Unemployment in Botswana is high. One doesn’t need Statistics Botswana’s figures, which most of the times seem to be off, to know that many young, and middle-aged Batswana are roaming the streets looking for jobs. Any form of income generation really!
In the villages and far off places, the situation is beyond comprehension. Batswana are struggling, and our government seems to be at loss as to what to do. As in the past administration of Ian Khama, President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s government focus is on youth entrepreneurship - young graduates should start businesses and hire their peers.
Really? Are we saying our youth, without even basic entrepreneurship training, can do what our government and big businesses have failed to do? Create employment when they themselves cannot be hired for lack of experience?
As it was proven with the CEDA Young Farmers’ Fund and Youth Development Fund, the entrepreneurship spirit amongst our youth is just not there, and where it exists, is not natured to reach potential. The two youth driven grants and loans, have been abused, with very few having repaid or repaying their loans, leaving the government in financial hole, and the programmes in question.
In fact, as we have been told over and over again, not only are the youth not paying, most of their businesses have gone under in the first few years of establishment.
As expects have noted many times, the reason for failure is that money is thrown at people with no skill or passion for business. Imagine my child, brought up in cities and never known the business of moraka, is suddenly swimming in pools of pulas intended for a feedlot. Someone who has never had a pay cheque, now has a budget of a million pula! Now that’s playing Russian Roulette with taxpayer’s money.
These funds may just be some people’s way of surviving the unemployment, pretending to be business people they are not. The ‘briefcase’ entrepreneurs, and if they are connected to the ruling elite, are known as tenderpreneur, who are given CEDA funding, which come with half-a-million pula double-cab vans. These are the type who get government tenders they don’t have the means or the ability to honour.
The bottom line is entrepreneurship spirit is lowest amongst Batswana, and where there is, the environment kills it.
While self-employment all but failing, government and big business is also not in a position to hire or keep workers. The past few years have seen many big businesses, including the high absorbing workforce industries such as mines, retrenching or shutting operations.
The effects of the closure of the BCL mine in Selibe-Phikwe, and Tati Nickel Mine in Francistown more than two years ago are still being felt. Every industry, private schools, health institutions, banks, shopping centres, real estate, amongst others,
But the young ones need to be schooled, and with that schools and institutions of higher learning, continue to churn out graduates, and throwing them on the streets, to join tens of thousands of the unemployed youths.
With that comes calls for the adult employees to retire early, as early as in their 40s. Now imagine a 45-year-old, whose only skills are that of a soldier, and had been in the employ of the Botswana Defence Force for 20plus years.
Even with some hundreds of thousand-pula pension, he has to start afresh, maybe build that small ‘starter house’ in the home village, and buy a Mogoditshane fongkong corolla. Remember this is the person, who all his working life was provided for by the employer - free accommodation, utilities, even cooking gas.
Suddenly, he has to be faced with electricity and water bills, school fees because at this age, the children, who during his army days, had their tuition, transport and all paid for by the State, are now in their teens and still active in the education environment.
Retirement funds, with no other form of income, do not stretch. With the expensive lifestyle we live, P10,000 can just go in a day. So the retired soldier or a miner, has to cater for many needs for the remaining days of his life, which could be some 30 plus years.
But with no skills to seek any other employment, or has together with experience but is “too old” to compete in the work market, the future is anything but bleak. Moreover, most of the retirees have not been up-skilled in business, or have financial management knowledge to be able “stretch” the buck, and sustain themselves for longer periods.
This is the reality, a growing population of young retirees, just as is one of young graduates seeking to be absorbed into the work market.
But then we have a government that seems to be oblivious of this.
Six months in office, President Masisi should be providing us with answers. We have seen him doing good in the reversing of controversial policies of the Khama regime. But we have not heard, or seen any move to deal with the real burning problem; unemployment.
It’s time Mr President to provide real working answers. Your people need jobs. They need to feed their people. They need their dignity back. Promises won’t do. Action will.