Just last week, a walk-in interview for the least-ranked health work in Malawi has left Lucy Mseketa with blood clots in her eyes.
The 30-year-old was among 118 job-seekers injured in a nasty stampede as thousands jostled for mass recruitment of health surveillance assistants at Katoto Secondary School in Mzuzu last week.
“My eyes are black now. I am in pain. I might not see properly again,” she laments.
The diploma holder, who has been jobless since 2017, was caught in a scramble for jobs for those with Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE).
She fainted when several people trampled upon her and several scores in what Youth and Society (YAS) terms one of the numerous shocking horrors of the country’s massive youth unemployment.
Malawi has a youthful population as three in every four people in the country are aged below 35. The dominant age group was unmistakable during post-election protests, with some saying they were not marching against electoral irregularities, but also politicians who had failed to bring them jobs they promise on the podium
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that a quarter of Malawians aged 18 to 35 remain jobless while actively searching for jobs.
Lucy, who regained consciousness on an ambulance to Mzuzu Central Hospital, says the figure could be higher.
She has faint memories of how she found herself in the ambulance “almost naked”, but her eyes and legs still ache.
By 5am, the job-seeker was already at the venue of the interview which was scheduled to start at 8am. The venue was flooded by 7am, but tragedy struck around 9am when interviewers arrived.
When the gates finally flew open, the crowds stuck outside the fence started jostling for their way in.
She recalls: “I was about to pass the gate when I was pushed to the ground alongside several others.
“The crowd that queued behind us walked over those of us who were on the ground in a push to get in. The victims reduced to a carpet of blood wept for assistance.
Lucy lost all her belongings, including shoes and clothes, in the bloody hustle and bustle.
Then came ambulance sirenes evacuating the casualties of the mounting desperation for jobs in Malawi as several diploma and degree holders turned up for jobs requiring a mere secondary school leaving certificate.
“There are no jobs in the country. This is why we are jostling for anything on offer. It’s better than staying idle with a degree in the armpits,” says Albert Ngolombe, who obtained a bachelor’s degree in food science and technology from Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar), who attended the interview.
Albert is concerned about “lack of political will” to give the youth decent jobs.
“This year, I have dispatched over 100 applications, but I’ve not attended any interview. So, it’s bitterness that brought me to these interviews,” he says.
YAS executive director Charles Kajoloweka faulted the “shambolic walk-in interviews” for exposing the youth not only to the surging coronavirus transmission which flourishes in crowded settings but also debilitating and degrading job hunts.
The activist terms the stampede “a shocking personification of youth unemployment nationwide.
He asserts: “The horrors of unemployment faced by the youth often pushed into underemployment, as witnessed in Mzuzu, should convict both politicians and policymakers for failing to fulfil their duty to create more jobs for young Malawians.
“Undoubtedly, this awful recruitment exercise, by design, has also denied vulnerable groups, such as young persons with disability and young women, the employment opportunity as they cannot withstand the hostile environment. This is unacceptable and insensitive to inclusive development.”
In its 2016 economic blueprint, Harnessing the Population Dividend, the government in partnership with UNFPA promised to accelerate skills development and creation of decent jobs in a race to turn Malawi’s youthful majority into a self-dependent powerhouse for economic growth.
Kajoloweka calls for swift implementation of the promise to wean the youth from dependency.
In 2015, President Peter Mutharika and world leaders adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty by 2030. Goal number eight calls for decent work for all, including the youth sliding into criminality, alcoholism and substance abuse in Malawi.
Minister of Health Jappie Mhango says the government is “on course” to give the youth jobs as it seeks to employ 2 000 health workers to ramp up the national response to Covid-19.
But Lucy missed out as she was bedridden with injuries while the messy mass recruitment continued.