I should be writing about and wishing you, our readers, a merry Christmas, but one particular headline has preoccupied my mind throughout the week; the news report about 200 PhD holders protesting on the streets of Cameroon, over joblessness, left me wondering whether education is still the key to success as we have always been told.
The protestors, all doctorate holders, the highest rank in academia sat on the streets and painted a picture of hopelessness, with some even getting beaten and injured by the law enforcers as they expressed their anger after missing out on jobs in government universities.
In an interview with the BBC, the desperate academics said they had been volunteering in state universities for years yet when recruitment was done, jobs went to less educated applicants, according to Nanan Herman, the spokesperson of the protestors.
But that country’s Higher Education Minister, Jacques Fame Ndongo, insisted that the recruitment was based on merit. An ordinary Cameroonian speaking to the BBC said seeing PhD holders protesting over lack of jobs is the most uninspiring development for young people in school.
Proximity is one of the aspects that guide the news media; the news must feel close and relevant to the target audience of a particular media outlet. So how close and relevant is news about PhD holders protesting over joblessness in Cameroon, thousands of miles away from Kigali?
Well, a fortnight ago in Kicukiro, Lynette, a 20-year old neighbour of mine came to me seeking advice on a decision she was about to make. In her senior six vacation, Lynette is contemplating to suspend plans to join University and take up a job that pays Rwf250,000 (US$300) a month.
An eloquent debater with aspirations of becoming a lawyer, Lynette is a brilliant young Rwandan girl and I was curious to hear her thought process. So, I asked her to first tell me the reasoning behind her decision before I could offer my own advice on the same.
“I believe that, ultimately, education is only a means to a job and an income; if I am able to secure employment now where many graduates, I know are still jobless, I think it would be unwise of me not to take the opportunity,” she told me.
That mindset is increasingly becoming popular among young people of Lynette’s age. They look at the so called highly educated adults in their community and they don’t get the inspiration they need, to follow in similar footsteps. Many have chosen business over further education.
My friend, Emmanuel never went past senior three but he has turned his childhood passion for cars into a thriving business. Having learned how to drive at an early age, he started off as a sales agent, pointing whoever wanted to buy or sell, in the right direction. He got me my first car.
Last year, he opened his own business, a car rental service and last month, he added a fourth car, to his growing fleet. The irony is, in the same town where a senior three leaver is succeeding at business, Aimable, a recent graduate of Business Administration from a local university is still struggling to find his first job, nearly two years after he graduated.
In October, Aimable sat for his tenth job interview which ended negatively, further increasing his desperation. There are many like Aimable, not just in Rwanda but in Africa at large. According to the World Bank, there will be nearly 400 million young jobless people on the continent within a decade, if governments don’t step up their efforts in creating meaningful jobs.
“But I believe that instead of crying on the streets, these PhD holders should be creating jobs for themselves and others who are less educated; this protest is a major vote of no confidence in our African education system, especially if the most educated cannot survive without a state job,” the Cameroonian local further told the BBC.
Actually, it is not entirely true that the most educated people can’t thrive in private enterprise. On a recent trip within the region, I was checked into Grand Global Hotel, a facility that is owned by a couple both of whom are PhD holders. The two still have their formal employment in senior roles and the hotel is just an additional source of income.
Three years ago, my friend’s uncle, who had successfully run to represent his constituency in his country’s parliament was kicked out of the role after it emerged his academic credentials were suspect. Now he’s set to graduate with a degree with intentions to reclaim his position.
“So, my dear Lynette, your reasoning holds water; you indeed need that job. But as someone who has two degrees, it would be selfish of me to tell you that education doesn’t matter; get your qualifications because opportunities will always show up but they must find you equipped.”
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, 2020.Follow https://twitter.com/KenAgutamba