The paradox of celebrating workers' day continues unabated everywhere but one can certainly not ignore the irony here in Africa. Although several nations celebrate May Day as a day to remember the workers of the world, it is recently becoming a day for protest groups especially the unemployed masses to register their dissatisfaction with the political elites. Africa is no exception.
Youth groups have over the years mounted massive protests against the celebration of May Day on the continent- a celebration they consider to be 'meaningless' especially when majority of the African youth are left with no jobs. With over 50% of African youth unemployed, it makes no sense for the continent to consider celebrating May Day.
“With over 50% of African youth unemployed, it makes no sense for the continent to consider celebrating May Day”, says Agyeman Kodua, a final year student of the University of Ghana. Many are also wondering why governments are celebrating workers day at a time when over 40% of government workers have not been paid for the past 5 months.
In my opinion, there is nothing wrong for any democratic country to remember the contributions made by the hardworking majority. After all, democracy ought to represent the views and the needs of the majority.
But how can Africa, a continent whose unemployment rate barely stands at 50% continue to celebrate “workers' day” without a clear strategy to eliminate the unemployment cancer from the system?
A quick glance at the current unemployment statistics portrays an alarming “official” unemployment rates across Africa. As honest and trustworthy as we know of our governments, if these figures are said to be 'official', then one can only imagine the alarming rate at which the unofficial figures would be in the various African countries.
As a government worker who had a day off to 'celebrate' May Day, I took some time to do a little research about the workforce and the While doing a little research about the rate of unemployment on the African continent, I came across some figures and here are only a few:
EAC/SADC/COMESA Region (unemployment):
Mozambique: 60%, Djibouti: 59%, Namibia: 52%, Zimbabwe: 51%, Congo: 51% Kenya: 44%, Swaziland: 40% Burundi: 35%, Angola: 28%, South Africa 26%, Lesotho: 25%, Ethiopia: 20%, Zambia: 19%, Botswana: 15% etc.
West Africa (unemployment):
Senegal: 49%, Mali: 42%, Equatorial Guinea: 38%, Ivory Coast: 36%, Nigeria: 28%, Liberia: 18% Niger: 16%, Ghana: 12% etc.
Northern Africa (unemployment)
Mauritania: 33% Libya: 30%, Chad: 26%, Sudan: 21%, etc.
These figures when added up, translates into over 400 million of people roaming the streets of Africa without jobs. With such alarming numbers, one always wonders why Africans still celebrate workers' day without a clear policy designed to ameliorate the fear created by the huge unemployed masses. Does it make sense for the 1 billion Africans to celebrate May Day when most of them are without jobs? If about 400 million of Africans are celebrating workers' day without jobs, isn't very disturbing?
Why Too Much Unemployment?
Having identify unemployment to be a major problem for Africa, it is a good idea to highlight the major reasons why unemployment is very high among many African countries. There are quite a number of reasons but paramount amongst are:
· Bad leadership/lack of vision: As a result of bad leadership, there is certainly no clear policies that aim to address unemployment in Africa. We currently lack industrialization that creates jobs. Therefore we export unprocessed agricultural products and minerals, thereby losing money and jobs to the outsiders. Our under-developed agricultural sector has taken a lot of jobs off the system. Agriculture alone has the potential to eliminate unemployment from Africa, yet governments have never considered supporting the farmers. Many of state institutions that were meant to create jobs have been sold off to private investors already. These private investors want more profit for themselves and as such lay off many of the local workers while bringing in workers from abroad.
· Bad educational system: First of all, our educational system is not tailored to address the needs of our immediate environment. I have been reliably informed that Copper Belt University in Zambia for instance is a business school even though the region is so rich with copper! How can business graduates, mostly accountants contribute meaningfully to the production of copper without having any health and safety, engineering abd environmental research background? Where are the mining/engineering schools that will train engineers, health and safety officials to handle our copper mines? Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana is now dominated by arts, political and social science courses, living very little room for science and technical causes. Secondly, the educational system we have has been training people who come out with the notion that government/society must employ them. Many graduates therefore do not take any initiatives to create jobs for themselves. There are many graduates who do not see the need to be on the field/site but rather they want to be in the offices. They want to wear suit and tie most often.
· Corruption: Often, there are many donor countries who contribute a huge chunk of money dedicated for Small and Medium scale Enterprises (SMEs). If such moneys were to be used for the intended purpose, it could boost the expansion of many small businesses to employ more workers. Unfortunately however, such moneys often end up in the pockets of the political elites. Many African leaders instead of spending such moneys to build industries/factories that can employ the youth rather spend the moneys on their political campaigns/rallies. Some even buy votes with cash instead of setting up businesses that can employ the young ones.
THE WAY FORWARD:
Educational reform is needed to address the crises posed by unemployment. We need an educational system that will be tailored to the needs of our immediate environment. There is no need for a university which sits on a huge oil and gas reserves to be training people who can sing and dance as we see in Niger Delta State University, (Nigeria) which has no oil and gas research department. Our universities must identify the challenges within their immediate environment and help train more specialists to address them.
Additionally, every organisation must dedicate itself to the fight against corruption. Moneys that are meant for infrastructural development must not end up in offshore accounts somewhere whiles our people continues to dwell in communities without reliable water supply.
Governments must dedicate more resources to the building of industries to help absorb some of the unemployed youth. This will help the tackle the challenge posed by unemployment such as armed robbery, prostitution, unwanted pregnancies and the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Until a higher percentage of our people are adequately employed and dully paid to work, the celebration of workers' day will have no useful significance in our society.Editor's Note:
Project Coordinator, Project Pan-Africa, ([email protected])