Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Here is Why Past and Current Youth Empowerment Programs have failed


Ministry of Youth, Sport and Art’s “new” Projects are mirages for mass Job Creation

By Mwansa Chalwe Snr

Zambia’s various administrations since independence in 1964 – United National Independence Party (UNIP), Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD), Patriotic Front (PF) and now the United Party for National Development (UPND) – have all implemented various Youth empowerment programs in order to solve the intractable Youth unemployment problem. These programs include the National Service, Youth Development Fund, Multi-Sectoral Youth Empowerment, Constituency Development Fund, and a myriad of others. They have all failed to solve the problem. This article identifies their flaws, and suggests a 21st Century approach, which covers the entire Youth empowerment value chain that includes intellectual capital and technology, rather than the concentration on financial empowerment as is the case now.

New Dawn Youth empowerment Programs

The New Dawn Administration have launched various ad hoc, but apparently not well thought out empowerment programmes because they are mere repeats of the failed old ones. In December, 2022, Minister of Youth, Sport and Art, Elvis Nkandu launched three empowerment projects: Internship/graduate Apprenticeship and Volunteer Programme, Youth Connekt Hubs and Digital Platform and the Equipment modernization of the Youth Resource Centres. These initiatives are in addition to the fuel tankers empowerment and the Constituency Development Fund (Youth and Women component). What is crystal clear is that these programmes are very similar to the failed MMD and PF Programmes. There is no evidence of any innovation at all. It follows, therefore, that these initiatives are likely to fail like in the past ones. The Ministry is doing the same thing, and expecting a different result.

It is very easy to prove that the latest batch of “new” Projects were started under the PF administration. They are merely cut and paste initiatives and not credible solutions. The Youth Conneckt programme, for example, is a Rwanda based initiative and was launched in Zambia by the former Vice President Mrs. Inonge Wina in March, 2018.The internship programme is old too. It seems like the technocrats are just coming up with these refurbished projects to hoodwink the President and the public that something is being done to solve the youth unemployment problem. There is completely lack of innovation. They will create very few jobs, if any.

Magnitude of Youth unemployment

In order to put the magnitude of the Youth unemployment problem in context, there is need to highlight a few numbers. The situation has reached alarming and dangerous levels and need emergency action at the very top. Zambia’s youth unemployment rate is estimated to be between 40-60%, and there are about 7.5 million youths unemployed. Furthermore, there are about between 300,000 to 350,000 youths entering the labour market every year. In the past one year, there have been several red flags that have been flashed. During the recruitment exercise of Teachers and Medical Personnel in 2022, there were a total of 100,877 applicants for 30,496 teaching positions, which amounts to a 30% success rate. And for 137,129 applicants for medical positions, only 11,276 were picked which amounts to 8% success rate. There was also a stampede throughout the country for about 46,000 temporary jobs (39,570 enumerators and 6,430 supervisors) for last year national census of population and housing by the Zambia Statistics Agency. And recently, the Minister of Defence Ambrose Lufuma, announced the recruitment of 5,000 service personnel which attracted 200,000 applicants which is 2.5% success rate.

The rational expectation is that it is these numbers that should inform the design of solutions to solve Youth unemployment by those concerned. The latest projects announced by the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Art fall far short of even scratching the surface of the numbers of the unemployed youth. The Ministry’s current solutions do not fit the size of the problem because they are not critical mass solutions.

Flaws in Current and Past Youth Empowerment Programs

There is no doubt that past Youth empowerment programmes, and the recent refurbished ones, by the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture, are not going to solve the Youth unemployment problem due to flaws in diagnosis, identification, design and implementation. There seems to be a lack of research in coming up with solutions.

The first flaw is that the youth unemployment problem has not been properly diagnosed by those responsible for solving it. It seems like there has not been any proper and comprehensive research to find out what the main causes are, and how they could be addressed. You cannot treat a disease that you have not properly diagnosed. It would be interesting to ask the technocrats in the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Art to identify and list – off the cuff – the eight main (8) causes of Youth unemployment and what their individual solutions are.

The second major flaw is that the interventions have been mainly focused on financial capital empowerment to the exclusion of intellectual capital empowerment. The experience of the Youth Development Fund (YDF) which was started under MMD in 2000, the Multi Sectoral youth empowerment under PF in 2020, and other finance based empowerment programs have all demonstrated that money alone is not a solution to job creation.

The third flaw is the silo approach to solving the Youth unemployment. The one size fits all approach has been very dominant so far. In the past, there has not been enough recognition of the different Youth demographics. There has been very little attention paid to the fact that the Youth population is diverse, and not homogenous. Solutions are supposed to take into account of this heterogeneity. The envisaged solutions should, therefore, be comprehensive, by first identifying the different Youth demographics and crafting solutions for each of them.

The fourth flaw is that most of these Programmes and Projects’ designs don’t have any feedback loop set up, between the implementing agencies on one hand, and Cabinet Office, State House and the people Zambia on the other. The study of the Youth Development Fund (YDF) by Zambia Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (ZIPAR) confirmed this. The Youth Development Fund started in 2000 but there was no strong formal Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework in place to find out how the fund was performing and whether it was achieving its objectives. The first M& E was contracted in 2017 which is 17 years after its commencement.

The fifth flaw was the lack of appreciation of the importance of marketing communications strategy in project design. Budgets are not provided for this component which is vital for wider outreach and higher participation.

The sixth flaw has been the politicization of most these empowerment projects. The evaluation of the Youth Development Fund clearly identified this, as a major cause of failure of the YDF programme.

