Economics think tank e-Consult believes that at 20 percent, the current unemployment figures in Botswana may be underestimated and could in fact be close to the 30 percent mark. E-Consult, led by Dr Keith Jefferies believes unemployment should not be treated casually, but rather scrutinized under a microscope with the intention of building a solid case that will herd an attentive and productive discourse to overturn unemployment’s destructive effects.
While experts have opined that education is a decisive factor in obtaining gainful employment, it is quite interesting that even though they are better educated, Botswana’s youth are largely inactive in the labour market and play a minimal role in the national economy.
Without deliberate and robust actions to address this wounding problem, unemployment will remain a threat to the stability of the economy and those engulfed by its grasp. According to the African Development Bank young people can present a significant threat to social cohesion and political stability if they do not secure gainful jobs.
When dissecting unemployment, e-Consult highlighted several factors as the reason for the sluggish output of jobs, among them quality of the education system as well as mismatch between graduates’ skills and those that are needed by the market. Therefore it can be argued that Botswana’s education system has failed to turn the country’s human resource into an economic opportunity.
Stunted private sector growth
E-Consult also said stunted growth in the private sector limits the availability of new jobs and called for new policies aimed at sparking employment creation in the private sector. At the same, time, said e-Consult, there are certain firms that crumble at the heat of competition because of their inborn weaknesses, a characteristic that does not guarantee sustainability of exiting jobs.
Employer or employee?
Associate Economics Professor at the University of Botswana, Brothers Malema also observes that unemployment could have been activated by the inflexible mental attitude of graduates to look for a job rather than seek to create one, instilled by an education system undersupplied with entrepreneurial orientation.
Malema also believes technology adoption could have possibly led to a spike in unemployment, given that it inevitably rendered employees redundant. In rushing to adopt technology, Botswana could have benefitted expatriates as it had to import skilled labour from outside to manage and operate the new technology. The country that exported the technology also benefitted as more demand meant more jobs for its people.
“Perhaps if Botswana had ventured towards innovation and inventing technology, more job opportunities would have been created,” he said.
What are the solutions?
As it is, Botswana’s human capital is slowly becoming an idle resource, a situation that will rob the economy of its capacity to grow and provide enough incentive for socio-political unrest. There has also been a significant hike in social costs such crime, alcohol and drug abuse, family breakdowns and corruption. However it seems the fractured reality has not yet inspired a solid and extensive plan of action to address the scourge. Government has set up a number of programmes which appear to be targeted at addressing idleness instead of creating sustainable employment opportunities. These include Ipelegeng, Tirelo Sechaba, National Internship and the recent Graduate Volunteer Scheme, which have all inflated government’s social spending.
“What is worrying is that due to the age structure of the population, which is relatively young, the labour force will continue to grow at rates higher than in previous years, putting additional pressure on existing jobs,” stated e-Consult. “An attempt to find quick wins will not guarantee sustainable high quality jobs but will instead distract attention from the underlying reforms that are needed.”
Additionally, Malema warns that failure to monitor the mushrooming of learning institutions will further dent the credibility of Botswana’s graduates.
“It must be noted that the problem of unemployment is not insurmountable. However, a concerted effort is necessary in which government will play a lead in bringing all stakeholders to the party. Solutions may be hard to come by, but surely a betterment elixir to the problem could be ascertained with a change of tact, principally by the government.”