Youth unemployment has been a hotly debated topic in Ethiopia, particularly after the announcement of the revolving Youth Fund by President Mulatu Teshome last year. However, youth in areas outside of Addis Abeba, who have been educated, but have not managed to find jobs, are finding themselves increasingly frustrated with their situation. For some, the Youth Fund represents new possibilities. Some others are less optimistic. Youth in the areas southeast of Addis Abeba represent both views, as SAMSON BERHANE, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, reports.
“It has been very frustrating. I have been looking for a job for almost a year,” says Beshir Hidato who has been unemployed since he graduated two years ago. “I have almost forgotten what I learned.”
Beshir, who is in his late 20s, is a graduate of Public Health at a collage in Batu. He currently earns about 40 Br a day as a daily labourer at a construction site located in Werjaweshkula Kebele, East Shewa Zone.
He lives with his mother, sister, and two nieces, approximately five kilometres away from Batu City Administration (commonly known as Ziway), 160km from Addis Abeba.
“My mother stopped working five or six months ago, which makes it difficult for me to provide for the family,” Beshir added.
Beshir was once shortlisted after an interview in Modjo, around 70km from where he lives.
“There were hundreds of graduates who applied for the job,” he explained. “Since then, I have applied for over 10 jobs, but no one has bothered to call me.”
He graduated with almost 70 other people. However, he says that about half of them have been looking for jobs for the past two years.
About 4,000 people live in Werjaweshkula kebele. The kebele was founded after the previous government adopted a resettlement program. Most of the households in this area, including Beshir’s family, lost their plots of land due to the urbanization of Batu city. It forced the city administration to take land from the people to alleviate housing demands.
The problem of youth unemployment, particularly in urban areas, has been a big challenge for politicians and policymakers in Ethiopia. In a country where the majority of the population is young, the unemployment rates are higher for the younger age groups than older ones, with 22pc of the population aged 15-29 being out of work. Last year, the Central Statistical Agency (CSA) reported a national unemployment rate of 16pc.
Mehari Hailu, who graduated three years ago, is another unemployed youth graduate who lives in urban Batu. He connects the surge in unemployed graduates with the educational system.
“The practicality of what we learned at colleges and university is low,” he said. “No one either informs or trains us on what happens after graduation.”
After two years of looking for a job, 28-year-old Mehari decided to work in the kiosk owned by his parents. “At least I am not idle, so I am not depressed,” he said uncertainly.
Higher education in Ethiopia has a relatively short history of only 60 years. In 2000, there were just two universities, but since then the country has built 33 more, with plans for another 11 to be completed by next year.
The country produces over 150,000 graduates every year. However, the skills they possess has always been questioned. Two years ago, to recruit a sufficient number of potential teachers, the Ministry of Education invited graduate students from different universities to apply. Of 10,000 interested applicants for the post, around 700 of them fulfilled the criteria and took the entrance exam. Unexpectedly, only one was able to score 80pc. The average grade was below 60pc.
Behailu Korma, an expert in curriculum and education strategy, says the problem of providing quality education starts from kindergarten.
“Teachers at all levels tend to blame each other rather than coming up with solutions,” explained Behailu, who has been a lecturer for the past seven years.
Currently, with the aim of improving the quality of eduaction, the government is undertaking a study to set a 15-year education roadmap.
There is around 4,250 unemployed youths in Batu (Ziway) city alone, which is seven percent of the population lives in the city. Out of these, over 325 of them are university graduates.
Weeks ago, the city has started organising unemployed youths with the aim of creating job opportunities through the Youth Fund program. This move came after Oromia Regional State Administration promised 12 million Br to address youth unemployment in Batu.
One of the taking points in Ethiopia in the last few months has been the 10 billion Br revolving Youth Fund.
The fund is a response to the political discontent which was triggered by unemployment, according to the government. It was first announced five months ago by President Mulatu Teshome, during an address to Parliament. This fund, however, was not incorporated into the federal budget for the current fiscal year, which is a quarter of a trillion Birr.
Oromia Regional State will take the lion share of the fund at 3.4 billion Br, followed by Amhara Regional State, and the South Nation Nationalities&Peoples Regional State at 2.6 and 1.8 billion Br, respectively.
The youth fund will be provided to applicants through loans. Beneficiaries are expected to save the only 10pc of the amount they ask for. Moreover, interest rates on loans from the revolving fund will be around half of the average rate of bank loans. Applicants who are unable to provide collateral will have the chance to be part of a lease financing program. Out of the total 10 billion Br, half of it is expected to be allocated in the next six months.
Different programs have been adopted by the government over time to address youth unemployment in Ethiopia, which has been a public concern for decades. About 12 years ago, the government adopted a strategy aimed at providing critical support to medium and small enterprises. In the first edition of Growth and Transformation Plan, the enterprise claimed it created over 10.5 million jobs creating 125 billion Br in salaries.
In the next three years, the government plans to create two millions of job and 160,000 enterprises.
On the other hand, the country produces over 150,000 graduates every year. However, the skill of the graduates has always been questioned in line with the growth in the number of university graduates.
Over 300 young graduates are expected to benefit from the youth fund in Batu alone.
Beshir, who owns neither a television nor a smartphone, heard about the fund on the radio two months ago.
“I have been talking with friends about what businesses to take up,” Beshir said. However, he is not sure about the sustainability of the fund if it is used as a political instrument by the government to impose its interests.
Batu was one of the cities which saw protests and political unrest five months ago when the discontent reached its peak.
Youths from Beshir’s kebele travelled over five kilometres to protest to express their dissatisfaction with the current administration.
Kedir Feyissa, who graduated from college the same year as Beshir, expects nothing from the fund. He, along with his four friends was beneficiaries of a financing scheme by the Federal Medium and Small Enterprises Agency. They received over 200,000 Br to produce sand near the kebele he is living in now.
“No government body has even looked at why we failed. They just gave us funding one time,” he said. “We appealed to the concerned body repeatedly for almost a year.”
It has been more than two years since they stopped production.
“I expect no change. I only expect another failure from the new fund,” Kedir added angrily.
Washu Kedir, mayor of Batu Administration, says discussions are underway to prevent such failures from happening again.
“Failure is expected in business,” Washu explained. “The youth fund is more beneficial as it has more incentives than previous programs such as medium and small enterprise support programs.”
Currently, there are around 800,000 organised MSEs across the country.
Surprisingly, it seems that awareness about the fund is very low in relatively urban cities such as Batu than rural kebeles.
Neither Solomon Wase, 24, who lives in Asosa City, nor Mehari from Batu city had heard anything about the fund.
Solomon graduated from Wollo University in Auto Mechanical Engineering two years ago. He spent almost five years on campus to finish his Bachelor’s Degree. Since then, he has been working at a garage.
“Youths in urban areas have no difficulty finding work, so I am not that interested in the funds,” says Solomon.
“Even though it is convenient to find jobs in urban areas, the living costs are a big headache,” Mehari said. “But the youth fund would help many entrepreneurs to bring their innovations to life,” he added.
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