By Mwansa P. Chalwe Snr
There is no government in the history of post-independence Zambia that owes so much to the Youth for its election victory, as the current UPND Alliance does. Apart from the new administration’s education indebtedness to the youth, President Hakainde Hichilema owes a massive youth job creation debt. The youth have no time to wait. There is need for some immediate action to placate the youth, as a start.
The issue of creating sufficient jobs for the Youth is one that all previous administrations have failed to resolve. The Author has written extensively on the subject since 2015 offering various practical solutions based on his knowledge and international experience. And, as an independent and non-partisan patriot, he had advised and warned the PF administration through his articles about the Youth time bomb. He went to the extent of offering them an innovative solution to avoid the time bomb – which subsequently blew in their faces on Election Day to their shock- but they had declined the offer, ignored the advice due to politics despite bureaucrats being in support of the solution. As the saying goes, the rest is history.
There is no question that the New Dawn administration should prioritise the creation of jobs for the millions of youth because they ushered them into power. It is estimated that between 300,000 to 350,000 youths enter the Zambian job market. It means that in five years’ time – by 2026 – there will be about 1.8million additional youths on the job market. These will be joining the current unemployed youth. The total number could in the range of over 4 million unemployed Youth by 2026. And if the New Dawn administration does not quickly come up with a well thought out, unique, innovative and multi-pronged strategy, they may end up creating a couple of tens of thousands jobs. But this will be a drop in the ocean with little impact. Consequently, they run the risk of ending up as a one term administration.
Youth Entrepreneurship as a job creator
In general, self-employment and entrepreneurship has been identified by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Organisation for Economic Co-operation development (OECD), the World Bank, the Africa Development Bank, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), various international organisations and governments as the best method for creating employment among the millions of Youth in order to overcome unemployment. There are various studies that have even gone further and specifically identified Youth Entrepreneurship as an even more effective intervention to solve the youth unemployment problem. According to a study by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada, youth entrepreneurship is a very important option to create employment for the youth. The study argued that youth entrepreneurs are more likely to hire fellow youths and are particularly responsive to new economic opportunities and trends and are more active in high growth sectors.
Youth entrepreneurship entails involving the youth in starting or running small businesses, by letting them apply their initiatives, innovation, imagination, creativity and risk taking attributes, while the government plays a facilitating role of supporting them to overcome their challenges .The world would not have had personal computers, cell phones, google search engines, apple, Facebook, WhatsApp etc without Youth Entrepreneurship. The Youth have a natural disposition for innovation and change, which makes them best suited for entrepreneurship. The new Zambian government should, therefore, implement immediately Youth entrepreneurship support programs, talent identification and development programs. Zambian Youth face extra challenges than adults, to start, run or grow a business. These extra challenges faced by the youth entrepreneurs, should form the basis of the design of youth entrepreneurship and talent development programs.
Whilst there is a recognition of importance of Youth entrepreneurship promotion, it must be clearly stated that entrepreneurship is not the ideal solution for all youth in terms of employment choice. The majority of youth prefer formal salary jobs. According to research, the percentage of Youth who would want to go into business range from 20-40% of the youth population, depending on the country. It is this 20%-40% category that should be the target for Youth entrepreneurship programs. But the biggest riddle has always been the “HOW”.
Why Youth entrepreneurship interventions fail
In the past, there have been numerous attempts that have been made to overcome youth unemployment through various empowerment programmes which have all miserably failed. The author has extensively researched the youth unemployment issue and the various intervention programs worldwide including Zambia, with a view to come up with a solutions. The research identified a number of critical factors that explain why Youth empowerment interventions have failed. The article will briefly discuss these factors.
The first problem is the lack of proper diagnosis of the youth unemployment problem before designing interventions. There has been insufficient research done by many governments. The majority of countries adopt similar strategies that end up falling short. You cannot treat a disease that you have not properly diagnosed. Closely connected to this, is the exclusion of the private sector in designing and implementing the interventions and yet it is the private sector who know how jobs are or can be created.
There is also a tendency by governments to adopt what I term as the “Silo approach to interventions”. This approach pre-supposes or assumes the following: the homogeneity of the youth demographics, the uniformity the youth’s businesses needs regardless of the stages of growth or business development. The result has been that the majority of the youth with talent have been left out and got no support they needed to either create or grow a business.
Another major mistake that has been made in Youth entrepreneurship interventions, is the non-recognition that Youth face unique challenges in starting and running businesses than adults. The multiplicity of challenges that the youth face are not properly sequenced in terms of intervention for effectiveness. There has been a fallacious and inherent belief by the Youth, Politicians and Bureaucrats that finance is the panacea in empowering youth to start or grow a business. The other challenges which are supposed to be prioritised and precede disbursement of funds are neglected. Money alone has never been a solution to problems and only works in tandem with other strategies.
If one was to assess the previous Zambian governments’ Youth entrepreneurship programmes, one of the major glaring weaknesses to a keen eye, is the very limited utilisation of technology. Programmes and platforms are mainly physical, thereby limiting access to the youth who are not able to travel and physically participate in them. According to the United Nations Development programme (UNDP), very few African countries have developed effective Youth Entrepreneurship support ecosystems. The UNDP notes that although there are African countries with highly developed entrepreneurship hubs such as Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria and South Africa, even they have physically based ones, which limit access to the youth who are unable to travel and physically participate in the programs and platforms. Zambia currently does need to have a robust 21st Century knowledge based Youth entrepreneurship support ecosystems that can be accessed by the critical mass of the Youth including those in the most rural parts of Zambia so as to be able to create jobs.
