By Mwansa P. Chalwe snr
The government’s youth empowerment initiatives have not worked and will continued not working in future unless a reset button is pressed, and a number of reforms are undertaken. The initiatives’ impact on job creation and poverty alleviation so far have been negligible.
The current perception in Zambia among the majority of the youth is that the government is not doing enough to empower them with jobs or through entrepreneurship promotion. However, the reality is that there are so many Youth empowerment programmes that the government has put in place but most youths are not aware of them or not benefiting from them for various reasons. President Lungu in his last address to the nation appealed to the Youth to make use of the programmes.
“ I implore the Zambian youth to take keen interest in participating and profiting from different empowerment initiatives my government is putting in place, instead of protesting in the bush and taking pride in how many views of their protests where seen on social media,” The President said while addressing the nation on a Covid-19 measures and economic issues.
Although government has a myriad of programmes for the youth, they are going about it the wrong way in their implementation thus leading to them having negligible impact.When one analyses how the government has reacted to the youth protests, it appears that they do not seem to be aware why these empowerment initiatives are not working as they just keep doing the same things- throwing money at the problem.
To recap, according to publically available information, there are over six major youth empowerment initiatives that are currently in place and in progress. These programmes are: Youth Development fund, Women empowerment fund under Development Bank of Zambia, Skills and entrepreneurship project through the creation of industrial parks under African development Bank, The $29million Zambia aquaculture enterprise development project under African development fund, Cassava Value Chain Programme under the Citizen Economic Empowerment Commission (CEEC), Aquaculture Value Chain Initiative under CEEC. There must be other empowerment initiatives in various ministries which are not publicized.
Recently, the President announced another programme of K30 million as the Artists empowerment Scheme. And on Sunday the 28 June, 2020, Minister of Youth, Sport and Child development, Emmanuel Mulenga in an interview also announced that government will be launching another empowerment scheme for the general youth population who are not artists, and a consortium of Ministers were to meet at Mulungushi Conference Centre on 2 July, 2020 to hammer out an empowerment scheme.
In the light of all the above empowerment programmes, and the ones planned for the future, I thought it wise to advice government to make changes on how these programmes are designed and implemented. In the absence of these proposed reforms and others, there is nothing that will change. There will be no firms or jobs created and funds will just go into a bottomless pit like in the past.
Politicization of empowerment and Corruption
The first major problem that has contributed to the failure of youth empowerment programmes achieving their objectives is the fact they are highly politicized. Deserving youths are not having access to these initiatives. The various administrations under the MMD and PF have abused the programmes for political purposes and the Zambia Institute for Policy analysis study of the Youth Development Fund alludes to this.
”The involvement of politicians in the disbursement of funds has negatively influenced the public perception of the Fund and its potential as a youth economic empowerment vehicle. This is because the Fund is highly linked to the political structures, which make youths think the funds are a political reward or benefit, and this perception could have significantly affected repayments”. ZIPAR study observed.
They are also allegations of corruption in the award of empowerment funds. One of the Youth, Mirriam Ngoyi among those who met Minister Dora Siliya, complained about the rampant corruption in Zambia. “Corruption is too much. I think there is need to work on corruption,” She said
The first reform, therefore, should be to stop using the empowerment programmes as political tools of rewarding supporters of the ruling Party so that the awards are made on merit. The reality is that if the programmes are available to all the youth, the Party in empower can in fact increase its support base and there will be no protests of unfairness in sharing the cake. In order to achieve this reform, there is need to outsource the programmes to independent private sector players.
The other major reform that is needed is the overall of the marketing communications of the initiatives. The majority of youth do not know about the existence of the empowerment programmes and they lack information on how to access such programmes. There is no aggressive promotion of these initiatives at the moment. It appears only the privileged and selected few know about them and where to go.
In the business world, if you have a product or a service, marketing communication is an absolute necessity. This entails adopting the means of conveying messages about your product or services to your customers with intention to persuade them to purchase. The second reform that is required, therefore, is the provision of a substantial budget in these youth empowerment programmes for continuous promotion including highlighting the success stories of beneficiaries. The current casual appeals to youth to take advantage of the initiatives are clearly not having any impact.
Money is no panacea for empowerment
The current approach appears to be premised on the flawed assumption that money is the panacea to youth empowerment and is the only impediment to solving youth problems. And as such, once funds were provided, Youth were going to set up businesses and create jobs. But any knowledgeable person in the empowerment eco system knows that money is only a part of the solution. Youth empowerment programmes should be designed in such way that other resources like business development services, practical youth entrepreneurship training, information dissemination, market and supply chain linkages, mentoring and coaching are incorporated. The non-monetary empowerment of information and knowledge alluded to through a mobile app below is likely to have more impact than merely dishing out money .In their recent meeting with Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Ms. Dora Siliya, one of the youth by the name of Mulenga Mwaba pointed out the same as quoted by one of the papers.
“Give us projects. Don’t give us money. All we need are projects, through projects, then we can develop,” he said.
Private sector partnership and participation
The fourth reform is the involvement of the Private sector. It is crystal clear that one of the major reasons why youth empowerment programmes fail is the fact that the Private sector are not involved by government in the design of the programme, its implementation and its monitoring. There is need for the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Child Development to involve the private sector by tapping into the private sector expertise and possibly out sourcing some of the services as well as entering into some form of Public Private Partnerships (PPP).The line Ministry can still be able to be in charge of the overall management of the programme. The African development Bank research does speak to this issue as far as youth entrepreneurship and job creation is concerned.
Digital approach to Youth empowerment
The fifth reform is to adopt and incorporate the digital approach in solving youth empowerment in order to have the widest reach. The recent virtual protest by some of the youth demonstrated the power of ICT to achieve objectives quickly as there were able to reach about half a million within hours and counting. Whether dismissed or not, the approach had better impact than the physical protest they originally intended. The government should also be innovative in this regard.
The author of this article with his daughter developed and launched an App for Youth employment creation this year that can be accessed on https://www.youthemploymentcreation.com/ The Zambian government can consider this powerful tool to fast track youth employment creation as it can reach millions of youth across the length and breadth of the country because of its use of mobile technology.
The App (YECA) speaks to the dire need for information and knowledge by the youth which was confirmed by Sera Kunda in the Youth meeting that Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Ms Siliya, held with the Youth. Kunda stated that the lack of an information platform to educate youths on procedures involved in starting a business is one of the major barriers for the youth. The Organisation of Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD)’s research does support her assertion as it also concluded that lack of information and knowledge prevents 40% of Youth who would have otherwise chosen to go into business from doing so.
It is hoped that the issues that have been raised in this article can be followed up by government especially the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Child Development as they grapple with the issue of coming up with effective youth empowerment tools as directed by the President. The Author of this article is also available for further insights in how the youth unemployment problem can be solved in Zambia. It is not an insurmountable problem but the key is consultations and dialogue including with people that have the knowledge and expertise.
The Author is a former financial specialist advisor to the USAID funded Botswana Private Enterprise Development Project (BPED), an entrepreneur and founder of Prosper Knowledge Solutions. He has a passion for solving the Youth unemployment problem using his vast hands on international experience. (Send comments and suggestions on this article to: [email protected] or to pmchalwe AT gmail DOT com)