Arthur Kennedy Writes: African Workers

Yesterday was May Day and as usual, all over Africa, leaders made speeches celebrating workers and announcing baby steps to solve unemployment. Listening to them, one gets a feeling of chairs being re-arranged on the deck of the “Titanic” in a futile effort to save it while it sank.

In 2016, the International Labour Organization reported that 70% of workers in Sub-Saharan Africa are in “vulnerable employment “, compared to 46% globally. These workers live on less than 2 dollars per day and have minimal protections.

According to the ADB, Nigeria has youth unemployment of 50%.

Of the 10 million University graduates produced by the continent, about half do not find employment!

And yet, Africa imports 50 billion USD worth of food per year while possessing 46% of the World’s arable land!

In the face of this clear and present danger here were the responses from our leaders:

In Ghana, President Akufo-Addo announced the start of a “Nation Builders Corps” that would employ 100,000 graduates for the next 3 years.

In Negeria, the Vice President announced the commitment of the government to passing a minimum wage bill.

And in South Africa, President Ramaphosa, a former labour leader, urged workers to be patient. The South African workers are still struggling to solved the problems he faced as a labour leader. To add a note of hilarity, Ramaphosa was denounced by labour leader Irvin Jim, who described him as “The Trump of South Africa.” Ironically, US unemployment is at historic lows.

These are baby steps when radical and transformational changes are needed.

The most significant step by African leaders in the last decade on job creation was the Free Trade Accord signed this year. Trade leads to job creation and the accord will help, particularly when South Africa and Nigeria are on board.

Aside from that, African government’s must accept that governments are not effective and efficient job creators. The private sector is.

Governments must reduce regulation and the cost of capital and imputs like electricity while providing infrastructure and step out of the way for entrepreneurs to create jobs.

Our farmers need cheaper capital, storage facilities and reliable markets, not bureaucrats to feed our hungry continent.

By the laws of supply and demand, our graduates should be the best paid in the world. If only 7% of a cohort get into University, how can graduates be unemployed? Regrettably, while US Universities brag about how easy it is for their graduates to find employment, a Ghanaian university VC recently stated defiantly that it is not the duty of Universities to make graduates employable! Really? Then what is the rationale for spending scarce public resources to support universities?

Policy-makers, educators and business leaders must work together to produce graduates who would immediately be employable.

We must also invest in trade schools that would train artisans to build Africa while earning a living wage.

Until politics ceases to be the most lucrative profession in Africa, we will struggle.

We must insist that the major job of African leaders is job creation. Long live Africa.

Arthur K

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