Because of our closed-door policy and lack of opportunities, many segments of the community face challenges. Youth employment remains the biggest challenge to the nation. It is as well a disturbing reality to see many youth choosing fleeing the country via any possible route though some of the choices lead them to death, writes Solomon Debebe.
Ethiopia is a nation of youths. Recognizing this, the country designed a National Youth Policy for the country. In the policy a wide range of priority areas of action are identified, including democracy and good governance, health, education and training, as well as culture, sports and entertainment.
That said, the representation of the youth in the structure of the government is quite disputed. It is rare or non-existent to see a young leader of institutions in the country. Frankly speaking, for a leader to be on top of the stepladder is when he turns grey.
This article is not mainly interested in youth championing leadership; rather, it is about challenging the key issues to finding the right employment opportunities and hopes for the youth of Ethiopia. In any way, leaders are those who have the weapons and tools to curb challenges in the community owing to several circumstances. Unemployment and hopelessness as challenging circumstances can best be tackled by policymakers or institutions which have the right authority to mobilize resources.
At the outset, it is seems quite interesting and inspiring when one sees a government concerned about the welfare and economic prosperity of its citizen. We have been told by government officials and academics about the importance of avoiding grave consequences of opening up our important sectors: finance and telecommunications. “Ethiopia’s late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in an interview with one regional media contended that his government is aware of the pros and cons of employing protectionist measures but still intended to maintain its monopoly in industries such as telecommunications, power, finance and logistics with the aim of protecting its citizens against exploitation.
As a young student some eight years ago, in a course dealing with development theories, I remember myself and a lot of friends raising similar questions that seem to challenge the view of the late prime minister as presented above to our Development Economics course instructor. In fact, though we were not deeply convinced by the explanations from the professor, we somehow were convinced and avoided bitter arguments in the classroom. The fact of the matter is that the professor was trying to convince us not because he was persuaded by the argument but because he just had to. The concepts of developmental state and real life comparisons of the multinational companies’ abilities and capital when compare with our staggering businesses would not provide us with the chances of comparison, the instructor articulated. We all submitted to the view of not opening up and ended the course.
So the question remains, how much time is needed for preparation? It has been more than a quarter of a century since the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) took power and uninterruptedly maintains the role of governing the state. No option was seen in any of the policies that would have eased access to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in those sectors mentioned. No chances for us to see if opening up has employment opportunities and entrepreneurship opportunities as multinational companies also come with up-to-date technologies and better work culture. The comparisons between loses and gains for not opening up in what we call important sectors remain in the dark. Politicians are only dedicated to avoiding security challenges. And it remains a fact that the absence of competent firms from abroad can best demonstrate the mediocrity and lack of success we are stuck with for closing our doors. One should not have to be a seasoned economist to help us understand the chances we can get from diversity and the growth of employment opportunities owing to competitions in an open market system.
Because of our closed-door policy and lack of opportunities, many segments of the community face challenges. Youth employment remains the biggest challenge to the nation. It is as well a disturbing reality to see many youth choosing fleeing the country via any possible route though some of the choices lead them to death.
It would be arguable among us that it is because those youth are not clear with the opportunities they have here at home or because they simply are misled in to believing that there are greener pastures elsewhere. This view is not only unfair but inhuman to talk about the failures of the best generation which can take the nation to the next stage in the development agenda. We shall remain quiet than pronouncing unrealistic suggestions on the life of the most precious segment of our population.
However, we can debate on what are missing and what the remedies are for reversing the daunting experiences of the youth. This will take us to challenging three sectors failing to integrate or work together conscientiously. Education, entrepreneurship and employment are the sectors whereby their respective ministries and institutions should collaborate in reversing the status quo and have a lasting solution. In this regard, the National Youth Policy recognizes the need for inter-ministerial cooperation: the development of the National Youth Policy is thus coordinated by the Ministry of Youth and Sports and implemented with the support of diverse stakeholders such as the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, as well as NGOs and youth federations. However, it seems this is happening only on the paper and is not on the ground.
In the short run, the youth and jobseekers should be given chances to explore who they are. This would give them chances to see what special talents, skills or resources they have in dealing with circumstances of life. Life skill trainings and targeting the relevant skill set that an individual requires would boost the way he understands circumstances around him. This should not be understood as a life skill training that runs across the board among all the youth.
It rather gives special note to the background of the youth. Are the youths that are out of school, never been to school, have graduated, or are trapped somewhere chasing their dream? Multiple sub-skill sets should be made available for the youth both in school and out of school by the relevant and competent professionals, not by appointees.
The second stage or alternative we should suggest is to give chances to the youth by providing some kind of relevant and specific livelihood trainings. Here, those who were given the right soft skill training in the first phase should be given chances to go through the most relevant livelihood training. That would take them to either to education, employment or entrepreneurship. As opposed to forcing the youth to form or join small groups of business, it is profitable to encourage chasing businesses themselves. Our task here would be advising and coaching as opposed to what is done in the usual youth focused projects.
The last stage of a meaningful youth development project is offering continuous coaching and mentoring supports. Successful entrepreneurs and businesspeople should be allowed to offer their advice and words of encouragement to the youth. Proper linkage between those groups of people is more than worrying about finding routes for the businesses of the youth or working on the value chain formats.
The issue of youth employment can best be tackled by working on youth readiness. The various attempts made in fighting unemployment is similar firefighting business.
Sectors like education, youth affairs, sports and financial services can plan together to reverse this challenge. Youth who are ready to determine their livelihood after going through the proper and relevant literacy, life skills and livelihood trainings at the outset would not find it difficult to get employed, educated or become entrepreneurs. This would lessen the burden on the government trying to give employment opportunities for all young graduates.
Ed.’s Note: Solomon Debebe is a youth/adolescent development specialist. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].