Of late there has been a time and mental energy wasting controversy in some quarters with a say in our national affairs, thanks to the tendency by some sections of the elite to pay casual attention to existing social problems which have impact to the common man - partly because some of them lack tools of social analysis, or are too busy accumulating wealth, both legally and illegally, to concentrate on burning issues of the day and address them intelligently.
We are referring to contending views entertained in the past few months on whether youth unemployment is a serious issue in the land, or is simply being exaggerated by politicians who harbor their own hidden agenda. Indeed, since the last general elections we have had a situation whereby politicians in the opposition and a few in the ruling party have been sounding a strong alarm about the question of lack of jobs for our young men and women, while spokespersons of the executive pillar have been preoccupied with demonstrating that job creation is going on at a good pace and the situation is manageable.
At one time, the battle to win public support on this issue instead of fighting to create jobs was openly fought in the sensational news hungry media when the Labour Minister felt that one of the perceived contenders for the highest post in the Republic in 2015 was apparently exploiting the youth unemployment challenge to win the hearts and minds of this huge block of potential voters.
We witnessed how the Minister came out with full determination to stage a serious counter-attack in the media, and attempted the square a round peg by urguing and producing data to show that more than a million jobs were being created annually.
This is when keen observers of this social-economic challenge learned that even the definition of what constitute employment is itself a problem, as parking boys, touts at the bus stands, “marching guys” who peddle a handful goods around in urban centers, and other youths who survive on unreliable jobs seem to be included in the employment data!
The thinking however, seems to have changed significantly now in official circles, if President Jakaya Kikwete’s opening speech at the recent meeting convened in Arusha by the African Development Bank for its stakeholders and invited development experts is anything to go by.
Commenting on the issue under discussion, the Tanzanian leader called a spade a spade by using the very expression which has hitherto been unacceptable to the bureaucratic fat cats at home, that youth unemployment in African countries, Tanzania inclusive, is a “time bomb waiting to explode” if not timely defused.
President Jakaya Kikwete further noted that the problem is one of the factors which triggered social unrest in the Arab countries, and is doing so in other parts of the world. As expected, he urged policy makers and other stakeholders to leave no stone unturned in taking measures to cope with the daunting but manageable challenge.
Now, this is what being realistic and facing challenges squarely is all about. Participants in the African Development Bank meeting spent considerable time brainstorming on youth unemployment and its socio-economic impact. A resolve to tackle the problem through all sorts of approaches, including financial empowerment of the private sector as well as informal sector small entrepreneurs was made.
Promotion of vocational training and curricula adjustment in the higher learning institutions to provide skills which can lead graduates to self-employment as opposed to being chasers of the white-collar employment mirage, are also among other ideas being floated in attempt to manage the time bomb.
Since today the government has passed the stage of playing ostrich to the problem, it is expected to be committed to some of the suggestions and recommendations made by experts who analyze this problem from the local angle. There is no doubt that financial resources are needed to affect youth’s employment creation programmes.
In a country where billions of shillings are being misappropriated annually, fixing loose ends which allow this to happen may enable the government to raise good money to finance the urgently required employment creation activities.
We definitely all have a role to play in improving youth employment prospects, but the ball is mainly in the government court.
Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant (firstname.lastname@example.org)