Saturday, October 23, 2021

Where is the Unemployment Movement?

This week marks a year since the unusual and rather disappointing incident that unfolded in front of our Parliament in August 2016. For the sake of those who might have forgotten, it was on the second week of August 2016 that 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. Some of them, after being “shamboked” for merely asking for jobs, were later handcuffed and bungled into Police vans and held inside Police holdings cells for some hours.

The truth of the matter is that the peaceful picketing by the unemployed youth or unemployment movement as we later got to know them was a signal from their side that they are enduring a lot of pain and suffering as a result of lack of jobs. Their dignity was or rather continues to be undermined.

But as we reflect on the ugly images that reflects that historic day, we also ask ourselves if, since that day, anything has been done to fix the problem. With thousands of our young people still out in dusty streets of out towns, cities and villages, the prospect of a ‘lost generation’ looms. The question of this anniversary therefore is whether there are any deliberate efforts made to ensure that we work towards restoring the dignity of the young citizens of this country.

We certainly do not need to point out the fact that government programs such Graduate Volunteer Scheme, Internship Program and Tirelo Sechaba are ill advised. That is to say let us not mention them amongst specific projects embarked upon by those in power to fight the monster that is unemployment.

As pointed out in one of the stories we carry in this edition, prospect that the economy will grow enough to substantially improve employment prospects are high.

The question that comes to mind therefore is whether there are no radical measures that government can put in place to help business create jobs? Yes, government do not create jobs BUT should create an enabling environment for the private sector to expand and create more jobs in the process.

The Second question that comes to mind is whether, for once, the government can come up with measures that could give firms confidence to expand and recruit more employees in the process? These questions we ask repetitively because it is really worrying to live in a country where the largest youth labour force has no work to do. As the saying goes, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. We have no idea of what the idle minds of our youth could be up to as we continue to turn a blind eye on them. One thing for sure, we do not want to wake up to an Arab Spring kind of day in some months to come. We might have managed to silence the unemployment movement for now, but when poverty strike even more, the nation will once again know the anger of a jobless and hopeless graduate. As we all might be aware, unemployment, not just of youth has been rising since the early part of this past decade – well before the 2008 global recession started. This means that some of our people have gone for over 10 years without regular income. This could also mean that in these several years we do not want to learn from others.

For instance, data published this week showed that the Czech Republic’s unemployment rate was a mere 2.9 percent in June 2017 compared to ours estimated at over 30 percent. Rhetoric question: How does this former communist country do it? Also, wages in the same country have been rising pretty steeply. In the first quarter of 2017, nominal wages increased by 5.3 percent or 2.8 percent adjusted for inflation. Here in Botswana the government is in a bitter war with trade unions and has does not tolerate any form of protest by those who preach wealth creation for the citizens.

Back to our example, Czech Republic, its incentives date back to the 1990s, which include tax breaks for new companies and cash for creating new jobs. In the process the country attracted high levels of foreign investment and creating more jobs for its people. Given our high rankings when it comes to investment destinations, why is it so difficult for us to emulate the likes of Czech Republic and give what the older, long term unemployed need? Where the unemployment movement and how far is it “pushing” the government to advance the cause of the jobless folks?

So many questions and a few answers but the #Bottomline is that we must band together to arrest the unemployment problem unless we are ready for some sort of “uprising” in the future.

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