Rwandan youth attitudes and joblessness
Friday was a big day in for Gasake (not real name). He graduated from Kigali’s School of Finance and Banking. During the party, he introduced his fiancée (expecting), thanked everyone and detailed the challenges he had endured to complete his studies. Gasake has a problem however: he has been unemployed for the last two years, and he is about to start a family.
From the emphatic “only jobs will guarantee social order” to the nationalistic “Rwandans lie low as foreigners seize jobs” newspaper headlines, the youth employment crisis is highlighted. Youth unemployment has been discussed at high level meetings in Africa, and indeed the most recent International Labour Organization report focuses on this theme. One of the main explanations has been that there is a mismatch between education received and the skills needed in the market place. Another is a slowing global economy and unbalanced growth. It will be of little consolation for Gasake to know that as high as 45 percent of the youth in Spain are unemployed, never mind Spanish Premier (Mariano) Rajoy’s quip that “Spain was not Uganda” alluding to the “banana republicness” of the latter.
What can probably cheer Gasake is that Rwanda appears to be taking the youth employment crisis very seriously. A lion’s share of the Ministry of Commerce’s budget this year has been allocated to small and medium enterprises which account for more than 90 percent of Rwanda’s business establishments. An alphabet soup of acronyms of organisations seeking to empower youth and employment both from the civil society to government shows that the problem has caught on; HIDA, PCSBS, YES, YEGO, RDB, PSF, etcetera.
The Ministry of Labour envisions 200,000 jobs created per year for the next decade. This is a tall order if we consider the recent past. According to RDB only 10,000 jobs were created last year, mainly in the service sector.
This year’s budget highlights that infrastructure and energy will receive the highest priority. These sectors are traditionally associated with job creation. Other initiatives like ‘hanga umurimo’ aim to tap the entrepreneurship spirit of the youth, although banks are not playing ball, refusing to disburse funds to even the best projects, the apprehension being that the owners were not ‘business tested’. Another downer is the fact that government will reduce public expenditure, and we know that government is the biggest employer.
Our education system focuses on (theoretic) academic work, rarely addressing the basic work skills that are critical to success in any job – punctuality, communication, teamwork, willingness to learn, critical thinking and problem solving, courtesy etcetera.
Attitudes of many (though not all) of the youth too do not seem to help. The National Youth Policy, the blueprint for youth development identifies, among other factors, “laziness, illiteracy, lack of family planning” as causes of unemployment. Of course it is incorrect and dangerous to refer to a majority as lazy. We prefer to use ‘poor attitude’.
Our educational system is not transmitting the right attitudes to work. Focused on traditional curricula, it has failed to move with the times. Let me give a small example. A while ago, a cousin came to me looking for a temporary job, ikiraka as it is commonly called. I thought it would be a good opportunity for him to learn something, so I stressed the learning aspects of the fieldwork we were to do together. I told him that the pay would be minimal, but that we would be given a sufficient daily subsistence allowance. He never turned up. Instead he went around telling everyone and their cousins how I had belittled him. “Ansuzugura ate?sinshobora gukorera uburyo n’uburyamo n’amashuri nize nk’aho ndi umu caritas!” (How could he disrespect me? I cannot work merely for food and shelter, with the education I have, as if I am a pauper”).Unbeknown to him, the daily subsistence, transport and communication allowance for the 30-day fieldwork, amounted to US$ 2,400, not a bad sum for any unemployed youth.
Then there is the case of Jean, who after two years on the streets landed a job. “Il faut aroser ca” he said in his good French (we have to “irrigate” that). His friends joyfully concurred. From Friday evening they downed all tribes of booze, joined on Sunday by their friends from Gisenyi who had missed and Jean retired in the wee hours of Sunday. Come Monday when he was supposed to start work, he woke up at midday, with a terrible hangover. He reasoned that one day away from work would not make a difference. The employer however thought differently, and when Jean reported to work on Tuesday, his job had been given to the second in line.
For the Gasake, Jean and my cousin, the unemployment situation becomes a double whammy; the weight of expectation after so many years in school, and the belief that they are ‘entitled’ because they graduated (barambaye), conspires to frustrate innovation and the humility required to achieve success. Society conditions them to the 1-2-3-4-5 goals (1 wife; 2 children; 3-bedroom house; 4-wheel drive and 5-acre farm somewhere.) They do not seem to realise how elusive the means to these goals are.
The common belief is that in Rwanda today, you cannot get a job if you do not know someone. Thus the first thing when our candidates see a job advert, is to ask who knows ‘who’ works in that organisation.
Our education system focuses on (theoretic) academic work, rarely addressing the basic work skills that are critical to success in any job – punctuality, communication, teamwork, willingness to learn, critical thinking and problem solving, courtesy etcetera. The same system has failed to anticipate not only what skills are needed, but what skills will be needed. But even without a wholesale change in curriculum, if our universities and other institutions devoted a little bit of time to teaching how to write a CV, we would be spared of CVs that have names of grandfathers, mothers, sectors and villages where candidates were born. We would be spared lists of hobbies that have little to do with the job. We would save on trees, from which the reams of paper are made and the usual ‘na depoje’ escapism masked as hope.
If the youth learnt a little bit about family planning, not only the family planning of controlling the number of children born, but also the pitfalls of starting a family without the means to look after that family, Gasake would be better off.
The upshot? Youth employment strategies need to engage the youth first, and to change their attitudes, wholesale.
Rugumire Makuza is the President of the Rwanda Evaluation Society