The UPND coalition and HH are under a lot of pressure to start meeting the aspirations of the youth who put them in power. They should eschew the typical strategy of waiting for academics, bureaucrats, or consultants to produce voluminous, glossy policy papers in order to find solutions. If they take that approach before executing anything, they will find that five years have passed with nothing to show for it.
In the immediate and short term, the new administration should follow common sense and pragmatic private sector approach by implementing some shovel ready initiatives. The traditional way of crafting detailed policies should be left for the medium and long term. I would like to propose three common sense, low lying fruit initiatives that could be implemented immediately through Presidential Executive orders, and purely based on simple position papers. The proposed interventions are: graduation of skilled venders to formal sector and accelerating their growth, digital youth empowerment using mobile technology by providing information and knowledge through an App in order to promote youth entrepreneurship, and lastly, the promotion of agriculture exports to the huge Chinese market. These proposals can produce a miracle in youth job creation, if properly designed and implemented.
Graduation of skilled street venders to the formal sector initiative
Zambia’s youth unemployment problem and the low economic growth will not be solved until the government addresses the issue of the informal sector. This sector is the blue ocean for youth employment creation. The mirage of foreign direct investment (FDI) is not the answer to our massive Youth unemployment. The informal sector or street vendors as they are referred to in Zambia, consists of small scale, unregistered, unregulated entities engaged in the production of goods and services, often run from street pavements, homes and other informal arrangements and not business premises.
There is need to focus on this sector by graduating the skilled category of the sector, from the informal to formal, and to immediately assist them in accelerating their growth. If Zambia was to bring the skilled part of the informal sector into the mainstream of the economy, this can be a game changer within a year. It is one of the most innovative and effective solutions to youth job creation as they are already in business and not start-ups. The skilled street vendors that should be targeted for formalisation include the following: welders, carpenters, stone crushers, furniture manufacturers, electricians, brick layers, plumbers, small scale farmers, young ICT professionals etc. If properly selected, these skilled street Venders can easily create more jobs and alleviate poverty, increase economic activity, expand the tax revenue base thereby help with public debt servicing, reduce the Debt/GDP ratio and thereby facilitate further borrowing. If say 100,000 skilled venders were recruited from all ten provinces and put on an accelerated growth programme, for example, they could each possibly create four jobs (administration clerk, two assistants and a driver/cleaner), that is 400,000 additional youth jobs right there! What skilled venders need to accelerate their growth is to address their current constraints to growth. We know what these constraints are, but the details are beyond the scope of this article.
According to the African Development Bank research, most African governments’ employment interventions fail for three major reasons. One, there is a lack of focus and involvement of the informal sector, where the majority of youth are currently employed. Secondly, there a silo approach to interventions. And three, there is a lack of involvement of the private sector who have the relevant expertise to help design such programmes and who know how jobs are created.
Digital Youth Empowerment Initiative
The second proposal which can be implemented within a month is what I call the Digital Youth Empowerment (DYE) initiative. The smart strategy to youth unemployment is to challenge the youth to create their own jobs. The government should simply facilitate them and create an enabling environment not attempt to create jobs itself through premature retirement of experienced civil servants as suggested by some senior UPND official. It has been generally agreed by ILO, UN, OECD, World Bank, Africa Development Bank and others that the only way of solving Youth unemployment problem around the world is through the promotion of Youth self-employment and entrepreneurship. What has been missing is how this solution could effectively implemented in order to have the desired impact.
According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)’s research, it was established that about 40% (two out of five) of youth want to go into business but they do not know how to go about. In the Zambian context, therefore, this means there could be 3-4 million youths who may be interested in becoming formal business owners. The question is how do you empower such huge numbers? There is a 21st Century solution to this, and it is a digital one.
On the basis of the OECD research, it is clear that the number one priority for promoting Youth self-employment and entrepreneurship should be the provision of information and knowledge to the youth on business and not money as in the past. This should be the starting point in the youth empowerment value chain before other interventions such as finance, mentoring, training programs, networking and any other interventions are considered. It is on the basis of this that the Author of this article decided to come up with a solution by developing an innovative cost effective digital solution in the form of a mobile App called Youth Employment Creation App (YECA).This APP could easily be rolled out immediately and reach over two-three million youths who may be interested to go into business all of over the country. The mobile App can empower youths with business information as it contains the following: Over 1,000 generic business ideas in ten sectors of the economy, preparation of a simple business start-up budget, preparation of a one page business plan, list of problems areas requiring innovations, sources of funding, small business management tools such as cash flow budget simulator and product or services pricing simulator and much more.
