Fifty years after independence, Malawi’s unemployment figures continue to threaten gains made in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which expire next year.
On a dusty street corner at Mtandire in Lilongwe, Mathias Maseya a 64-year-old father of three children and nine grandchildren, sits on boulder gazing at the passing vehicles across Kaunda Road.
Periodically, trucks stop, and he and other unemployed men in the neighbourhood rush towards the vehicle carrying either timber or bags of cement, to offer a range of menial skills such as offloading goods, tyre fitting and carrying customer’s goods.
But for the past few days, he has not been lucky.
“It has been a tough week. This year will be a bleak Christmas for my family,” says Maseya.
He comes from Kampepuza in Ntcheu. Most young men in his neighbourhood are minibus touts while others are vendors selling sweets, matches and cigarettes.
However, about 200 metres from his neighbourhood, is the construction of what will be the biggest national stadium in Malawi being funded by the Chinese government. A few lucky men got jobs at the construction site.
Christopher Mupuluwa, fom Manyungwa Village, Traditional Authority Juma in Mulanje is one of the lucky young men that got a job there this year. Mupuluwa, who has five-month experience of mixing gravel and cement, and pushing wheelbarrow at the constructed site says after many years of loafing, he was lucky to get the job.
He says every Monday is payday. He says he gets K5 000 per week.
“Although I am working, life is tough because the little I get, I share with my wife in the village to take care of the family. The remaining cash helps me to buy food, pay house rent and other necessities here in the city,” says Mupuluwa, a Standard Seven dropout.
From dawn to dusk, men of different ages in most parts of the country are found looking for menial jobs, proving how big the unemployment rate is in Malawi.
According to International Labour Organisation (ILO), around 200 million new jobs are needed over the next five years to keep pace with the growing age population in emerging and developing countries.
But all is not lost. The Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training Authority (Teveta) whose core business is to promote skills for sustainable economic development recently launched its five-year Strategic Plan 2013-2018.
Commenting on the strategic plan, Chancellor Kaferapanjira, chief executive officer of Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) is of the view that: “where there is no vision, people perish as stipulated in the book of Proverb 29 verse 18”.
He said Malawians not to perish, it is important to have a medium-term plan such as the 2013-2018 Strategic Plan to guide Teveta, the country and the private sector, to churn out the most appropriate skills that meet the emerging needs of commerce and industry.
He cited Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore as countries that have no other resources apart from a productive labour-force.
“For a country to move forward, the labour-force plays a very crucial role. The 2013 -2018 Strategic Plan is a blueprint that addresses some of the challenges that have haunted commerce and industry for a long time,” says Kaferapanjira.
According to Malawi Unemployment Rate 2005-2014 which was last refreshed in August 2014 by National Statistical Office (NSO), unemployment rate in the country remains unchanged since 2007.
Malawi has one of the highest rates of working poverty, which stands at around 60 percent on K800 Malawi kwacha [less than $2] per day.
According to the Global Unemployment Trends for Youth 2013, a generation at risk reveals that with just over 66 percent of the people completing secondary education, many youths like Muphuwa who dropped out of school because of poverty following his parents’ death, are unable to make a successful transition to stable or decent employment.
Five out of 10 young Malawian workers are undereducated or overeducated for the work they do and six out of 10 receive below average wages. The report cites lack of work experience as one of the major obstacles to securing a job. A weak industrial base had been compounded by an International Monetary Fund (IMF) structural adjustment programme which devalued the kwacha by 49 percent in 2012, deepening poverty and inequality in the country. The first seven goals signed by 147 heads of State and passed by the members of the UN General Assembly during the Millennium Summit in September 2000 were directed at reducing poverty in all its forms: lack of income, education, and health care, hunger, gender inequality; and environmental degradation.
Each is important, but they should be viewed together because they are mutually reinforcing. However, eliminating poverty would increase better health care, eventually developing a global partnership for development. And increasing incomes gives people more resources to pursue better education and health care and a cleaner environment.
Drug Fight Malawi (DFM) executive director Nelson Zakeyu, whose organisation offers substance abuse counselling to the youth, says the rising number of dejected youths can easily access locally grown marijuana and cheap alcohol as an escape from the reality of their daily lives which they fail to cope with.
“We are seeing girls forced into prostitution due to lack of jobs with serious drug and alcohol problems. Malawi is tragically losing a lot of its energetic young people, who are critical for the development of its future. The majority of our young unemployed are very poor and cannot afford to pay for skills training,” he added.
Countless young jobseekers, particularly from rural areas are, like Muphuwa, drifting from town to town in search of cheap labour.
Chief youth officer in the Ministry of Youth, Development and Sports, Wilfred Lichapa, says the revised Youth Policy will also add salt in addressing the emerging challenges faced by youths such as unemployment, HIV and Aids and early marriages.
Lichapa, highlighted youth health and nutrition, youth participation and leadership, youth empowerment, national youth service, education as some of the priority areas of the policy which targets the age group of 10 to 35 years.
The goal of Teveta is to create an innovative and vibrant skilled workforce which will be able to produce competitive goods and services.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) promised in its February 2014 manifesto that it is going to establish the National Youth Development Service (NYDS), whose basic objective is to develop a variety of skills and programmes for the youth and to equip them with skills to be self-reliant.
Page 47 of the DPP manifesto says the NYDS will provide vocational skills and other training for one year and that the training will be designed in a way that the graduates become self-employed instead of looking up to the government for jobs. Some of them will be absorbed in the civil service or the private sector.
It also promises to create opportunities for the youth to participate in development projects such as agriculture, irrigation, building and construction, manufacturing, wildlife conversation and primary health care.
Upon completion of training, the new administration committed itself to providing start-up capital, tools and technical support to the graduates to enable them to start businesses of their choice. The progress of these new business ventures will be regularly monitored to ensure they succeed and eventually form part of a truly national business community.
Through implementing the promises towards NYDS alongside Teveta 2013-2018 Strategic Plan, it seems there is light at the end of the tunnel for unemployed and people like Muphuwa as Malawi is embarking in another 50-year journey; giving hope to the youth post-2015 MGD’s.
The UNAids post-2015 discussion paper drafted in June, 2014 says by 2030, member States which include Malawi, are yet to achieve equal access to productive employment and decent work for all, including the poor, persons with disabilities, women and the youth.
MDG’s serve as guideposts, but for poor countries, many of the goals seem out of reach. As such, countries like Malawi need to set their own goals and work hard to ensure that poor people are included in the benefits of development. Implementation of Teveta Strategic Plan is one tool that can reduce unemployment.
This is why Teveta executive director Ndione Chauluka is calling upon Malawians to appreciate the contributions of technical skills in national development like employment creation.