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Future at risk

by Frank Masanta Jr.

Opinion

Young Zambians need opportunities: street view of a township in the capital Lusaka.

Young Zambians need opportunities: street view of a township in the capital Lusaka.

Youth unemployment remains a key challenge in Zambia. Youth make up almost two thirds of the country’s working-age population and almost one quarter of them are unemployed, according to a World Bank estimate. The persons concerned lack the kind of education, training and effective vocational guidance that would match industry needs. Unless things improve, the future looks bleak.

Only a small share of the young generation gets public-sector jobs. Formal sector employment in general is hard to find. The private sector is struggling, not least due to electric power black outs and high energy costs. The economy has lately been slowing down. About 9,000 formal sector jobs were cut last year, and inflation is running high at about 20 %. Those youngsters who find jobs normally do informal work as waiters, taxi drivers or barbers.

Crime and drug abuse are all too common. Many young people drop out of school. Moreover, this generation is marked by early marriages, early childbearing and HIV/AIDS infections. High numbers of economically frustrated youth may cause instability moreover. Zambia’s presidential election in 2016 was haunted by violence. Politicians took advantage of poor and unemployed youths who acted as partisan hooligans. This was unprecedented in independent Zambia.

Zambia’s government is aware of the challenge, and it has promised to boost employment in general, and jobs for young people in particular. So far, however, its initiatives have not made the difference needed.

Zambia has signed the UN 2030 Agenda with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It has adopted its own 2030 vision, aspiring to become a prosperous middle-income country. The key principles guiding this policy are:
sustainable development,

  • democracy,
  • human rights,
  • family values,
  • work ethos,
  • peaceful coexistence and
  • upholding good traditional values.

These principles make sense, but more needs to happen. For example, population growth must be slowed down. The demographic balance is important. Fast population growth today means more problems tomorrow. Moreover, it is necessary to set in motion economic development. Essential issues are:

  • Agriculture: no country that has escaped poverty has done so without substantially raising farm productivity. Food production is essential for a people to be healthy and productive. In terms of jobs and livelihoods, agriculture is more important than any other sector in Zambia. Irrigation and mechanisation would boost agricultural outputs. Better access to financial services and markets would be useful. Moreover, it would make sense to process food near the villages. Tax exemptions should support this kind of rural development. Moreover, young people should get access to land. Employment opportunities would arise. Additional, rural jobs could result from processing harvests in the region and providing supportive services, including credit, for instance, to farms.
  • Information and communication technology: Zambia needs to build a telecom infrastructure and facilitate entrepreneurship.
  • Science and technology: like African countries in general, Zambia must improve higher education, research and development. Otherwise, the continent cannot make the most of its abundant natural resources. It will remain a supplier of commodities instead of producing goods of high value. Improving matters in this regard will result in new and attractive opportunities for brilliant young people who so far are denied prospects.
  • Entrepreneurship: The most powerful and sustainable approach to spur job creation is education geared to empower entrepreneurship. One of this terms’ many definitions is “the capacity to turn dirt into gold”. Entrepreneurs take advantage of problems and make profits by offering solutions.

All summed up, youth empowerment must focus on changing the young generation’s mindset and culture. Education and motivation matter – and when they result in a sufficient number of people becoming successful entrepreneurs, those people can dramatically improve the employment situation for everyone. Imagination, inspiration, creativity, passion and the pursuit of happiness matter. The government must certainly do its part, but it is wrong to only wait for the government to act. People must be agents for their own wellbeing – and the young generation must be taught accordingly.


Frank Masanta Jr. is a community leader and activist in Zambia. He started the Sun-Spring Charity School in a poor neighbourhood in Lusaka in 2011.
[email protected]

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