Many local graduates, latest figures say 87 000, face unemployment or are underemployed. The situation is worse especially in the country side where some poor youth are forced to migrate to urban areas in search of greener pastures. Many such a youth eventually resort to a life of crime as their aspirations vanish slowly with each sunset.
It must be noted however that the youth unemployment phenomenon is not unique to Botswana. The situation is similar across the continent. Case in point is the so called Arab spring of 2011 or thereabouts. The uprising was simply a result of pent up anger busting out from frustrated, unemployed or underemployed youth who saw changing governments as the only path to realizing their hopes and dreams.
If Botswana is to succeed on its job creation quest, and avoid its own Arab spring, it needs to come up with comprehensive, well coordinated, youth employment creation programs with clear targets. So far this has not been the case, In my entire adult life, I have never heard of any one politician or government official mentioning any policy that deals specifically with youth unemployment.
If this policy does exist and it is being followed, then it must be a covert operation because what is happening on the ground currently is haphazard and poorly coordinated initiatives which have failed dismally. There are two reasons why such programs, created and driven without any road map eventually collapse, First, unemployment does not happen overnight. It therefore cannot be solved instantly like darkness, where a simple flick of a light switch will do the trick.
Like stated earlier, it requires sustainable, precise, and harmonized interventions with good governance. The education system should be our starting point. It is a well known secret that our education program needs a serious, intensive overhaul.
One of the previous administrations initiated the overhaul process, but abandoned it halfway without any specific reasons given to the nation. The Kedikilwe Commission report is gathering dust somewhere at the government enclave. But that’s a topic for another day. In short, our educational system has failed many a graduate. It simply fails to prepare the youth for existing jobs, if any.
Universities continue to churn out graduates with few skills relevant to the current labor market. At the very best, the current education system prepares the youth for work. It doesn’t teach them any life skills that they can use to fend for themselves if push comes to shove. Right from secondary school they are taught how to right a CV, a Curriculum Vitae, a resume. Well, maybe things have changed, but I can’t recall, for example, being taught how to write even a very simple, basic business plan at secondary school during my time.
Secondly, local interventions lack systematic monitoring and evaluation. Currently no one knows the success rate of any of the interventions that were implemented in the last decade and thus, there is very few or no empirical data that could be used to improve such programs.
Having said that, some of the programs were so badly conceived, piecemeal and out of tune with the needs of the youth to sufficiently produce long-term results. And some programs, with a few tweaks could make a major difference. The widespread youth unemployment threatens the very social fabric of our society. It threatens the political stability of our country. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that unemployed youth are easily attracted to a life crime and are more likely to drum up social unrest.
I believe any youth unemployment initiative must have some form of input from the very people it aims to assist. The youth must form a part of the development and implementation process in order to help ensure sustainability and offer clear details on expectations.
Finally, Efforts of the government should be welcomed, but cannot be a substitute for the youth’s ownership and responsibility of their own destiny. While government can and must provide enabling environment to tackle youth unemployment, the youth themselves must also play their part.