It is almost impossible to talk about the problems that Malawi is facing without talking about the high unemployment rate that is ravaging its youth and dragging them into a downward spiral of unemployment, homelessness and crime.
In Malawi, being on the right side of 30 is a constant dare of one’s strengths and brevity in refraining from falling into a quagmire of cheap strong liquor, chamba, theft, vandalism, barbarism and other immoral behaviours emanating from boredom created by lack of employment.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), unemployment rate for the youth in Malawi is at 23 percent, slightly higher than the national unemployment rate which is at 21 percent. This, among other things, is attributed to the youth’s lack of skill, experience and entrepreneurship training.
Ironically, the youth who are mostly unemployed and looked down upon when the rare as hens teeth job opportunities in Malawi decide to show up, are in majority and as the saying goes, the leaders of tomorrow.
Malawi is endowed with a youthful population, they make up 13 million of our 17 million population and yet only a meagre nine percent of them have formal education and are actively participating in the mainstream economy.
With more than 90 percent of the youth in the country without professional nor vocational training and isolated from effectively participating in the mainstream economy— the future of the so-called leaders of tomorrow looks partly cloudy.
If the status quo is maintained, then we should fear for most of these young people as they are likely to take up leadership positions in their pollyanna dreams than reality.
But it seems such worrying and alarming statistics acted as a timely reminder for those in the ivory tower to do something for the youth.
Recently, youths have been offered a glimmer of hope in the K10 billion Jobs for Youth (J4Y) project which was launched last week by the Minister of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development with funding from the African Development Bank (AfDB).
The project, which is expected to create an estimated 17 000 jobs for the youth in Malawi is timely, if not long overdue and will target economic sectors, including agriculture, small-scale mining and information and communication technology (ICT).
According to AfDB, 50 percent of the youth in Malawi were projected to be unemployed by 2025 going by the recent increase in the unemployment rate.
“In this project, we will be looking at how to inculcate entrepreneurship mind set in the youth, address the weakness in technical and business skills, ensure there is access to markets and information and finance,” said the officer in-charge for AfDB Davies Charles in an interview after the launch.
The pan-African bank approved the J4Y project on December 7 last year and it will be financed through an African Development Fund (ADF) concessionary loan of $10.5 million and an ADF grant of $1.75 million with the Malawi Government contributing 10 percent of the loan financing, which amounts to approximately $750 000.
Charles said the J4Y project is the first of its kind in Africa and was initiated following the adoption of a Jobs for Youth in Africa Strategy by the bank in May. This is the strategy that aims at creating 25 million jobs in Africa by 2025 and expected to impact 25 million youthful lives.
“Malawi was chosen to be the starting ground for the project because of the commitment from the government coupled with President Peter Mutharika being AfDB’s champion for the youth programme,” he said.
AfDB president Akinwumi Adesina asked Mutharika to champion the youth project last year when he visited the country, a responsibility the Malawi President accepted.
Mutharika is on record as having said the youth can be critical agents for social economic change if appropriate investments are made to unleash their promise.
A view he shares with the Minister of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development Francis Kasaila.
In an interview, Kasaila emphasised the need for all stakeholders in the project to work together and ensure that the country enhances employment opportunities for the youth.
“This is an initiative that is trying to address a huge challenge that this country and Africa is facing, the largest proportion of our population is composed of youth; hence, it makes sense to invest in them.
“We will make sure that through this initiative, we empower the youth with skills and create an environment where the youth are provided with experience as demanded by the private sector, but this is only possible if all stakeholders involved support the project,” he said.
Kasaila said the project is being managed by a project implementation unit which will ensure that there is efficiency and transparency.
“With this unit dedicated to this project, we should be able to achieve the intended goals with the main goal being to create 17 000 jobs for the youth in Malawi. This will mean that those with the energy will be engaged in the main economy,” he said.
The project, which will transform the lives of the youth, their families and better the economy of this country in the long run, will ensure that the youth refrain from social evils such as trafficking, vandalism and radicalism.
Enelless Pemba Phiri, who represented Youth Consultative Forum (YCF) at the launch, described the project as a hope for the future, but asked government to involve the youth in the implementation.
“The project is important as it will create an entrepreneurship mindset in us, equip us with technical and business skills as well as give us access to international and external markets as we will own our own businesses.
“If this project is to benefit us, the government should make sure that the youth take a leading role in implementing it. This is our project and we should be involved in shaping it as stakeholders,” she said.
Another young leader present at the launch, Emmanuel Kaliwo, who is the Polytechnic Students Union (PSU) president, said the project is something the youth should embrace, but they should ensure they have enough information on how they can benefit from it.
The four-year project will mainly focus on entrepreneurship education and sustainable enterprise development, skills development for employability which will involve a functional internship programme and institutional support and project management.