Unemployment statistics are hard to come by in this country, but a critical look at some data shows we have a huge a crisis. Either we fix the problem of lack of jobs for our young citizens, the future doesn’t look good. We will continue to have a number of idle young men and women in the prime of their productive lives.
To understand a broader picture, consider the 2008 Population and Housing Census. The total population under the age of 20 was 7.6 million, 58 per cent of the total population. The Malawi population is also fast growing, complicating matters. Now consider that most students finish their secondary schooling at the age of 18. In the same census year, the population of 18-year-olds was 268 000.
In 2013 around 144 504 students are expected to sit the MSCE exams. Where are the other 123 496 teenagers? We surely have not lost a bunch of them to death or some natural catastrophe. Or I might as well ask what they are doing? They are unemployed and with no skill at all. If we look at enrolment at the universities and public colleges, the picture even appears even grim. Universities of Malawi and Mzuzu admit les that 3 000 students a year. A few hundred rich kids find their way into private universities or the costly parallel programmes. In all this bear in mind that over half of the country lives below poverty or something that is synonymous with destitution. Others end in the a few technical colleges and expensive private colleges, but most just idle at home doing nothing.
Now consider that in 2012, the pass rate at MSCE was a mere 57 percent and the rest 43 percent are probably idling. With these statistics, we surely do not need to figure the exact quantitative measure of unemployment in general. Each year, over 300 000 students are eligible to sit MSCE exams and move on to do specialised trades.
It could be interesting to see how the Economic Recovery Plan and the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy took a deep look at the extent of youth unemployment presented by such a simple logical sequence of the numbers. At some stage, the DPP government went on a huge crack to chase vendors from the streets. Similar action was taken to get rid of minibus touts. But if one takes a closer and sober look at these two incidents, there are a number of MSCE attempters or holders that have not been absorbed in a formal job market, or the universities/colleges and have nothing to do. And these are in the urban areas, and if you consider that a majority of the youth still live in the rural areas, the wider picture is fatalistic.
With the government budget just passed and billions allocated to various activities, fact remains that each year we continue to record number of youths that cannot get a good education. The few that do are not being absorbed into the formal job market. I do not think all these young people are interested in subsistence farming that is being promoted through a multi-billion fertiliser subsidy.
As an election year approaches, I am yet to see any aspirant embrace youth unemployment as a crisis that requires urgent intervention. The current situation breeds a fertile environment for all social problems that if not dealt with, 50 years of independence will mature into 100 years of lost time.