Zambian youth are worried. Skyrocketing rates of unemployment plague one of the poorest countries in southern Africa. Earlier this week, nine people seeking casual work in the northern town of Mpulungu died in a stampede. This first article in a three-part series about youth employment brings us to the tourism-propelled town of Livingstone.
By Brian Moonga, Livingstone
“Those people who died whilst looking for employment, I think we have to look seriously into that,” says Obbrey Kapata referring to the stampede. The 23 year old studied mechanics and is having trouble finding work.
He is hardly alone. Currently, over 80 per cent of the 13 million Zambians lack regular sources of income. According to government statistics, most are below age 35. Kapata feels that successive governments have dodged the responsibility of creating jobs for young people.
“The PF government, when they came into power, of course they promised to create more jobs, and more money in our pockets but, as far as I can see, there is nothing. We shall see in the near future,” he says. And come elections in 2016, if still dissatisfied with the economic situation, he won’t be supporting the Patriotic Front party that he and many other youth voted for.
Forty years ago, Zambia was a promising African nation, particularly if compared to others, like Kenya. Yet the poor polices under former President Kenneth Kaunda badly hurt the economy. Although copper had been the country's main export and mining once offered a major source of employment, mines are now becoming increasingly mechanized, thus requiring less manpower. Meanwhile, sectors that the World Bank says are a window of growth, such as agriculture, are greatly underdeveloped.
Ekuti Likando, a 25 year old who earns money by taking photos at a local hotel, believes that resuscitating Zambia's poorly performing manufacturing and agricultural sectors can help create jobs that many like him need to survive.
“The private sector, it can help as well, but the government should do that,” he says. “You know, that policy in Zambia is not functioning very well. That’s why we are finding a lot of difficulties. All the industry was sold. The machinery was sold. Zambia, it is a dumping place now, we just receive things.”
Since 1991, when the country reverted to multi-party politics and ambitiously rolled out what experts say is the world's poorest privatization programme – where more than 2,000 companies went under – Zambia has received over 400 million euro in various forms of aid.
Some express despair at what has come to be the country's most daunting nightmare.
“I have lost hope because every year it’s like the percentage of unemployed youth is growing, so it gives me a big discouragement,” says Andrew Muleya. The high school-educated 29 year old points out that before the new government came into power even those with a seventh grade-level education could find work.
Yufuf Dodia, one of Zambia's respected business analysts, believes imparting entrepreneurial skills on young, budding graduates could address the national unemployment problem.
“About four hundred thousand young people each year are looking for jobs, most of them have no skills, I think offering skills training, such as carpentry […] will help us more,” he says. “And more young people will be able to offer services that can help them earn a living.”
Last year, Zambia's new president was put in office on a promise to the electorate that his regime would create jobs for young people. Many – his supporters included – say that this government led by Michael Sata should honour its word by speeding up the process of creating jobs for Zambia's youth.