zambian’s way of looking at things?. The song goes like: kalimba kandi nkumbate, TATA na MAYO BUTEKO elyo ne NCHITO mu chalo. KK believed govt was the father and he developed in Zambians a dependence syndrome. They believe sincerely that the govt, as a loving father, will provide jobs and a better life for them. The fact the govt is a total shambles incapable of developing the country escapes their notice, but they believe nonetheless. 50 years of not getting any where is proof enough that the govt knows zero about governance.

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