By Isaac Salima:
Masauko Chipembere Highway in Blantyre City registers heavy traffic during weekday rush hours.
As you walk from the central business district of the city heading to Ginnery Corner, your eyes cannot escape the sight of cars that outshine each other, even as those driving them go about their business.
It is clear that Masauko Chipembere Highway is too small to accommodate the vehicles, yet in another perspective, the impression created is that of a country which is on the right track to success.
Any patriotic citizen would always be proud of their country’s achievements. But as you exhaust adjectives in showering praise on leaders for infrastructural developments the country continues to register, a few metres away, the story is different.
Once one branches off the highway and takes the Johnstone Road, chances are that Blantyre Regional Labour Offices at Ginnery Corner, which are flooded with young men and women on week-days, will not escape one’s attention.
They converge outside the offices on daily basis, hopeful that one day, they will land a job.
On this day, at least 50 job seekers wait impatiently for the unknown and unexpected employer who will bail them out of their financial predicaments.
Individuals or those sent by companies have been going to the labour offices to look for labourers to hire. This is one of the reasons labour offices across the country give unemployed people a glimmer of hope.
Leo Msaka, a resident of Chigumula in Blantyre lost his job in March last year and has been going to the labour office to wait for the next job opportunity.
We follow Msaka to his home in Chigumula. It takes us almost 45 minutes to travel from our offices at ginnery corner to his place of residence on the outskirts of Blantyre.
Msaka covers a distance of 50 kilometres to and from the labour office, on daily basis, and, most of the time, on an empty stomach. Contrary to his expectations that he would get a quick job, a year and half have elapsed without being hired.
“Life is really tough. I leave home without eating any food and spend the whole day at the labour office without money to buy food. Unfortunately, there is no hope that I will get an job any time soon,” Msaka said.
At home, his family–a wife and two children—look up to him for almost everything: maize flour, money for relish, school uniform and other necessities. Unfortunately, his pockets are too dry to fend for the family. His wife, who sells firewood, has now taken over the responsibility of providing household needs.
“The firewood business fetches at least K700 in a day which is far from meeting our daily needs. Besides, we have school going children who require our support,” Msaka’s wife, Agnes, said.
Msaka is one of many jobless men and women who have tales to tell about the ugly side of job-seeking.
“I have been jobless for almost seven years and job-hunting is painful,” Lucias Beston, who resides in Chirimba, said.
Judith Mungomo from Ndirande Township, who is looking for a domestic job, said her hope that she will get employed is now fading.
“I have been coming here for the past six months but I don’t think that I will get a job. Even if I stay home, I don’t have anything to do, that is why I am still coming here,” she said.
The job seekers’ testimonies are somehow a true reflection of how unemployment continues to torment poor Malawians.
National Statistical Office’s first-ever labour force survey report, released in 2014, indicates that the formal unemployment rate in Malawi is at 21 percent.
Blantyre District Labour Officer, Frank Adin, admits that the number of job-seekers at labour offices is on the increase. He, however, says people should know that labour offices do not offer employment opportunities but only facilitate the same.
“When employers come, we take them to the job-seekers to choose for themselves what they are looking for. What people must also know is that most of the job-seekers look for domestic jobs which make them unqualified for other skilled jobs,” he says.
President of Employers Consultative Association of Malawi, George Khaki, says inadequate skilled labour force is one of the contributing factors to the high rate of unemployment in the country.
“The skills required in the labour force are rarely available on the market. We are talking of interpersonal, communication, behavioural skills, just to mention a few,” Khaki said.
Concerned with the high levels of unemployment, the government has come up with a number of interventions.
President Peter Mutharika has been promoting the initiative of constructing community colleges as one way of tackling the problem of unemployment and promoting youth empowerment.
However, the situation on the ground is different as the majority of young people in the country are struggling to make ends meet.
The Malawi Government, in the late 1990s developed Vision 2020, a development framework which outlined the country’s long-term aspirations.
In the agenda, the government planned that, by 2020, the economy will have the capacity to absorb youths and other unemployed people into the formal and informal sectors.
According to the document, by 1995, only 12 percent of the labour force was formally employed. 24 years down the line, the employment rate still does not give hope.
The question remains: Where did we get it wrong? When will people like Nsaka smile? Maybe the year 2020 will come with the answers.
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