Employment (or unemployment) is an issue that has our policy makers grapple with constantly; and rightly so, too. Wikipedia defines employment as a contract between two parties, one being the employer and the other being the employee.
This is the conventional understanding. But being job, the word ‘employ’ does have a wider meaning. It could also mean to engage, hire or service. In economics, employment means application of resources, normally labor, into the production process.
To be fully employed, the resources must be fully engaged in the production process. Put simply, people who have employment contracts but are not productive cannot be considered as fully employed.
The Japanese have our sympathies and should be in our prayers after the earthquake, Tsunami and, God forbid, resultant nuclear near-catastrophe. It is against this background that the Bank of Japan injected $43billion into the economy to stabilize the same.
The injection came after the central bank announced a cash input of $284 billion earlier in the same week. What is impressive is that one of the main reasons of this injection is concerns over unemployment rising to 5%, which is high by Japanese standards…’ Unemployment levels of 5% high? Our statistics (in East Africa) are 10 times scarier. Our unemployment figures hoover between 50-70% (conservative estimates).
Of the employed, 70- 90% work in agriculture and other non-service, low-technology based industries. Typically, about half or more of able bodied citizens in our countries are not working unacceptable, wouldn’t you say?
Unlike the Japanese, the Russians and the like, our demographics will only compound this problem. Most of the population is young. For example, Kenya and Rwanda have 42.3% of the population aged between 0-14 years with the country median age of 18 years, Burundi has 46% aged below 14 years with the median age being 16years, Tanzania and Uganda are also within this range.
Truth is, if we keep at the pace going acting as are doing, we have some very tough times ahead. Even, with family planning techniques, we would still, for a generation, have to deal with a rapid population rise and its associated problems as well as curtailing spread of HIV spread this part of the population is just entering the reproductive phase.
It is not all gloom though. Late as it is, we could still start work to direct and harness the tremendous energy that this age group brings with it productively to ensure economic take-off. Naturally, more attention needs to be paid to this group. Youth development projects need to move from the periphery, where they are currently, to the center of East African policy-makers’ focus. This is not an option. The youth are quickly becoming ‘the voting bloc’ anyway so it is a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’. Second, the policies should be participative and inclusive. It would even be better if the policies were ‘owned’, that is, structured, driven and implemented by the youth themselves. The wearer knows best where the shoe pinches, no?
This not only lightens the load but is also a more direct way of solving the problem of unemployment. Thirdly, need to think innovatively, entrepreneurially and unconventionally while seeking solutions. We in, Africa, have over time been guilty of waiting for the west to solve our problems for us. This post-independence generation, with proper guidance can unshackle our region from this neo-colonialist mentality.
I look at Japan with sympathy; and no small amount of admiration. They have a beautiful solution focused mentality. They are, as we say in Kiswahili, mfano wa kuigwa (an example worth emulating).What stops us from being like them?
We have to give a lot of consideration to the problem of employment. We must think 50 years ahead and not just be preoccupied with the present. We need to get creative and innovative but above all; we need to get serious, very serious.
Sam Kebongo is a skills and business advisory services consultant. He also teaches entrepreneurship at Rwanda Tourism University College.