Youth Unemployment: The unemployed making a living on the streets of Lusaka


I read the article by Barnabas Zulu challenging the United Party for National Development (UPND) leader Mr Hakainde Hichilema to say how he would solve youth unemployment in Zambia with interest.

I am not a politician but I think that in a democracy we are all free to air our views and to subject our ideas to scrutiny and a healthy debate. I commend Barnabas from the civil way in which he has brought up this issue and I also feel the pain that the young people are going through in Zambia today.

I was a student once, at the University of Zambia when in only my second year of study there, I got a holiday job with Barclays Bank. I was paid a Teller’s wage and my job was always available whenever I came home during the term breaks. Shortly before I finished secondary education, we were visited by scouts from the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM) in rural Zambia and told that ‘employment in the mines was second to none.’ I do not think that I would have joined the mines if these people had not come to talk to us. As soon as our Cambridge Overseas School Leaving certificate examinations were out, ZCCM was ready to offer scholarships to whoever they fancied. These were the days when the United National Independence Party (UNIP) was in power. Was there no corruption, tribalism and nepotism at the time? Of course there was. These vices are as native to any people as the air they breathe. Where there is more good being done, corruption is hidden and does not affect the overall outcome of events.

There was an obvious downside to ubiquitous availability of employment. The most obvious was that remuneration was poor. At one time, ZCCM employed more than 50,000 people and thousands more depended on the mines as contractors. As long as labour is a commodity, it will be subject to the laws of supply and demand. Where there is a semblance of free market rules, wages are inversely proportional to the availability of labour. Under socialist economics employers can be forced to employ as many people as the government wants and the result is that the workers are paid less. You can tell how little we were paid in those days when you see that very few graduates owned cars, let alone television sets! Even fewer owned their own homes because the majority rented accommodation from the employers or private landlords.

This background information is obviously of no comfort to the young people today, but I believe that it is important to set the scene. It is a widely held myth that politicians CREATE jobs. They do not. We the voters have come to believe this codswallop and as a result they have come to us promising heaven but delivering hell. Others have a belief in governments that make the rich richer and expect more crumbs to fall from their tables so that the poor underneath also have more. The ‘trickle down’ theory is also just a myth. This fails to take into account human greed.

It is a widely held myth that politicians CREATE jobs. They do not

The reason why government cannot create jobs is the same as what Ronald Reagan once said, ‘Governments do not make money, they spend money.’ The money government spends is our money. It spends the money it takes from us to pay us! Originally people paid the state in the same way shop owners in the crime ridden inner cities pay for protection against criminal gangs. We have just elevated the principle to national security. So, this leads me to say what the role of government is. It is to make for conditions that enable the citizens to attain their goals in peace without let or hinderance. In our villages, the whole community contributed to look after those who were unable to look after themselves by reason of age or infirmity. We have given this role to government AND we pay it to do so. We also pay government to protect us from thieves and to keep our borders secure. Where corruption and such like vices are rampant, government has failed and is instead stealing money for goods it is not supplying. The leaders who enrich themselves while failing to level the playing field so that others can rise are thieves.

Now, this is where the issues Barnabas raised are important. It is government’s role to LEVEL the field so that everyone has an equal opportunity to have a go at life. Once in a while, in a crisis, like war, government may have to divert jobs from certain industries to Warcraft. It is not creating employment, it is just changing the nature of employment. If there is a natural disaster or an economic meltdown, the government may engage in building infrastructure ONLY when it is the only institution that has the wherewithal. It is wrong for government to do this when private citizens can do. Government should never compete with individuals in the financial markets. You cannot have a loan at reasonable rates when government is also borrowing from the same bank.

Lastly, on the matter of seed capital. You are right Barnabas that it is difficult for one to get a loan to start a small business in Zambia. Apart from the reason I alluded to above, there is also the lack of a culture of saving in the country. How many parents have ever opened a bank account for their children? A bank lends to its customers and not to strangers. You bank with them, they will lend to you. Here is a role government can play. It can set every child on a banking path by opening trust accounts for every new born baby and probably extend it up to 5 years of age. We have too few personal bank accounts and even fewer life insurance holders in the country. The services industries are now the biggest contributors to wealth building in any developed nation. For commerce to go well, we need INTEGRITY both at personal and state level. People MUST pay what they owe in the time they promise to pay. If this happened, an employer would have money to pay wages in time and even create more jobs. Sadly, this is woefully lacking in Zambia. We do not even blush when we cannot pay what we owe. Our government has the same disease.

By Charles C.

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