Unemployment remains a major challenge for Ethiopia. Its impact is becoming far reaching. The few efforts made by the government have succeeded in reducing a section of it. Left unattended, the rampant unemployment in the country is breeding informal trade. This other face of the problem is posing yet another challenge to authorities.
Every single day of the week, weather permitting, a crowd of people stand out on the intersection, near the Addis Abeba City Municipality office, waiting for someone to employ them as menial labourers. Some of them are semi-skilled, in fields like; carpentry, masonry and plumbing.
But, many of them are simple wage earners ready to work wherever they can be of some use. All they are after is earning their daily bread in a decent engagement.
Many governments use facts and figures of unemployment as indicators of how the economy is faring in a given period of time. However, there are many other governments in developing countries shying away from revealing their unemployment statistics. For some reason they prefer to keep it to themselves.
A few decades back, employment opportunities were ample. If job seekers had an elementary educational background, they could have joined a one year teacher training centre at Holleta and come out decorated as a lieutenant officer.
This could have carried someone as far up as deposing the Emperor. But, with the passage of time, situations have changed.
Today, the value of university graduates has been reduced. People used to look down upon cobble stone layering as a degrading menial engagement. Growing claims that stone quarries of cobble stones have become causes for conflict between labourers, escalating to exchanges of slander and all out fights, suggest that many more are willing to partake in the trade today.
Many youngsters try to make ends meet and earn their daily bread the hard way, breaking the law and being arrested, in order to find free lodging behind bars. Sometimes they try to pick pockets, or better still, snatch mobile phones to sell in the market.
Others try the decent way and find themselves playing hardball with the police, or have the security officers set loose to chase them. These are boys that have a knack for business ventures.
They manage to borrow some money and buy articles to sell on pavements. Vending in this way is high risk – a risk akin to a mouse frolicking in front of a starving cat.
The hungry cat lurks, watching attentively. It looks to dislodge the mouse’s attention.
The mouse twists and jumps at the steps of its home, instinctively aware of the forthcoming danger. Very often, the prey moves before the predator takes action.
At times, however, the prey falls trapped into the claws of the starving cat. The rest is history.
By the same token, vendors carrying their articles for sale scan the crowds of people, standing on their toes, keeping a watch for potential customers. The security guards in plain clothes, carry batons hidden under their armpits, walk amongst the crowds.
Some of them succeed in arresting vendors. Others drag their feet noticeably, in which case, the informal traders have enough time to escape from their grips.
There are other parties who stand to lose from the cat and mouse chase. They are in the low income group of the working community. The only safe time for shopping, for these public servants, is during their lunch breaks.
They have little or no time after office hours, as they have to line up at bus stops. They have other reasons to opt for the vendors too. They can buy items at a very reasonable price.
In cases where the security guards succeed in laying their hands on the informal traders, the action they take varies. It ranges from rent collection, on a minor scale, to flogging and baton beating, on a larger scale.
At a time where unemployment is rife and unacceptable, actions, such as trying to solve informality problems through violence, could be risky. The world has had enough lessons already and does not seem to want to go any further.
As Befekadu Degefe (PhD), a senior lecturer in economics, prefers to say, unemployment is a reflection and an indicator of how much all the resources of the country are being put in place and deployed to produce. The individual farmer can be assumed as a base to talk about unemployment.
Their primary aim, in food production, should be self-reliance. They need to feed themselves nutritionally. But, if one looks at their legs, says Befekadu, they look like sticks.
The Ethiopian government is striving hard to create as many job opportunities as possible. The construction sector absorbs a significant portion of the unemployed population.
The service sector is showing more rapid growth. But, the industry sector has to be developed, if anything.
Employment is the right of citizens, as is enshrined in the Constitution. It seems that the Ethiopian government is trying to live up to the words expressed.
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