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Africa Day: Poverty grinds continent

TWENTY-SIX year old Patience Nyamayaro, a Bachelor of Science Honours in Sociology graduate, does shift work at a fast food outlet in Harare — a job she never dreamt of doing after spending long nights studying for high grades.

Wongai Zhangazha

Her passion from a young age has always been to work as a social worker but four years after graduating – like thousands of other graduates from universities across the country — she cannot get a job in her field of study. To try and increase her chances on the job market, she enrolled for nursing and graduated end of last year, but that has not been of much help as the country has more than 2 800 qualified but unemployed nurses due to the cash-strapped government’s recruitment freeze.

“It is extremely frustrating,” says Nyamayaro with despondency written all over her face. “I am now a waitress at a fast food outlet working mostly from 4pm to 10 pm Mondays to Thursdays and weekends up to midnight for US$250 per month. This is hardly adequate for I have to send some of the cash to my ailing widowed mother who lives in the rural areas.

Nyamayaro braves a dangerous walk to the commuter omnibus rank for the short trip to her one-roomed lodgings in Kambuzuma high density suburb, and often wonders if her life will ever improve.

“After every shift I say a prayer of thanks for getting home safely. At night you can easily be a victim of robbers or rapists in the poorly lit city; there are the street kids that harass you and you can easily be mistaken for a sex worker and arrested by the police,” she says.

But while she has not been able to secure a job as a social worker, Nyamayaro is grateful that unlike hundreds of thousands of other youths who constitute the majority of the over 85% unemployed Zimbabweans she at least has a job.

Zimbabwe, dubbed the “Jewel of Africa” by the late former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, is struggling with high unemployment as a result of a shrinking economy, widening socio-economic inequalities and spawning poor service delivery.

As the continent celebrates Africa Day on May 25, next week on Monday, Nyamayaro is just one of the millions of African youths who are either unemployed or roaming the streets in search of work. The International Labour Organisation estimates that between 2000 and 2008 Africa created 73 million jobs, but only 16 million for young people aged between 15 and 24. As a result, many young Africans find themselves unemployed or, more frequently, underemployed in informal jobs with low productivity and pay.

In Zimbabwe the informal sector has expanded massively, spurred by quickening company closures and retrenchments as firms struggle to survive amidst the economic crisis’ liquidity crunch. This is despite the Zanu PF government promising to create 2,265 million jobs in its election manifesto for the 2013 general elections.

According to International Labour Organisation (ILO) report, “Global Unemployment trends for youth 2013- A Generation at Great Risk”, global youth unemployment is at crisis levels with 12,6% of young people currently unemployed, roughly 73 million youths.

In the report, youth unemployment rates are much higher in South Africa than the sub-Saharan Africa average of 11,8% in 2012.

In South Africa, over half of young people in the labour force were unemployed in the first three quarters of 2012.

In Zimbabwe, independent analysts say above 85% of Zimbabweans are unemployed, although government agency Zimbabwe National Statistics puts the percentage at a mere 10% claiming those in the informal sector are employed.

And according to the International Labour Organisation’s “World Employment and Social: Outlook Trends 2015” released this week sub-Saharan Africa continues to record strong economic growth rates but unemployment remains generally high.

The youth unemployment rate is comparatively low in relation to the adult rate, with a youth-to-adultratio of 1,9 – the lowest of all regions worldwide. The youth unemployment rate was 11,8% in 2014.

But there is a catch: the quality of jobs in the report is said to be of considerable concern, with working poverty and vulnerable employment the highest across all regions.

“In particular, nearly eight out of 10 employed persons in Sub-Saharan Africa were in vulnerable forms of employment. Accordingly, the vulnerable employment rate — the share of own-account workers and unpaid family workers in total employment — was estimated at 76,6% in 2014, significantly higher than the global average of 45,3%,” states the report.

Labour markets in North Africa region have yet to recover from the political instability of 2011, the so-called Arab Spring. As such, unemployment rates in the region continue to be the highest in the world, with the youth unemployment rate at a staggering 29,5% in 2014 and expected to rise to 30% in 2015.

Thus the historical importance of Africa Day (May 25) has never been more apparent, says political commentator Stanley Tinarwo.
“The challenges faced by the continent continue to require concerted solidarity between not only African states, but African people in working together to address issues of unemployment, war, hunger, poverty and emigration.”

“What is required is the further democratisation of African institutions such as the Pan African Parliament and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to respond more effectively to these challenges if the continent’s young people are to rekindle hope in its future that was characteristic of the liberation struggle years.”

African Economic Outlook (AEO, a product of collaborative work by three international partners in the African Development Bank, the OECD Development Centre and the United Nations Development Programme) states that it is estimated that about 133 million young people (more than 50% of the youth population) in Africa are illiterate.

“Many young people have little or no skills and are therefore largely excluded from productive economic and social life. Those that have some education often exhibit skills irrelevant to current demand in the labour market, in a situation where educational and skill requirements are increasing, resulting in millions of unemployed and underemployed youth,” states AEO.

According to AEO, of Africa’s unemployed 60% young people and youth unemployment rates are double those of adult unemployment in most African countries and the incidence of youth unemployment in sub- Saharan African is estimated to be over 20%.

“The fact that the continent joins the rest of the world in redefining a new agenda for inclusive growth within the post 2015 discourse makes it more urgent for every citizen to join in celebrating and reflecting where we are coming from and where we should be going. Young people should be central in defining this new trajectory,” said David Takawira, a social commentator.

Decade after decade, Africa and its youths, including Zimbabwe, are reeling from grinding unemployment and poverty.

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