Yesterday, Tuesday 25th October, Rwandans on Twitter (#RwOT) were up in arms about statements attributed to the Minister of Labour. This led to a wider discussion about unemployment statistics and the perceived failings of the Ministry of Labour. This morning I read a blog post about these topics (Rwanda needs work), which bolsters my suspicion that there seem to be certain misconceptions we have in this country about the roles of government ministries, specifically the role of the Labour Ministry. The official title of this ministry is Ministry of Public Service and Labour of the Republic of Rwanda. Public Service, Labour.
Labour, (un)Employment, Millennials and National Security. Just as a warning, this is going to be a long read.
On the website of the Labour Ministry its mission statement is as follows:
To reinforce the national labour standards, promote job creation and institutionalize an efficient and modern public service management framework that will enable private and public sector organizations to perform at their best and effectively contribute to improving the lives of the Rwandan population.
And it vision:
To have an effective and result oriented public administration, delivering prompt services which are responsive to the basic needs and problems of the population, within the framework of good governance. To create a socio-economic environment promoting the generation of decent jobs that fight against poverty, and develop a national competitive labour force which is open to both regional and international markets.
I have highlighted certain keywords, which indicate the direction and ostensible function of the Labour Ministry, namely providing a framework for public service, and the creation of socio-economics which combat poverty and develop a competitive work force. This is all quite vague, but the take-away is that Labour’s job is to institutionalize a public service and socio-economic framework for the sake of ending poverty and generating jobs. There’s a lot going on here. Before I get to that, let me address the issue of the brouhaha around the Rwandans on Twitter and the Labour Minister.
Apparently, the Minister was trying to explain that job seekers have an active role to play in the improvement of their own economic situation. This is common sense. However, her words are alleged to have been taken out of context, and #RwOT spent the rest of the day throwing a tantrum. The issue is high unemployment and poverty in Rwanda. None of which is helped by the behaviour of my fellow #RwOT on Twitter. Some of them went as far as to spread fake quotes falsely attributed to the Labour Minister. I have aired my views before, regarding the responsibilities of parents in Rwanda (here, and here). There was another opinion I read this morning in The New Times, which also addresses the matter of the quality of education and parenting in Rwanda. In that opinion, the writer asks
But what happens when this literate but incompetent generation takes charge of the country tomorrow?
I think this needs to be a national question of extremely high priority. Literate, but incompetent job seekers. Whether or not you agree or disagree with the manner in which the #RwOT and other Rwandans on the Web conducted themselves with the Labour Ministry, one thing which is beyond discussion is that there a a deep discontent among segments of Rwanda’s youth. A discontent which stems largely from unemployment and low-income status/poverty. Economically, Rwanda is a poor country. Demographically, looking at the median age Rwanda is a very young country.
The CIA World Factbook estimates Rwandan population’s median age at 19. Same as in Kenya and the DRC. Next door in Tanzania and Burundi it’s 17. In Uganda the age median is 15! (Wikipedia). The extremely low median ages in the EAC is a time bomb. Hence why I regard unemployment (along with food security and food affordability) in Rwanda and the EAC as a national security issue. If taking the statements of the Minister of Labour out of context can make the Rwandan youth cry and throw their toys out their collective pram for the rest of the day, then we have a serious problem simmering below the surface of this country.
Rwandan youth are making the claim that the Labour Ministry has failed at finding them jobs. This should not be, and really is not the role of the Labour Ministry. Have a look at the history of the Labour Ministry. This item has been passed around quite a bit, but labour and employment have always remained inside a ministry. I would like to make the following suggestions: take employment completely out of the Labour Ministry. It is not equipped for this. In most countries in the world job seekers are not under the umbrella of Labour ministries. That is the role of national employment agencies/bureaus. Ideally, these operate autonomously of Labour ministries, with the Labour ministry having no more than a policy oversight role. Job creation is not the role of the Labour ministry, or any other ministry. As a matter of fact, job creation is not even the job of national employment agencies. Jobs are created in the private sector (mostly). The role of a national employment agency is to be the interface between job seekers and job creators.
The Labour Ministry should be focused on the policies of the labour market, labour law (worker rights/protection), pensions, and social security. Pensions and social security are currently under the RSSB, and that should stay that way, in my opinion. It is silly to demand the Labour Ministry be scrapped. Just because you don’t understand something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense. Instead, what should be done is to empower the Labour Ministry by optimizing its proper role. To achieve this, remove employment from the responsibility of Labour.
The National Employment Agency should deal with this. Its responsibilities should be job market policy and promotion, training, management of unemployment benefits, workforce analysis, continuous research and analysis of employment trends, management of job funds, management of startup funds, structural workforce adjustments, management of TVET funds, workplace gender equality enforcement, protection of workplace rights, management of invalidity benefits, rehabilitation services, protection of the rights of the disabled in the workforce, career counseling (starting as young as junior secondary school), administration of work permits for foreign job seekers, collection and analysis of employment statistics (employment numbers, unemployment numbers, underemployment numbers, levels of education in the workforce, workforce trends, technology trends, etc.).
To go a bit into the structural specifics of the National Employment Agency, I want to emphasize again, this should be an autonomous agency, outside of Labour Ministry, with Labour only as policy oversight.