The YECA solution is superior to many other empowerment solutions. Firstly, by sequencing activities in the empowerment value chain by providing information and knowledge to young people and not money upfront, it reduces the risk of business failure. Secondly, since it is a digital based solution and not physical, it can reach millions of youth even those in rural areas who were not able to travel to urban areas to participate in the past. As a result of its wider access, it stands a big chance of unearthing the hidden entrepreneur talent who can come up with innovations. Thirdly, unlike other youth interventions whose design restricted them to some youth demographics, the App targets all categories of the youth population such as Grade 7,9,12 drop outs, College and University drop outs, College and University graduates and the Informal sector. It even targets Science, Technology, Engineering and (STEM) students and graduates who are capable of coming up innovations that could solve some of the top twelve problems listed in the App that society faces. For more information access: https://www.youthemploymentcreation.com/
Agricultural produce exports to China initiative
Previous Zambian governments have not applied themselves in terms of exploiting the massive, yawning agriculture market that our biggest creditor China, provides. Our agriculture industry has not grown partly due to lack of exploitation of the easy export markets such as China, DRC and Angola. It follows that in order to create jobs and fight poverty within a short period of time, we need to exploit these markets. We have not applied our minds in the past. In international relations, there is what is called favoured nations status. Zambia is supposed to be one of China’s favoured nation and our products are supposed to be given preferential treatment in terms of access to the Chinese market. Alas, we have not exploited this opportunity. As part of fast tracking youth job creation, President HH should engage President Xi Jinping to give us an allocation for the 2021/22 agriculture season, to export to China say about 500,000 tonnes of each of the following products: Soya beans, cotton, tobacco, cashew nuts, pigs, beef and any other products. This initiative will produce results within a twelve month period and result in creating thousands of jobs and generate foreign exchange. This is a deal that could easily be done in Dakar, Senegal next month, September, 2021.This is not rocket science but common sense. There is a known East African country that clinched such deal with China for 400,000 tonnes soya beans which at estimated price of $257 per tonne must have been worth $263million.
The funding of the Youth interventions proposed above should be the least of the worries for the HH administration. In the first place, there are millions of kwacha raised from the training levy which must be lying idle and was being diverted previously. There must also be huge sums allocated to youth programmes in the 2020/21 budget. The new governments has such goodwill with cooperating partners due to its commitment to fight against corruption as well as the restoration of democracy and civil liberties. Donor agencies will be queuing up to fund such noble programmes. The Corporate sector could also be approached to fund certain segments of the proposed programmes under their Corporate Social responsibility budgets like they do in South Africa. The Africa Development Bank has funds under the “jobs for Africa Youth Strategy (2016-2025)” project which is meant to create 25 million jobs in Africa. Zambia could tap in those funds to finance the above initiatives.
These proposed initiatives are not theory but are very practical. They can have very quick impact on youth unemployment. The important point is that the new HH administration needs to have initiatives that they can quickly implement while other more complex policy issues and solutions are being explored so that they can have some breathing space. The administration should refer to my article of two years ago on why the previous Youth Development Fund failed. The link is: https://www.lusakatimes.com/2019/10/15/why-youth-development-fund-has-failed-to-create-jobs-and-changes-needed/
The questions that the UPND Alliance should ask themselves when considering whether to accept or reject the above proposals are: If we empowered 2 million potential Youth entrepreneurs with the YECA App on their mobile phones which has over 1,000 generic business ideas in ten sectors of the economy and other business knowledge information, are we not likely to have a good percentage succeeding and creating jobs for themselves and their fellow youths? If we selected a substantial number of skilled street venders, help them formalize their businesses and empower them with the requirements that they lack like a market, business knowledge, finance, equipment, management skills, mentorship etc, is it not going to accelerate their growth and create employment? If Zambia through President HH asked the Chinese President to give us access to its massive agriculture market as a favoured nation, are we not likely to help grow our agriculture sector, create jobs and accelerate our diversification of the economy?
The writer is a Chartered Accountant and Author. He is a retired MSMEs international Consultant and an independent financial commentator. He is also an Op-Ed Contributor to the
The contents of this article are excerpts from my book whose link is below.
CHINA-WEST BATTLEGROUND IN AFRICA: DEBT RIDDEN ZAMBIA: Why U.S. May Lose Geo-Economic Competition to China https://www.amazon.com/dp/B097DVXBKH/ref=cm_sw_r_wa_api_glt_7PR5H7YBZZ14FCDNT54Y