President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his Botswana Democratic Party (BDP)-led government could be frustrated by the swirling youth unemployment, which continues to rise against the wishes of his government. Mmegi Staff Writers RYDER GABATHUSE & CHAKALISA DUBE report
FRANCISTOWN: The growing numbers of unemployed young people, who are the future of this country, should be a source of worry to the authorities.
This worrying phenomenon means families continue to be burdened with the responsibility of providing for the young even post tertiary education.
Whilst the national unemployment rate has grown from 20.7% in the last quarter of 2019 to 22.2% according to Statistics Botswana data, youth unemployment has equally shot up from 26.7% to 28.8%.
Pressure is surely mounting at the government enclave, as employment creation is apparently one of the pet projects adopted by President Mokgweetsi Masisi when he ascended to the highest office in the land.
The anthem that the BDP-led government has done a lot from nothing in its economy to a middle-income economy today is quickly losing relevance as the call for elusive jobs is becoming too loud.
The Masisi-led government has been seemingly on an uphill battle particularly that the country’s increasing tertiary institutions have been churning out graduates majority of whom fail to get jobs in the already crowded labour market.
Gone are the days when completing graduates were assured of quick placement in the labour market. Some of the young people have already crossed the age of youth whilst the struggle to get a job has become part of their lives.
Kunyalala Manyepedza graduated from Limkokwing University in 2013 with a degree in broadcasting and journalism.
The 31-year-old mother has been struggling to find a job that is commensurate with her qualifications.
Realising that it was hard to find a job and yet she had to survive and feed her children, Manyepedza resorted to self-employment where she does facials, food vending and transports shoppers, who buy clothes for reselling in Botswana, to Johannesburg.
“There are no jobs and it’s better to struggle than just fold my arms,” Manyepedza said in a recent interview from her street mobile kitchen.
Across the generation of graduates from different institutions, it has been a painful struggle that has left many heartbroken. Some find themselves settling for menial jobs that include engagements as helpers in the houses or messengers in the workplaces.
In an endeavour to justify that the BDP-led government was doing something, the party’s spokesperson, Kagelelo Kentse explained in a previous interview that if there are any set of priorities for transformation under the Masisi regime, the youth are at the top of the list.
Kentse justified in his response then that, “Even the party pledges or manifesto, the youth is at the top and President Masisi has started addressing town hall meetings and he is still going to address such meetings and show the youth where opportunities lie”.
The BDP spokesperson further coloured his response: “President Masisi apparently is obsessed with knowledge-based economy where proper research will be done to determine the direction to be taken in assisting the young people now and in the future”.
He was steadfast that Masisi had started the job creation journey and as such policies that will encourage people to come and invest in our shores and in the process creating jobs, will be put into place.
Spokesperson for the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), Moeti Mohwasa had in a previous interview blamed the BDP government for failing to create jobs for the youth, as they (youth) are not easily absorbed by the labour market.
“The number of unemployed youth groups have been piling one over the other as there are no new opportunities in the market whilst the job market is overcrowded with jobseekers,” Mohwasa pointed out to the grim reality.
Francistown mayor, Godisang Radisigo has this week expressed worry about the growing unemployment rate amongst youth in the city. Radisigo is a councillor for the ruling BDP.
“The city is still struggling to recover from the impact brought about by the closure of the Tati Nickel Mining Company (TNMC) nearly five years ago,” the mayor said in an interview.
When the mine was still operational, Radisigo reminisced that there was sustained economic growth that drove labour absorption, in particular for youth.
He said a majority of businesses that directly and indirectly supported the mine closed, leaving many youth unemployed.
He noted that the unemployment rate might rise soon owing to the impact brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I may not have exact figures
For now he thinks what is key is for various stakeholders in the city to come together and come up with strategies that will address the issue of unemployment generally and youth unemployment specifically.
The mayor was hopeful that government would come up with a stimulus package that will be aimed at helping to guard against job losses as well as protecting businesses in the city.
“As city authorities we will lobby the government to come up with such strategies,” he promised.
Gwen Lesetedi of University of Botswana (UB) Sociology department in an article entitled, ‘High youth unemployment in Botswana: A case of policy failure or poor research’ published in Mosenodi Journal in 2018 concluded: “There is no doubt that tailored policies and programmes are important in addressing challenges faced by the youth. However, for them to be effective there is need for empirical research to guide the formulation, implementation and monitoring of the policies and programmes”.
She also found out that it is not clear whether the rising youth unemployment, is a result of failure of the actual policy formulation and implementation. The paper concludes by emphasising the importance of research informing on policy formulation, implementation and monitoring, highlighting the need to promote a strong relationship between policy makers and researchers in addressing issues of youth unemployment.
UB senior lecturer in politics, Dr. Kebapetse Lotshwao concurs that indeed youth unemployment is one of the problems afflicting the country.
He finds it misleading to blame this problem on lack of skills required by the job market, as some people and institutions do.
“Instead, youth unemployment, like unemployment in general, can be blamed on the structure of the country’s economy, which is largely mineral-driven, and not industrialised,” analyses Lotshwao, who quickly adds: “Thus, to create jobs, government has to aggressively pursue economic diversification by amongst others exploiting the country’s comparative advantages like peace, stability and geographical location”.
The UB academic posits that currently, there is no indication that the current administration is doing enough to diversify and thus create more jobs.
“Not only does this affect the youth, it also lowers the quality of democracy. A properly functioning democracy has to be responsive to the needs and interests of the people, including the youth,” the UB senior lecturer adds.
Another UB lecturer in political and administrative studies, Adam Mfundisi prefers to take the journey back to the 2019 General Election, where he says the BDP did not have any vision for this country including issues of poverty, unemployment and equity.
To him, the BDP has failed to provide a strategy to deal with unemployment issues including providing statistical figures.
“The BDP does not have a vision and strategy to deal with unemployment. It subscribes to the neoliberal theory of government providing an enabling environment and the private sector being a creator of employment opportunities,” he posits.
“Young graduates are at the mercy of the BDP capitalist regime where dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest and the perishing of the weakling”.
He describes unemployment as a global phenomenon, “and there are no easy solutions”. He emphasises that it needs political commitment on the part of government and civil society.
In Botswana, government is the largest owner of land; controls economic activities, largest consumer of goods and services, Mfundisi stresses that government must take an active role in job creation. The public sector has huge potential to create employment opportunities for the youth. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has shown that government can create employment openings on many fronts.
“Our health sector is in a poor state particularly the human resource sector. And the education sector can open up opportunities for the people more so graduates,” observes Mfundisi adding, “Parastatals, if managed efficiently could be avenues for employment creation”.
Moreover, the UB academic indicated that the small and medium enterprises owned by the indigenous people could also be instrumental in job creation.