Malawi youth form the majority of the population, but they are largely invisible in policy making to influence the country’s development agenda. As the country prepares for National Youth Conference, EPHRAIM NYONDO writes on the plight of the Malawi youth.
He never dreamt he would be where he is now. His childhood dream was to become a banker, but at 25, Yusuf Mveliwa is on a seat of a push bike, cycling hard with a face covered in sweat, ferrying customers to their various destinations within Mangochi boma.
He was not born in Mangochi. Mveliwa, married with a child, is from Chisitu in Mulanje and came to Mangochi three years ago in search of greener pastures.
“After passing MSCE in 2013 with 27 points, my parents did not have money to send me to college. I spent two years looking for employment in Mulanje. Frustrated because I could not find any, I migrated to Blantyre, but the story was not any different,” he says.
It was his uncle in Mangochi who intervened in his search for a better life. He invited him to Mangochi because ‘there was a promise of a job’. He stayed a year in Mangochi without a job.
“My uncle then bought me a bicycle to be ferrying people and make a little bit of money,” he says.
It has been two years now and Mveliwa is still running a bicycle taxi-no promise of getting a job soon.
Mveliwa’s story of unemployment is nothing different from that of Milika Banda, 23, a woman who frequents the labour office in Blantyre.
Like thousands other job-seekers, mostly youths, who congregate at the labour office in Blantyre, Milika is tired of staying ‘without a purpose’.
“I graduated with a diploma in Rural and Community Development in 2014. I have applied for jobs I cannot even count but, look, I am here looking for maganyu (piecework),” she says.
She adds it is not easy for her not just as a youth but also a woman.
“There are a lot of temptations,” says Banda, who is still single, “we have men who demand that I sleep with them if they are to give me a job.”
For people like 20-year-old Ernest Mmangisa-who sells locally produced biscuits and phone cards on a makeshift stall at Liwonde Trading Centre in Machinga-the story is nothing different from Yusuf’s.
As he waited for sales, Mmangisa says he tried very hard to get a job.
“I knocked on many doors looking for work as a cleaner or shop assistant, but nobody was interested in hiring me without experience or finishing my education. The government is not really helping us young people, so we have to fend for ourselves,” says Mmangisa, who does not have a Malawi School Certificate of Education.
Mveliwa, Banda and Mmangisa are part of a generation of disadvantaged young Malawians blighted by an unemployment crisis that threatens the economic development of Malawi.
Bicycle taxis and informal vending have swelled dramatically as thousands of poverty-stricken young job seekers are increasingly pushed into the informal sector in a desperate bid to survive in a tough economic climate.
In fact, the story of the three captures the challenge of being a youth in Malawi-a country where youths are in majority and also energetic.
With sustained high fertility in the past 20 years, the age structure of Malawi’s population is extremely youthful. According to UNFPA, 70 percent of the population is under age 30, placing a significant burden on the working-age population to provide the basic health and education needs required by children and youth.
Experts say proper investments in the well-being of children and adolescents will help ensure that current and future generations will grow and develop into their full potential.
But the state of affairs points to the fact that such investments in youth are still a distant dream.
The 2014 International Labour Organisation (ILO) data shows that over 70 percent of young Malawians, aged between 15 and 29, are employed in the informal sector. Malawi has one of the highest rates of working poverty, which stands at around 60 percent on $2 per day.
The report, titled Global Unemployment Trends for Youth 2013: A generation at Risk, reveals that with just over 66 percent of the demographic completing secondary education, many who dropped out of school at 14 because of poverty are unable to make a successful transition to stable or decent employment.
The report further adds five out of 10 young Malawian workers are undereducated or overeducated for the work they do and that six out of 10 receive below average wages.
UNFPA underlines that young people’s access to employment is limited in Malawi. Their recent estimates show that around 130 000 enter the job market each year; however, the formal sector is unable to create jobs at a rate sufficient to absorb these entrants.
“Only 14 percent are in white-collar jobs and over 70 percent are in informal sector. An estimated 80 percent of secondary school-leavers return to their villages every year as they can neither find jobs nor employ themselves,” reads their recent report .
Malawi’s failure to invest in its youth has resulted in disturbing statistics, which poses a great risk to the nation’s quest for development.
The youth of Malawi-though constituting the majority of the country’s population-are confronted with a multiplicity of development challenges, in areas of education, health, employment, entrepreneurship, gender equality and women’s empowerment, human rights and HIV and Aids.
For instance, the girl child is most challenged, as evidenced by the high rates of child marriage-50 percent of girls are married before their 18th birthday. Teenage pregnancy is very high and school dropout rates for girls are high.
HIV and Aids prevalence rates are rising faster among young people than the general population. In 2014: HIV prevalence among young people, 15-24 years old, was 4.07 percent among girls and 2.4 percent among Boys. There were 11 000 new infections-7 670 among females, accounting for 70 percent of all infections in the same age group. This means 212 new infections occur among young people, translating into 148 new infections among young women per week. There were 2 640 Aids-related deaths among young people aged 15-24, in 2014. This means that seven youths died to Aids-related causes each day.
Unsafe abortions contribute up to 13 percent of maternal mortality figures and these are largely among the youth.
The proportion of maternal mortality and morbidity attributed to young women is growing at an alarming rate, arising from early pregnancies and unsafe abortions, among other factors.
The myriad of the challenges, experts say, springs from policymaker’s failure, over the years, to understand the role the youths can play in developing this country.
That is why, as Malawi is about to embark in the process of reviewing the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MDGS II), there is a strong call for youth empowerment to be a feature in the discourse so that youths are able to deal with the social, cultural, economic and political challenges they encounter every day. n