An unusual and rather disappointing scenario happened right in front of our legislatures this week. Yes right in front of the people we have entrusted with our future ÔÇô The same people who in the run to the 2014 general elections promised milk and honey ‘to all of us should they be voted into power’. Just a few weeks ago, a middle aged man was handcuffed and bungled into a Police van for merely asking for a job. From look of things, this unidentified man has endured a lot of pain and suffering as a result of lack of jobs. He represents a thousand of his peers also roaming our streets. Pained as he is, it seems he still got brains. He carried a placard written: “We want jobs, not Bots50” to parliament in a bid to raise awareness to the Members of Parliament. Bots50 is the popular upcoming independence celebrations that those in power have decided will be held throughout this year. Those close to the government enclave indicate that a lot of millions have been and will be spent on such celebrations. This is exactly what the middle aged man was or remains against. His message is short and clear: Instead of wasting millions of Pulas on a few individuals, let us divert that money to come up with projects that would create viable and sustainable jobs.
Just this week, Monday to be precise, scores of unemployed youth who petitioned Parliament were ‘brutally’ whipped with sjamboks by police officers whilst Parliament turned a blind eye.
Speaker of the National Assembly Gladys Kokorwe rejected pleas by among others Gaborone Member of Parliament Phenyo Butale to adjourn for a few minutes to address the desperate job seekers. ÔÇô What a shame on her part top only allow amendment of standing orders a few days later to allow MPs to debate their salary increase whilst he refused to the same for our youth.
AIESEC, a global platform for young people to explore and develop their leadership potential hosted a panel discussion in April under the theme “Creative Long Term Solutions to Countering Unemployment”. At this discussion, most youth leaders were in agreement that to solve the high unemployment rate amongst their peers, the business community should work closely with governments and most importantly education providers to produce graduates who are “ready” to work.
Judging by what the young leaders also discussed at the April forum, it seems government has sidelined them when it comes to “mapping” solutions to the main problem being high unemployment. Most of them believed that government programs such Graduate Volunteer Scheme, Internship Program and Tirelo Sechaba are ill advised. They could not shy away from stating that such are unsustainable. The truth of the matter is that it is not just vital that jobs are created but the jobs created should be sustainable for the foreseeable future.
A quick desk top research shows that from 1991 until 2010 Botswana unemployment rate averaged 18.10 percent, reaching an all-time high of 23.80 percent in December of 2006 and a record low of 13.90 percent in December of 1991.
The latest figures from Statistics Botswana show that the country’s unemployment rate is at 20.0 percent, while poverty levels are estimated at over 20 percent, together with high income inequality.
Given this stats we need to grow faster than the rate of growth of unemployment in order to reduce levels of unemployment. Not only that, we must simultaneous address the income inequalities.
Given figures that show that unemployment has reached crisis proportions with 61 percent of youth aged 15 ÔÇô 29 roaming the streets, why then do we have those who are jobless and seeks to get attention of those in power arrested by the Police for doing so? What crime have they committed?
There is no single doubt that the root cause of poverty and unemployment among indigenous Batswana is undoubtedly a result of the many misguided and unsustainable citizen economic empowerment programmes that our government has pursued over the years. Why then do we arrest someone who was peacefully redirecting those who have since been given power to lead us to the right path?
We do appreciate the government’s latest efforts to eradicate poverty and encourage citizen participation in business and employment creation but we all ought to agree that most of our people still survive from government handouts despite 50 years of independence. This includes the man who was bungled and handcuffed by the Police on Thursday. Would one be wrong maybe to conclude that maybe that what the government want to see?
As we celebrate these 50 years of independence we challenge the government, to consider citizen-building. Citizen-building involves providing people with the required skills to gather, understand and analyse evidence about the contexts and institutions that affect their lives ÔÇô particularly their economical lives. Our people need knowledge, support, services and opportunities in order to thrive financially. Not to be arrested when they want to remind those in power that some things are not being done as they ought to be.
The #Bottomline is that at the end of the day we need to arrest NOT those who seek employment but the monster that is called unemployment. We must band together to arrest the unemployment problem unless we are ready for some sort of “uprising”.
This commentary was first published on 10 July 2016. It has been slightly edited to accommodate recent development regarding the unemployment saga.