By Victor Angula|

With the scourge of unemployment ravaging the youth population, youthful new Member of Parliament Mr Tjekupe Maximalliant Katjimune had no time to waste in platitudes but hit the ground running by raising the issue of youth unemployment in his maiden speech as his point of departure.

Katjimune, who three weeks ago became one of several new National Assembly MPs, stood up for the first time in the law-making chamber to echo the sentiments of fellow PDM MP Koviao Inna Hengari who late last year tabled a motion on youth unemployment and called on President Hage Geingob to declare youth unemployment as a national crisis.

“I rise to deliver my maiden speech in the 7th Parliament of the Republic of Namibia during a time when this August House is seized with deliberations on a very fundamental motion tabled by the Honourable Koviao Inna Hengari on the Youth Unemployment Crisis in Namibia, its ramifications, both in the short and medium to long term,” Katjimune said.

“The youth unemployment rate in this country is indeed a crisis. It’s an existential crisis that constitutes a national emergency of catastrophic proportions. The significant majority of young people in this country are faced with the harsh and blunt reality that unemployment is unavoidable, and that this government has no clear ideological or practical interventions as to how the crisis can be arrested.”

Katjimune reminded the Assembly that during May and June of this year, he alongside 3713 students graduated from the University of Namibia (UNAM). Another 2282 students graduated from the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST), while a further 1503 graduated from the International University of Management (IUM).

“On top of these figures, thousands more graduated from our other dozen institutions of higher learning and vocational training centres accredited by the Namibia Qualifications Authority (NQA).

“The future for the Class of 2021 and future graduates looks bleak. The overwhelming majority of these graduates are young people who have now joined the unemployment statistics, and now form part of the estimated 50,3% or more than 270 000 unemployed young people that Namibia was expected to reach at the end of 2021.”

The MP further stated that a significant majority of these young graduates will be subjected to an endless cycle of securing government and private sector internship opportunities that pay peanuts and are exploitative, with no assurance that they will eventually land a permanent job from these internships.

“On that note, it’s imperative to debunk the notion that internships reduce graduate unemployment in particular and youth unemployment in general on any scale.

“Yes, internships are a necessary intervention in terms of transferring knowledge and skills in industries, but the notion adopted by government that they are fundamental factors in reducing youth unemployment is a fallacy.

“In fact, internships are a direct result of youth unemployment, and a temporary solution to a clear crisis.”

Katjimune said that apart from the endless rhetoric, the conferences and the policy interventions from different stakeholders in government, the government does not have any political will or practical solution to the question of youth unemployment.

“What this government does however is to consistently downplay the plight of the hundreds of thousands of unemployed young people by rendering fallacious and scientifically unproven interventions and rhetoric to unemployed young people.

“For example, the President of the country threw unemployed young people under the bus when he stated that ‘Government is not God’, and that ‘Young People should use their qualifications to create their own jobs’.

“The President’s insensitive statements are further exacerbated by our Minister of Youth, who is equally of the view that ‘young people cannot continue to only be job seekers, but must also become creators of employment and other opportunities’.

“Honourable Speaker, Honourable Members, what is therefore clear is that the ‘youth must become job creators and not job seekers’ narrative has become an ideological pivot to make up for the failure of the government in creating a conducive environment and market that absorbs young people into the job market and exposes them to other opportunities as well.”

While agreeing that there is an element of merit that young people should endeavour to as far as practically possible be job creators, “such a narrative cannot be advanced by a government that fails to facilitate and engineer a conducive economic environment that enables young people to do so in the first place.

“Let us take for example interventions that were rolled out by a country such as Singapore with a youth unemployment rate of 7.3%, which is impressively low when compared to the rest of the world.”

The youth unemployment rate in Singapore is low because the Singaporean government, unlike the Namibian government, “takes decisive and clear interventions in terms of the youth unemployment question.

“For example, the country has numerous initiatives that are earmarked at providing up-to-date information regarding the job market as it evolves to young people. The country rolled out a massive project in 2012 called Max Talent, which is run under the Association of Small and Medium Enterprise and acts as a conveyer belt in comprehensively training young people and affording them all the necessary skills in Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) development.”

This, according to Katjimune, is one element that the Namibian government lacks.

“[In Singapore] young people who have great ideas in the SME sector are afforded up to US$50 000, which is equivalent to N$500 000 through the Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE) start up scheme.

“This programme has ensured that young people who want to venture into the SME sector are provided with the necessary financial will-power to thrive in the business sector.

“Hence when encouraging young people to venture into business, the government must be alive to the reality that there is inadequate financial and educational support in Namibia for unemployed young people to set up businesses and become proponents of employment creation.”

The crisis around youth unemployment is made worse by the fact that the government does not have accurate data on the extent of youth unemployment in the country, its dynamics and particularities.

“Let us take for example the graduate unemployment crisis. In 2018, the Ministry of Higher Education, Training and Innovation indicated that there are around 67 000 unemployed [graduates.] Up until today, the Ministry of Higher Education, Training and Innovation still relies on the figures produced in 2018, and there have been no further studies for almost four years to understand the dynamics and particularities of graduate unemployment in 2022,” Katjimune said.

“The same situation applies when one analyses the figures surrounding youth unemployment in general. There are no accurate figures, and this therefore translates into government developing generic frameworks and policies in regards to youth unemployment.”

In order to develop comprehensive frameworks and policies that combat youth unemployment, government must have clear figures and studies detailing its dynamics and particularities.

“Honourable Speaker, Honourable Members, in conclusion, as a scholar of Political Science and Sociology, I know too well the adverse ramifications of having a society flooded with unemployed, hungry and frustrated young people.

“One would not be far-fetched by stating that the youth unemployment crisis in this country constitutes a threat to the relative peace and stability that this country has enjoyed for the past 32 years.

“Of course, Peace Theorists John Galtung reminds us that peace is not only defined through the absence of physical violence, hence having hundreds of thousands of unemployed and frustrated young people therefore has far reaching consequences on the social fabric and order of society than we might think.”

Katjimune also pointed to the fact that youth unemployment infringes on young people’s human rights as enshrined under the African Charter of Human and People’s rights.

“The African Charter of Human and People’s Rights provides that people have the right to self-determination, to development, to peace and security, to a generally satisfactory environment in as much as they have the right to equality.

“The denial or lack of infrastructures that promote these human rights in not only a tragedy for the individuals, but also creates conditions of social and political unrest, sowing the seeds of violence within and between communities.”

In concluding his maiden speech Katjimune stated that the youth unemployment crisis in Namibia must become the number one priority area for government moving forward.

“Government cannot afford to continue paying lip service to this crisis. It is the single most pressing existential crisis of our time. I therefore fully support the motion by the Honourable Koviao Inna Hengari, and stand steadfast in echoing that the youth unemployment crisis in Namibia must indeed be declared a national emergency.”

In the photo: MP Tjekupe Maximalliant Katjimune savouring the ambience of the August House before the start of business.