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What is the future of work in Rwanda?

Job seekers at an information desk during an open day where potential employees meet job providers to explore opportunities. Sam Ngendahimana.

The majority of people currently employed across the world are working within the informal sector. Their jobs are not stable and secure, and they are associated with poor working conditions.

In Rwanda, the situation is not far from this reality.


This was an observation at the inaugural “Kigali Debates”, a series of monthly public dialogues that were initiated by the Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace (IRDP) and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Rwanda.


According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), a United Nations agency that seeks promotion of labour rights, two billion people globally make their living off the informal sector, while at the same time 190 million people have no jobs at all.


“We have to do better in order to see that even people who are working in the informal sector are protected and assisted to move from informal to formal,” Alexander Twahirwa, ILO Rwanda Coordinator, emphasised.

The UN agency highlights another fact; 300 million workers live in extreme poverty, 66.1 million people work over time contrary to the accepted international standards, and 2.7 million die every year because of fatal related injuries and illness owing to the lack of pensions and other social protection.

In Rwanda, statistics show that there were about 2,490,025 employed persons in the informal sector in 2018, corresponding to about 77.6 per cent of total employment, according to last year’s Labour Force Survey.

Such challenges have raised the question of what the future of work in Rwanda and the world will be. In fact, as the world witnesses more technological advances, the ‘future of work’ has become a buzz word.

However, there is a debate that many people seem to agree with.

“People need decent jobs which are more productive – reflects the needs and conditions of people – than the existing jobs, not just in Rwanda but in across the world,” Antonia Mutoro, the Managing Director of Top Performance Africa, opined.

At the moment, many experts believe that the world is facing series of decent work deficits, including lack of employment opportunities, inadequate earnings and unproductive work – people are working overtime without pay, as well as inability to balance work, family and personal life.

“On the other hand, more people are currently engaged in low quality jobs, there are unequal opportunities in employment and work environment, and workers are not well represented at high-level engagements,” Twahirwa noted.

Some of his views are backed by statistics that indicate that there are indeed unequal opportunities in employment. ILO says 20 per cent of women are paid less than their male counterparts.

And, of the 190 million unemployed globally, young people make up the biggest part of that. Presently, 64 million youth are not employed in any sector, and predictions show that this number could go up if nothing is done about it.

Twahirwa strongly argued that such situations will only be addressed if investment in government institutions and other bodies is increased, highlighting an example of labour inspection institutions as some of the institutions that need to be strengthened to respond to existing challenges.

He also said that raising investment in sustainable work to transform economies, building people’s capabilities and labour market information systems, are all fundamentals for the future of work.

Changing nature of work

Last year, Rwanda adopted the ‘Decent Work Country Programme’ which seeks to promote employment social protection for all, social dialogue and rights at work.

Under the new framework, there are jobs that are no longer recognised as decent. For instance, people engaged in subsistence farming and foodstuff, are no longer considered as employed.

Yet, agriculture still employs the majority of Rwandans.

Experts observed that Rwanda and other countries that are heavily dependent of the agriculture sector should promote market-oriented agriculture, leveraging modern technologies.

There are some estimated 344 million jobs that will be needed by 2030. The question is not just around how these will be created, but also what the nature of these jobs will be beyond being productive

Technology advances have left room to debate about what the impact of things like artificial intelligence, robotics, and machine learning will be on jobs, skills and wages.

Mutoro said it is time to work to bridge digital divides, invest in skills development and start questioning the role of academic institutions like universities.

“Skills development is important for the sustainability of work. But we should start questioning the role of academic institutions; what universities are doing to prepare the students for the future of work,” she exclaimed!

For Faustin Mwambali, the Director General in charge of labour research and employment promotion at the Ministry of Public Service and Labour, creating more jobs should be the first priority for developing countries.

“The target here [in Rwanda] is to create more and better inclusive jobs. However, I think we need to have more jobs first, because when you are hungry you need whatever job as long as it brings food on table. The second step would be how to improve the quality of available jobs,” he said.

Mwambali also highlighted a different fact. The private sector in Rwanda currently employs more than 80 per cent of the total employed people in the country.

“It should be also our priority to put in place policies conducive for the private sector development which may have [positive] impact on job creation and could reduce poverty,” he noted.

The government wants to create 1.5 million new jobs by 2024 under the country’s national transformation agenda. This means every year the government targets to create over 214,000 off-farm jobs.

The government believes this will be in line with the future growth of the workforce.


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