Is employment creation a solution to poverty?

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It is not uncommon that every political party manifesto will have employment creation as one of its goals.

In fact, whenever employment creation is mentioned, it is received with loud ululation and jubilation even though many a times, such promises have remained pies in the sky due to lack of proper strategic foundation.

At face value, it seems getting a job is one way of achieving poverty reduction.

This simplistic view evades the basic and simple question on whether everyone should be force-marched into selling labour for a living instead of exploring other opportunities which would lead to a better life.

Perhaps as Africans, we need to challenge ourselves and realise that the Western economic models are crumbling and the evidence is there for everyone to see.

We need to question ourselves if job creation, in its general sense, is the right way to reduce poverty. Is it possible to create employment for everyone in an African country where 60% to 70% of the population lives in rural areas? Can we not identify other means of livelihood which ensure that our people can lead a better life without submitting themselves to the whims of capitalists? Who benefits from this façade called employment creation?

The International Labour Organisation states that with global unemployment at historically high levels, there has never been a greater need to put employment at the centre of economic and social policies.

Even among those who work, the extent of poverty underscores the need for a far greater number of productive and decent jobs.

The insufficient pace in creating decent work worldwide points to the need for greater international coordination of macro-economic policies, as well as active labour market policies at the national level.

While this analysis holds water for the industrialised countries, how many African countries can afford to create jobs for at least a quarter of their populations?

A recent report in South Africa suggests that six to eight million people are unemployed, while in the UK unemployment is believed to have increased to 2,57 million, the highest number in the past 17 years.

The number of people claiming unemployment benefits has jumped from 17 500 to 1,6 million during September. This follows weeks of demonstrations by young people demanding jobs in recent months.

In the USA, Obama is struggling to win Senate over his job creation package.

The US unemployment rate has been above 9% since May and almost 45% of the 14 million jobless Americans have been out of work for six months or more.

The story remains the same across Europe and the global economy remains highly unstable.
A DFID report entitled The Engine of Development: the private sector and prosperity for poor people puts engagement with the private sector to the fore of its pro-poor growth strategy, positing job-creation a major development tool.

The report highlights key reasons why private enterprise matters as an engine, not just for economic growth, but reducing poverty.

While many economists and politicians see this as a panacea to reducing unemployment, it masks the fact that putting private sector to the fore means creating preferential treatment which props up their profits while reducing the majority to sellers of labour.

The assumption here is that income from jobs reduces poverty, and the favourable conditions will lead to more private investment which multiplies its reach and create more opportunities for the poor to earn an income.

The poor, who in this case are the jobless, will play no more than just being passive beneficiaries of employment.

Conclusively, employment creation simply means creating an environment where the rich become richer through government facilities such as the Obama job creation package.

These employment-creating programmes are nothing more than self-serving measures in the embrace of the private sector enrichment.

But if one listens to speeches from pundits of employment creation advocating greater reliance on the private sector, one realises that we are moving back to a public sector bad-private sector good mentality — one that has done so much damage in the past — the result of which is the increase in unemployment today.

In most African countries where the livelihoods environment still remains open and surrounded by unexplored rich natural resources, it is imperative to devise home-grown models where people can sustain themselves without unnecessarily exposing them to unemployment.

It is fact that no government in the world can create employment for every citizen. Governments must allow and support people to be sustainably innovative within their natural environments.

Colonialism and modernisation have created unsustainable expectations where everyone yearns to be in towns and cities where employment is the only way of survival. Poverty is not just about lack of a job or money.

A family in Caprivi in Namibia that owns a thousand cattle can surely sustain family needs using their local knowledge and without seeking employment.

Another family along the Mazoe River can sustain its food requirements, sell surplus to pay for other family needs if there are proper government support mechanisms without being counted on the job market.

I believe in Africa, we should not stress ourselves about employment but rather concentrate on areas that can help our people sustain their livelihoods without exposing them to the vagaries of global economic recession.