Another pressing issue is that in Zambia, there has been insufficient publicity for the available Youth empowerment programs. The communications strategy has been very poor or non-existent. The majority of young people are not aware of the empowerment programs that the government has been offering and how to access them. In the recent past, under the PF administration, there have been alleged blatant exclusivity, whereby only PF youth cadres have been favoured to benefit from the empowerment programs. Consequently, there was no way such interventions could have created jobs, because they were not merit based. The gifted youths with talent were being excluded due to their political Party affiliation. Youth empowerment interventions ought to be available to all Zambian youths regardless of politics.
What is UPND Alliance Youth employment creation Strategy?
The New Dawn government has not clearly spelt out its strategy on the “HOW” it will tackle the youth unemployment problem. As an expert on the subject, I have been struggling to figure out what the strategy is for this urgent problem. President Hichilema’s press conference did not help matters either, as he merely stated that he needed to fix the economy before jobs can be created. This was a very concerning statement to those in the know of available solutions.
In public perceptive eyes, it is slowly increasing being concluded that the UPND alliance does not really know how to solve this conundrum in the short term. The creation of the Ministry of Small and Medium sized businesses and the hope of attracting foreign direct investment is not good enough and just a pie in the sky. Practical interventions and initiatives are required. The New Dawn administration should as a matter of urgency signal to the youth how it will handle this complex and intractable problem in a differentiated manner than previous governments. This can be done in very simple language that ordinary people can understand, if there are people within their ranks who have researched, have the knowledge, and have properly diagnosed the problem. This will reduce the uncertainty among the youth so as to give them hope of what is coming. The current procrastination tendencies, as has been noted by critics and supporters alike, in many areas, is prescription for failure as administration will run out of time. In the absence of the announcement of a clearly differentiated strategy, critics will be justified in believing that the past missteps of previous Zambian administrations and other African countries are likely to be repeated by the HH administration.
President Hakainde Hichilema needs to prioritise the Youth unemployment problem in terms of implementing interventions and initiatives. Funds cannot be a problem as training levies are being collected every month from companies. In addition, there is so much good will from the donor Community who can provide grants in millions of dollars if properly designed Youth empowerment projects are presented to them. This problem cannot wait till the economy is fixed. The fixing of the economy and solving youth unemployment can be done at the same time. The new dawn government needs to adopt short term, medium and long term strategies for this problem The President or the appropriate minister will need to communicate to Zambians especially the Youth, what the administration’s practical plans are. In the address, he should clearly challenge the Youth to change their mind set about employment on graduation from education institutions. They need to start thinking about creating their own jobs and for others with government providing assistance for them to overcome challenges. He should make it clear that youths should not be expecting to always be recipients of the results of economic growth, but be in the driving seat, initiating and creating that growth through entrepreneurship. He should assure them that government will facilitate young people by giving them access to information and resources they need to become entrepreneurs.
The UPND Alliance and President Hakainde Hichilema promised so much to the Youth during the election campaign and the expectations of the youth are sky high. They are eagerly waiting to be told the way forward. If the HH administration do not deliver on the promises by 2026, they are taking a very high political risk. My piece of advice to the President is that the Youth unemployment problem is complex, and the quantum of jobs required to be created is mammoth, and as such he may have to look outside his inner UPND Alliance circle for solutions. There is need for thinking outside the box so as to come out with innovative and never tried before solutions.
It is very apparent that President HH has the passion and political will to create jobs. However, I would like to caution him as a fellow private sector and self employed person of decades. He needs to be conscious that in public service leadership, one of the key skills required unlike the business world, is the need for widespread consultation. The management of a country is much more complex than running even the biggest corporation in the world. There are just too many variables, interests and moving parts. One should not adopt “the know it all attitude”, as it is prescription for failure. Empirical evidence supports this assertion. That is why “the Bally will fix it” mantra should be consigned to the campaign dustbin, going forward. Team work, extensive reading, widespread consultations even from objective political rivals, should be the new mantra. The Barack Obama and Bill Clinton Presidential management styles are ones which I recommend President HH to consider adopting selectively. Their biographies are worth reading. The two presidents believed in surrounding themselves with the best brains, independent minded people and NOT praise singers, “yes men” and hero worshippers. The both inherent bad economies like him but they turned them around through team work. People who disagree with you are the ones who can build you and make you stronger than boot lickers.
The President’s time consciousness and time management has been questioned by many, particularly by the Mast editorial. He should consider the 43rd President of the United States of America, Dwight D. Eisenhower’s time management matrix which could be of great help is such a complex job especially in prioritising the implementation of certain issues which appears to be one of the weakest in link in his new administration. He has been just too slow to implement even the easier and non-controversial stuff.
In a nutshell, in order for the New dawn administration to create hundreds of thousands or better still millions of youth jobs, the strategies they should adopt have to be based on using technology, knowledge and communication tools (TKC).These are the major ingredients that have been missing in the past. The details of the tools are beyond the scope of this article. There is no doubt that Youth entrepreneurship can benefit the Zambian economy by creating jobs, increasing competitiveness, creating innovative goods and services and contribute to domestic revenue generation.
The writer is a Chartered Accountant and Author. He is a retired international MSMEs Consultant and an independent financial commentator. He is also an Op-Ed Contributor to the Hong Kong based, Alibaba owned, and South China Morning Post (SCMP). Contact: [email protected]