Election promises haunt Zambia's Sata

2012-07-11 07:43

Lusaka - A deadly stampede of women and children for jobs at a fishing factory and youth protests during military recruitments haunt Zambian President Michael Sata, brought to power on promises of jobs.

In May, nine people died in a stampede when 5 000 women and children surged forward in anticipation of landing part-time jobs at a private fishing factory in the north of the country.

Half the nation's 13 million people don't have formal jobs, and protesters say little has changed since Sata came to power in the world's second copper producer under a year ago.

Seven million are under 20 years old and earn less than a dollar a day.

Last week, the Zambia Army's nationwide campaign to hire cadet officers was marred by unrest as youths blocked roads with logs and set tyres ablaze in anger after tens of thousands turned out for only 800 openings.

In September 2011 these young people had voted in their numbers for the new Patriotic Front (PF) under Sata.

Those who missed the cut to join the army alleged corruption in the recruitment exercise because only close relatives of senior army officers and government officials were picked.

The protesters claimed to have better qualifications than those selected.

President Michael Sata, born in 1937 but who has never made public his exact birth date, was elevated to power from the opposition benches in last year's polls on the wave of promises to create jobs.

Even he admits all is not well.

"When you see children fighting over recruitment in the army, it means they are warning us. If we are not careful, these young people will beat us one day...," he said last weekend at the Zambia International Trade Fair.

Pressure to create new jobs

Zambia's woes are typical of the unemployment problems facing the continent which has the youngest, and still rapidly growing population.

The slow pace of job creation in Africa has forced the continent-wide African Development Bank (AfDB) to organise a forum to address the youth unemployment crisis rocking the southern African region on 9 July.

"The changing demographics and higher numbers of educated and unemployed youth combined with an information revolution will transform the economic and social landscape of [countries] and increase the pressure to create new jobs over the coming decades," said the AfDB in a recent document.

"These factors played a critical role in the recent socio-political uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt," it added.

Michael Mwanalushi, disgusted at being left out despite meeting all the requirements for an officer in the Zambia Army, hit out at the Sata government for failing to deliver on its election promises of jobs and "more money in your pocket".

"There is nothing new that has happened with the change of government. This is just a continuation of the [former ruling party] MMD and we did not expect this to happen under this government," Mwanalushi said.

Enormous opportunity

The AfDB says Africa has the world's youngest population - with nearly one in four people forecast to be an African by 2030.

"This creates an enormous opportunity - but could also present a significant risk and substantial threat to social cohesion and political stability if policymakers fail to create substantial livelihoods for this group," said the bank.

The continent is one of the world's fastest-growing regions, but has consistently failed to generate enough jobs to absorb some 12 million increasingly educated young people.

And the past two years' events in North Africa, where popular protests by unemployed and disenchanted youths brought down three Arab leaders, send shivers among those further south.