*WHY ARE THE JOBS ELUSIVE?*
Let us discuss the case of jobs and wealth creation
By Amb. Emmanuel Mwamba
So before we blame slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism, let us look at what we have done the last 55 years.
At Independence, our economy was thriving, with huge foreign reserves and had one of the strongest currencies in the world.
But by 1990, our economy had collapsed, become debt ladden and our people demanded for political change and wanted jobs.
Yet, ten years later, in 2001, people still demanded for political change and wanted jobs.
Again in 2011, people demanded for change and wanted jobs.
Probably the political discourse as we head towards 2021could be similar; change and jobs!
*JOBS, WHY CAN’T THE ECONOMY PROVIDE JOBS?*
The outcry has been the same the last 30 years. What and who is to blame?
The discourse about political change and jobs has been consistent since 1991.
It blames the lack of jobs, on leadership failure, corruption, waste of public resources and economic mismanagement.
But in my view the critical shortage of jobs has something to do with the fundamental Structure of our economy and the state of our Education System.
So let’s have an honest conversation.
It is clear that jobs cannot be provided in the numbers as demanded by our people in 1991, 2001, 2011 and even now!
*OUR EDUCATION SYSTEM*
Our Education system was designed by our colonial masters to give language and numerical skills, and provide certain types of workers for the jobs that existed in the various sectors of the economy.
You have heard of stories from your uncles who boast that at the completion of their University or College education, companies were lined up outside their graduation ceremonies begging them to join the firms.
Sectors like Mining went to great extent to create student scholarships, and support faculty schools at Universities at home and abroad.
These students were expected to join the mining firms upon the completion of their education.
But despite the fundamental changes that have occurred to the economy, the education system has stagnated, and has not responded or adapted to the new structure of our economy.
Our education system churns out graduates, equipped with skills and training for jobs that no longer exist in the economy!
Just check the last graduation ceremony you attended and check what training the graduates obtained and relate to the job market.
Our economy is now highly informal.
Infact the number of workers in the formal sector has barely changed in the last 50 years when our population was 3million but now stands at 18.2million people.
Yet our graduates from Universities, Colleges and other institutions are well trained that they can work any where else in the world except in Zambia.
This is because the training and skills acquired cannot be matched with the jobs or lack of jobs available on the market.
Little attention has been paid to innovation, entrepreneurship and a robust technical and vocational education, sub-sectors that could create employers, who can employ themselves and others.
Further, sectors such as agriculture, that have potential to create millions of seasonal jobs have proven unattractive to young people, who are the most affected by the current unemployment status.
This is because, they are waiting for the quality jobs that they have been trained in and skilled for.
*STRUCTURE OF OUR ECONOMY*
The introduction of the free-market and liberalized economic model at the behest of the International Monetary Fund(IMF) in 1991, only helped to de-industrialise the economy, shut manufacturing and industrial sectors in preference for cheap imports that has helped grow the trading sector.
By 1991, Zambia had over 370 state-owned enterprises providing hundreds of thousands of jobs, goods and services to the economy.
The IMF said the companies were loss-making and inefficient!
They persuaded government that it could save money spent on subsidising such companies keeping them afloat, to develop other important sectors such as Health and Education.
So the bulk of these companies were shut, liquidated, sold or cheaply disposed-off in the most ambitious IMF-supervised privatization programme in Africa.
And our borders were opened widely for replacement goods to freely enter the market.
This model is an experiment that failed with disastrous consequences.
The formal sector nearly died, poverty levels dropped from an average of 60% to 84%.
Other than a few privatised companies that have remained succesful like Zambia Sugar, Chilanga Cement, Zambia Breweries, ZANACO, and Copperbelt Energy Company, most companies closed leaving former workers stranded and on the streets, and denying future opportunities for new jobs for the new generation.
Further government placed the most valuable natural resources, the mines, in the hands of foreign entities and foreign benefits, for exploitation.
Without deriving higher rent from natural resources, which is the proven best source of domestic revenue for a country, the scenario creates a cycle of poverty and the resources benefit and makes millions of dollars for the few new owners.
It has since taken almost 30 years to climb back to national average poverty levels of 54%.
Take for example the case of the USA and China.
While it took about 200 years for the USA to become the number one economy in the world, it has taken China a mere 40 years to lift about 500million people out of poverty, industrialize its economy and make China a global manufacturing hub of goods and services.
Although considered a developing nation, China is now the second largest economy in the world.
This was done at the back of state-owned enterprises with controlled cooperation with foreign owned entities helping with foreign direct investments and technology transfer to its economy.
China ensured that the largest benefit for this state capitalism was to the country and it’s people, and not to private entities or persons.
So while the liberal economy and free-market model also adopted by Zambia, promotes impressive economic growth and creates wealth, it leaves so many behind and promotes high income inequality.
It also emasculates trade unions and renders them ineffective, leaving workers without permanent or long-term jobs.
There is now a general realization that the free-market economic model is disastrous as it promotes economic growth that creates such outstanding income inequality that a few people will have more money than the entire population.(Read; ‘The Great Leveler, The History of Inequality from Stone Age to the 21st Century’-By Walter Scheidel, and ‘Capital in the 21st Century’ by Thomas Pickety).
Both the seduction and fear of voters has made subsequent governments implement short-term programmes made to pacify or lure the voters than programs designed to resolve the fundamental problems facing the country.
We have created a system that makes governments pre-occupied with electoral cycles than implementing long-term economic programs.
This has also created predatory offshoots such as high incidences of corruption, theft and fraud of state funds since 1991,to support and guarantee a place for participants in the system.
But it’s time to face the monster!
Let us decolonise our education system.
The current education system creates and promotes people for white-collar jobs that no longer exist in the market and is not prolater to the huge numbers of graduates churned out annually.
This makes our people speak good english but without jobs.
We need to change this education system that downgrades the importance of blue-collar, real and other jobs that exist or can be created in the market.
We need to foster a system that promotes innovation, entrepreneurship, transformative technical and vocational education.
Let’s also take back our natural resources in a model that delivers the most benefit to our people and chart the destiny of our country.
And let us design our own economic model that is suitable for our environment, that responds to the needs of our people and our country, and let us abandon these foreign but failed economic prescriptions that have made us worse, each passing generation.
Other than the program to do an aggressive re-industrialization program, let us make small businesses as the centre and focus of government policy, provide fund support, and nurturing as this is the biggest sector that will drive our economy and be a reliable future employer.