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 fund are a political reward or benefit”, ZIPAR study observed.

Private Sector Collaboration Lacking
According to reliable sources, the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Art has not been welcoming to private sector proposed solutions to Youth unemployment, and simply ignore them.
This is a major flaw. The sources say that the ministry is sitting on an innovative critical mass youth job creation solution from a private sector company.

In their research on Africa’s youth unemployment problem, the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) has recommended that in order for governments to solve the problem, they need to collaborate with the private sector.

There is often insufficient consultation with and engagement of the private sector. The private sector is an essential stakeholder in addressing youth unemployment, not only as the engine of job creation but also as a potential partner to implement complex interventions alongside governments”, the AfDB noted in its research of why African government Youth empowerment programs fail.

The reluctance to work with the private sector, who have the practical experience on how JOBS and WEALTH are created, is undermining the New Dawn transformational vision which is anchored on collaboration with private sector. There is no doubt that there are many technocrats who view private sector proposals as encroaching on their tuff rather than being complementary. In the process, the nation is losing out on innovation. The above disconnect between what President Hakainde Hichilema’s administration’s vision is for the Country, and what the government bureaucracy is used to, appears to be apparent. The President has noted the same, and appealed to the newly appointed the Secretary to Cabinet, Mr. Patrick Kangwa, to carry out reforms in the way the Civil Service operates. There is a need for a mind-set and attitude change by technocrats. President Hichilema has demonstrated that for the country to succeed, the public sector and the private sectors have to work together by setting up the Public Private Dialogue Forum (PPDF).This spirit is not trickling down.

“One of the issues that is coming out now, is that, at a higher level, we are doing the right things, saying the right things, but the system is not responding. The system is clogging down things. I think we should address this matter. The narrative at the top must be the same as narrative in the middle and at the bottom,” President Hakainde told Government officials as was reported by Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC).

The 21st Century Approach to Youth empowerment

In order for the Youth unemployment problem to be solved once and for all in Zambia, solutions should be anchored on research – knowledge. There is need to prepare a comprehensive road map based on research findings as to the main causes of Youth unemployment and their respective solutions. This road map should outline the short term, medium term and long term solutions. And in order to ensure that future youth empowerment programmes succeed, the approach to their designs and implementation will need to be changed drastically. The designs should incorporate the following components: marketing communications strategy, technology elements, intellectual capital, private sector participation, financial literacy skills, market linkages and the recognition of the diversity of the youth demographic, in addition to financial empowerment. It should be recognized that the Youth empowerment value chain is much more than financial empowerment.


The New Dawn Administration is aware and conscious of the fact that they are not doing enough to address the Youth unemployment problem. The Finance Minister, Dr. Situmbeko Musokotwane, admitted this, during the 2023 post budget symposium organised by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in October, 2022.

“Our government feels that the biggest challenge that we have as a country or the biggest challenge that we have is how to create the jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs. We are not yet doing enough to absorb the number of young people looking for jobs. We are not doing enough,” he told the Chinese Chamber of Commerce audience.

The New Dawn Government was brought into power by the Youth vote, and may be thrown out of power by the same Youth vote, if they do not meet the aspirations of the millions of youth they promised so much, by starting to give them hope with credible and innovative solutions rather than the discredited initiatives of past regimes.

The current programs and projects announced by the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Art are mere mirages for critical mass job creation. The current projects that the ministry is implementing will have very minimum impact on job creation. These are “brought in dead” initiatives. There is no way they will create the hundreds of thousands or millions of jobs that are required, in coming years. It is, therefore, imperative that both the top Civil Service and Political leadership prevail on the ministry, and demand that it goes back to the drawing board by ensuring that they collaborate with the private sector as per government policy, and come up with fresh, innovative and critical mass solutions to solve Youth unemployment.


The writer is a Chartered Accountant and Author. He is a semi-retired international MSMEs Knowledge 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]


  1. There’s no quick fix to most of our problems. For as long as such programs are driven by politicians then there’s no hope that much will be achieved. In trying to respond to youth unemployment the PF awarded its youths and other cadres business opportunities, mining licenses, empowerment funds, etc. The UPND have reversed everything and have started their own. They’re looking at the narrow agenda of winning the next election. And in trying to obliterate the PF they began to arrest all those that benefitted. Max Chongu has been arrested and all his properties seized. There’s no guarantee that Sean Tembo won’t do the same. Politicians are too petty and sick in their minds to drive Zambia’s development agenda

  2. The day that will see parents watching the children going to school and watching them getting on the bus and waiting for them to get home. That’s the day we know that you care about the youth.

    One thing that challenges me is to see those yellow, then red flashing lights on the school bus and everyone comes to a halt, and when the children get on the bus, they don’t run, they walk. Don’t you think they would do it for their children too?

  3. @Ayatollah
    I agree with you 100%
    Politicians are all evil that has destroyed the world….UPND is just as bad as PF…and if someone thinks PF can fix things once they get into office again then you’re in error….Politicians just work hard for their Bank Balance no wonder you see our capital city Lusaka getting more filthy and unemployed youth all over town….poverty is escalating whilst HH and his minions are busy sipping champagne whilst globetrotting in a private jet wasting tax payers money

  4. @ Daniel Chisebwe
    That day will only come when we have leaders who are truly committed to the well-being of Zambians…for as long as we have greedy and lying leaders….forget….
    We need dedicated leaders not photo op leaders….master deceivers…liars in chief…demagogues

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