10 November 2012

East Africa: Can EA Overcome Unemployment War?

Arusha — About one million and seven hundred youths asked Kenyan President Mwaki Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to declare joblessness a national disaster.

The youths, under the National Youth Forum (NYF) said out of the 18 million voters, 12 million are young people and half of these are not employed.

They noted that the two leaders pledged to create 740,000 jobs annually in Agenda Four of the Peace Accord but it has not been done as Kenya goes again into polls in March next year.

While launching his presidential bid on Nov. 4 at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC), Kenya's assistant minister for planning Peter Kenneth said Kenya's unemployment rate stands at 40%, 64% of whom are youths who constitute 60% of Kenya's population of 40 million which is however expected to be over 53 million in the next ten years.

He attributed the high unemployment rate to the slow economic growth, a factor that is manifested in low economic activity and investment in infrastructure, information communication technology (ICT) among others.

Recent media reports said unemployment is a lot higher in urban areas in Kenya and that among the 15-30 age group, the unemployment is between 30-40%.

"Youth unemployment in Kenya is a growing problem as it makes up 70% of total unemployment," said the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) African Economic Outlook report for 2012.

But Kenya is not alone with such high levels of unemployment since there are some uncanny similarities in all African countries and in the East African Community (EAC) partner states in particular that can provide some invaluable lessons to the EAC leadership.

This calls for EAC governments' support to the joint initiative by the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA), the East African Business Council (EABC) and the EAC secretariat that has established collaborative partnership aimed at solving the rising unemployment in the region by bridging the existing academia-industry gap.

This initiative was launched with the holding of the first ever African Higher Education forum jointly organised by the IUCEA and EABC on the theme "Linking Universities to Industry for Building Knowledge-Based Economies and Regional Integration in East Africa".

Executive Secretary of the IUCEA Prof. Mayunga Nkunya said the forum provided a convergence platform for higher education and the business community to discuss and strategise on how to develop to effective higher education systems that would be linked to industry.

What is indisputable is that the unemployment statistics and the concomitant poverty among the youths - especially the educated lot - is a cause for concern, since the region has got largely a young population. "We believe and are convinced that the engagement in dialogue between higher education institutions, the business community and governments in the region is an important strategy for the harnessing of innovations and expertise needed for the transformation of the region into a sustainable knowledge-based economy by tapping the knowledge deliverables from higher education and apply them to the industry with an objective of creating jobs and promoting global competitiveness of the region's economies," said Amb. Dr. Richard Sezibera, the Secretary General of the EAC.

"So the partnership between IUCEA and EABC will stimulate industrialization in the region through technology transfer and innovation that are key drivers of development that enhances productivity and efficiency, while lowering the costs of production thus unlocking growth and competitiveness by creating jobs for our unemployed youths," he added.

In Uganda for example, labour flow figures at Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) and the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) say of the more than 0.4 million Ugandans who enter the labour market annually, only about 113,000 are absorbed in formal employment, leaving the rest to forage for jobs in the informal sector.

Uganda's unemployment rate is 3.5% and that of the youths is a whopping 32.2%. Uganda's unemployment levels have been aggravated by a spiralling population growth rate of 3.5%, considered to be one of the highest in the world, according to the Population Reference Bureau, a Washington D.C based research and advocacy group.

The group adds that Uganda's rapidly increasing population might lead to environmental degradation and the undermining of the country's food security.

"The fact that Uganda has not heavily invested in renewable energy like solar and wind, an increasing population that largely depends on fossil fuel will definitely cause deforestation and land wrangles as arable land continue to diminish," says the group.

The World Bank in its recent report warned that unless Uganda scales up her efforts to create jobs, the youth would be more involved in crime and armed conflicts.

According UN African Economic Outlook report on the theme "Promoting Youth Employment" for 2012, Uganda's youth unemployment is however estimated at 4.3% arising from lack of employable skills among others.

The same report argues that unemployment in Tanzania is a concern with nearly 2.4m people out of work, representing 10.7% of the population. It says that the employment situation of the urban young is critical and lack of sufficient job opportunities for young women further complicates the situation.

Tanzania's youth unemployment stands at 8.8% totalling 2.4m people most of them young.

According to the report, unemployment in Rwanda remains a challenge with over 42% of the young either unemployed or underemployed due to lack of skills mismatch and limited job growth. Rwanda's average skills deficit is estimated at 40% and in some categories current demand exceeds supply by 60% across the public, private and non-for-profit sectors.

Amb. Sezibera adds that all industrialization breakthroughs are largely the result of well-structured collaborative partnerships between higher education and industry that result into matching skills with industry's job requirements.

"Therefore, the EAC considers it critically important for higher education institutions and the business community in the region to sustain the emerging collaborative partnership between them, for the successful implementation of the EAC Industrialization Strategy and other socio-economic initiatives in the Community," he said.

He also pointed out that it is important for higher education institutions to be closely engaged with the productive and social sectors in the region in the course of developing teaching curricula and research, in order to ensure their relevance in supporting socio-economic development of the region and in tapping into the emerging socio-economic opportunities.

The African Economic report also says that Burundi needs to address the high unemployment rate at 60% which constitutes a threat to social stability.

The report attributes the unemployment levels to the poorly developed private sector that is also reluctant to take on youths without professional experience while training and education are often too theory-based and mismatched to industry demand.

That is why Prof. Pius Rutechura, the Vice Chancellor of the Catholic University of East Africa says the link between the academia and industry should be created in order to have dialogue right from inception of programmes. He said African universities should learn from countries like Germany and Thailand on how they align academia to industry as well as imparting entrepreneurial skills to students.

"It is important that universities and the industry are now forging closer ties to improve quality of graduates because number of employers have reported that university graduates lack non-professional skills such as English proficiency, communication skills and our university is responding by introducing English and language communication skills and entrepreneurship courses," said the Vice Chancellor of Ardhi University Prof Idrissa Mshoro.

Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) Vice Chancellor Prof. Burton Mwamila said the institution envisions training and developing the next generation of African scientists and engineers and impacting profoundly on the continent's development through science and technology applications.

"Therefore the institution is in partnership with both local and international universities who in one way or the other are trying to make sure the institute becomes one of the most competitive institutes within East Africa," he explained.

Last Updated ( Saturday, 10 November 2012 19:38 )

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