Education without opportunity
The Botswana Gazette took to the streets to try and document the thoughts of the unemployed youths of our country whose plight has enjoyed prominence since the recent unemployment matches in Gaborone. The following are some of their views.
Kabelo: (Graduate Engineer) “I have been actively seeking employment for over two years now. My situation is so desperate that I have recently tried getting a job in South Africa. I don’t want to leave home but I may have to, I am increasingly a burden on my parents. It’s also tough to get work in South Africa because they also grappling with unemployment and they generally want to fill positions with South Africans for BEE compliance. Maybe our government should consider doing an assessment of industry here and establish how many positions are occupied by foreigners which could be successfully filled by locals.”
Neo: (Chemistry Graduate) “I have been without a permanent job for over three years now even though I have achieved a high level of education. I don’t think the government’s policies have really addressed unemployment in the country. Perhaps they need to create a think tank with participants from all sectors and map a plan to build industrial capacity to absorb all these graduates being churned out by local and foreign tertiary institutions. It appears we got education right but didn’t really consider what should be in place thereafter. The civil service is often accused of poor service delivery, why don’t they give us a try, after all they trained us why can’t they employ us as well?”
Thutho: (Graduate Accountant) “I have a degree in Accounting and also qualified through CIMA, there are many like me all trying to get the same jobs with no success. I am very grateful that the government paid for my education but it’s of little use to me if I cannot get an opportunity to use it. There are lots of foreigners employed in accountancy positions, surely there are enough locals ready willing and able to execute these functions. The government should be serious about localisation and give employment quotas to investors like they do in other countries. I just cannot understand why our government does very little in this regard. ’’
Tapiwa: (Marketing Graduate) “I have been battling to get a permanent job for over four years now. Employers say they want people with experience, how do you get experience when no one is prepared to give that opportunity. I only know of six people from my class who have jobs right now, it’s tough. I don’t really have a life, I am supported by my mother for everything I need, everything.”
These sad accounts are by no means unique and share a common thread of hopelessness and perceived government inaction. A think tank to resolve and tackle unemployment is an interesting proposition. An industrial investment drive is a crucial undertaking; the government must intervene with urgency and set upon a path of sustainable development. An analysis is critical to expose existing impediments in our current investment environment because the removal of these could result in increased foreign direct investment.
The role of the state is the key to unlocking an entire shift in our economy. Botswana is widely viewed as one of the least corrupt countries in Africa which should make her a prime investment destination; however we might not have leveraged this opinion enough. The collapse of industries in Zimbabwe should have been treated as a great opportunity to develop those same industries here; instead South Africa was the biggest beneficiary of our neighbour’s economic demise. It is however not too late.
As a nation we have not derived full benefits of the cattle industry. We have tonnes of hides but yet most of our footwear is imported, Botswana should and can be a leading exporter of leather footwear and other associated products. We should be collectively offended that we import shoes from China and India. When the unemployed graduates ask for improved development plans, perhaps these realities are what they are alluding to. The Botswana Development Corporation should be tasked to develop this and other industries which as a country we have comparative advantage; the think tank idea from one of the unemployed graduates suddenly gains increasing validation.
In light of sluggish foreign direct investment the government must assume a leading role in our diversification drive. Annually the labour market welcomes over two thousands new entrants with bleak employment prospects, deliberate home grown solutions must be found. The government has and continues to make a huge investment in human capital and yet we continue to derive little economic benefit from this under-deployed resource. There is a school of thought that suggests that perhaps a mismatch exists between industry requirements and courses completed by many graduates. This could be true to some extent but the overwhelming reality is that our industrial base needs urgent sustainable development. Incentives must be introduced to attract manufacturing for domestic consumption and more importantly for export markets.
The AGOA website states the following, The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is a United States Trade Act, enacted on 18 May 2000 as Public Law 106 of the 200th Congress. AGOA has since been renewed to 2025. The legislation significantly enhances market access to the US for qualifying Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries.
There are over 4600 products listed under AGAO which Sub-Saharan African countries can export to the USA duty free. Included here are apparels and leather products amongst others. Botswana fits the profile perfectly to take full advantage of AGOA but little evidence exists to suggest that this is the case.
The youths of Botswana are growing increasingly impatient and justifiably so. Their concerns should translate into a national economic transformation agenda driven by the government. Education without opportunity is a calamitous exercise in futility.