The National Employment Agency should consist of five Provincial Employment Agencies (one for each province), each of the Provincial Employment Agencies should have Sector Employment Agencies that serve as branches of the Provincial Employment Agencies. Job seekers would be required to go to their Sector Employment office who directly deal with the employment facilitation, training, career counseling, permits administration etc., while the Provincial Agencies and the National Employment Agency deal with funds management, research and analysis, rights protection, equality enforcement etc.
Everyone who wishes to work in Rwanda must register with their sector’s Employment Agencies, and it should be illegal for anyone to hire a job seeker who is not an agency registered job seeker. Every employer must register with the National Employment Agency. Violation of this should come with heavy fines for both the employer and employee. This allows you to get better workforce data.
All vacancies, from white collar jobs to blue collar jobs, to part-time or casual jobs must be copied to the National, or Provincial, or Sector Employment Agency. This way, the Employment Agency will be able to interface between job seekers and job creators, and be pivotal in providing potential employers with an improved pool of job candidates. It also works towards combating illegal work, untaxed work, and so on.
For any of this to work, it is necessary to formalize Rwanda’s informal economy. Most Rwandans earn their income inside the informal economy, and this is a devastating loss in tax revenue for our country. However, formalizing the informal economy can obviously not be handled only by the National Employment Agency, or even the National Employment Agency and the Labour Ministry. This undertaking that will need to involve the National Employment Agency, the Labour Ministry, the Health Ministry, the Standards Board, the Education Ministry, the RSSB, to name just a few. There is no way to overstate the urgency of formalizing the country’s informal economy. The details deserve a whole series of blog posts/articles themselves, but I want to focus on the need for the National Employment Agency.
The position of heading the National Employment Agency should be a cabinet level position. The head of the National Employment Agency should answer directly to the President, in my opinion, given the national security nature of unemployment and median ages in the EAC.
Why is unemployment a national security matter?
Unemployment and poverty are massive problems all over the African continent, and all over the world. In Nigeria, Boko Haram originated in one of the country’s poorest regions with the highest unemployment. Unemployment and poverty gave the Middle East Al Qaeda, ISIS etc. In the United States, unemployment and poverty plays a distinctive role in the rise of Donald Trump as a presidential nominee. In Europe over recent years, unemployment has led to a rapid proliferation of right-wing perspectives among the population.
The mainstream notion is that Boko Haram is a religious problem, a problem with Islam. This is not true. The disease that is unemployment is the same worldwide, even if the symptoms may differ. Whether religion, right-wing nationalism, xenophobia, it doesn’t matter. Any conduit will do to channel the rage of unemployed youth. In this digitally networked world we live in, it has become easier than ever to radicalize the youth to whatever “cause” one proclaims. People who have nothing to lose, have nothing to live for. This is a critical danger to any society in this world. Youthful rage is a potent weapon in the hands of a country’s enemies. It is therefore a very serious national security matter.
“Literate but incompetent job seekers”. In a region where the median ages are 15-19. We are playing with fire. The quote implies providing jobs is not the whole solution. What good does it do, when the Rwandan job seekers are largely viewed as incompetent? There is an education reform that needs to happen. A reevaluation of the suitability of our curricula for the modern workforce. The training and career counseling component of the National Employment Agency must play a fundamental role in this. The Agency would interface between the private sector needs and the education and training sector. We should emphasize the value of the TVET trained segment of the population.
Sadly, TVET-related jobs, manufacturing and blue collar service provision is looked down upon in African societies. This is an inheritance from our colonial past, where there was a clear distinction in status and value between the European colonialist, and the “unskilled” Africans who served them as menial labour. I would like to remind you, the manufacturing sector is what made Germany one of the world’s strongest, and the EU’s strongest economy today. Made in Germany is a seal of distinction and trusted quality. Sure, the manufacturing sector requires university trained engineers, but the majority of that sector’s workforce is not university trained. It is TVET trained. So, is it the Labour Minister who is supposed to change our colonial mentality? Or do we each need to look inwards and fix the things wrong with us, so that we can each and everyone of us do for our country, instead of spending the days wailing about how our country is allegedly doing nothing for us.
I grew up in Nigeria. From that perspective, the Rwandan youth are a spoiled bunch. It is not that the Rwandan government is doing nothing for them. On the contrary, I believe too much is being done for them. People here are used to being breastfed all their lives. Hence the incompetence criticized among most job seekers. Rwanda is not the only country with a Millennial problem, or as I often call them: the DStv generation. Another suggestion I would like to make in this regard, is to institute a mandatory 12-month military service for all Rwandans (male and female) aged 18-35, after attainment of a school leaving qualification. Candidates who fail the physical exam, are to serve a mandatory 18-month civil youth service in a town other than their town of residence. I know I said previously, the government is doing too much for the youth, but this is not for the youth. This is for the entire country. The 12-/18-month service provides the time and place to instill discipline, ethics, initiative, self-sufficiency, drive, professionalism etc. among the youth, before releasing them into the workforce. It also helps them learn how to channel their youthful energy into positive and productive avenues, instead of using it to give the world yet another Boko Haram, yet another civil war, or even yet another Twitter tantrum.
These two things: a National Employment Agency, and mandatory military service & mandatory civil youth service.
Image credits: Header: Wikimedia Commons – Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported. Chart: uxc professional solutions