Opinion

Africa Needs Jobs, Not Politicians.

Africa is largely unstable because, instead of jobs and wealth creation, the continent produces more politicians and activists.  Political careers are not necessarily fascinating careers because the nature of them are brutal, mean and unsettling.  Yet, politicians, not small business owners and CEOs in Africa, make the most news headlines, earn the most incomes and benefits; drive the best cars, accorded the most honors and respect, and enjoy the most protection not only from the hungry and starving people they govern, but even from authorities and institutions in the West.

This needs to change and it most begin with how governance is measured in African nations and how international aid is positioned and rationalized in helping them.  Support for African nations should be measured with a new benchmark: economic development with a focus on job creation, and improved standard of living.

Western aid to Africa supports more politically related programs than any other activity.  There are more civil society organizations and programs in Africa than tangible programs such as activities that support manufacturing, workforce development, agricultural food production, trade, leisure and hospitality, information technology, cybersecurity as well as chemical and biomedical research.

Employers have more choices than ever about where to hire and who to hire. Technology makes it easy to work from anywhere in the world.

It is not that Africans do not have the brains to understand and apply the fundamentals of manufacturing and other job-creating formulas; it is just that the support and assistance of the international community and Africa’s western partners negate these things.  Coupled with this deficit in aiding African countries, prominence is accorded to Africans in politics than those in innovation, business, and economic development.  The overriding impact is, this has led to more Africans wanting to enter politics than those desiring to engage in innovation, small and large businesses, and economic development activities.

For example, Liberia’s president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has received more honors, awards and praises than Nigerian investors and economic development catalyst Tony Elumelu and Africa’s richest man, investor and job creator Aliko Dangote combined.  Nonetheless, there are over 2.5 citizens that are unemployed in Liberia (a country the size of the US state of Tennessee) with a population of 4.5 million.  There is no deliberate intent here to pick on Liberia, but we use Liberia because it is the country on the African continent that we know best and that we have a unique tie to.

While civil society institutions are critically essential, the international community and Africa’s partners need a re-orientation and new approach in funding institutions in Africa.  Aid to Africa must prioritize and focus more on innovation, manufacturing and workforce development.  In addition, support for and loan assistance to African nations must also set a critical scale: salaries of government officials––both elected and appointed––must be drastically reduced and reflect the prevailing economic conditions in those countries. Anything short of that must be non-negotiable and tied to the granting of international aid and the issuance of visas of officials.

The general expectation is, private sector workforce and employment ought to earn higher than people in government. After all, being in government should fundamentally be based on one’s service to the nation rather than a desire to enrich oneself.

Jones Nhinson Williams, a Liberian internationally acclaimed job creation policy expert

In the recently ended presidential and legislative election in Liberia, over a thousand-people filed to seek legislative seats in the country. Why did this happen? Simple. lawmakers in Liberia earn around $20, 000 United States dollars a month, far more than lawmakers in almost all U.S. states as well as those at the federal level.  And this is happening in a nation where majority of the citizens obtain and use unsafe drinking water from creeks, have no electricity, and latrines; cannot afford a simple decent meal, live on less than a $1 a day as a family; lack access to preventive healthcare, have no access to easy and conducive transportation as well as improved infrastructure, including roads (UNICEF, UNDP, World Bank’s statistics highlights all these facts).

When I left the Catholic seminary and human rights advocacy to pursue careers in public policy and international management, opportunities took me into labor market analysis and information at the international level, beyond Africa. In those various experiences, I learned faster about the importance of jobs, especially during the recent global recession because I sat in the driver’s seat as head of several critical jobs creation programs for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in the state of Maryland where over 100,000 jobs lost to the recession were regained and thousands more new jobs ones were added.

Those of us fortunate to know about and work in labor market analysis and information learned that jobs are fundamental to everything in a society or country. The strength, balance, and expansion of the financial market, housing prices, and income; industry growth and expansion, living standards and conditions, reduction in crime etc., all depend on the proper functioning of the labor market.  Therefore, when the labor market nosedives, U.S. lawmakers, policymakers, investors, employers and everyone else in advanced democracies worry. Therefore, jobs and job creation are important. Hence, the ministry of labor in every developed nation.

We need more jobs in Africa than politicians because it is imperative that Africa fits in the new wave of globalization.  Without jobs, migration from Africa will be unceasing, the conflict will be unending, and international security will be even more fragile.  In a larger sense, globalization means that businesses can hire, locate, and expand anywhere in the world. Most African nations are lacking behind in this direction because there are some African countries where some universities do not even have a website of their own not mentioning a computer programming department.  This is critical because, with technology, it means far more can be produced with far fewer workers, and life can be made at ease than it is for millions of people in Africa.

Governance in Africa should, therefore, be more about providing job opportunities for young Africans. This should be the synergy, rather than the contradiction, between economic justice and economic growth.  We need to create plenty of jobs and wealth.  We can begin this process by altering the economic terrain that prevents new and increasing wealth from being broadly shared.  These are the challenges that leaders and policymakers in Africa must confront through the institutions of government.

As an international job creation policy expert, one fact stands out to me: governments don’t create jobs; however, governments have the ability and responsibility to create a nurturing environment where investors, business leaders, and entrepreneurs want to locate and expand. What that means is that government has an active role in creating an economic environment that creates middle-class success and prosperity.

The bottom line is that private enterprise creates the primary condition for reducing poverty and want. In other words, economic growth should top political expansion but in Africa the story is different.  It seems our leaders need more politics than they do when it comes to jobs.

Here is why Africa specifically needs jobs.  There are about 3 billion people in the world that are looking for jobs but only 1.2 billion jobs are available, employers have more choices than ever about where to hire and who to hire.  Additionally, the unconventional emergence and speed of digital technologies are displacing millions of jobs and leading to rising economic insecurity.

But here is the irony about the economies of most African nations: they are once again among the World’s strongest and are getting stronger. Despite these advantages, unemployment is high in almost all African countries even though abundant natural resources are available.  Besides, wealth disparity and income inequality are growing worse. And when it comes to the distribution of wealth, Africa is an unequal region in the world. While one can attach corruption, greed, and mismanagement as responsible and contributing factors, the missing puzzle is the lack of investment in and focus on innovation and the fullest application of the rule of law.

Hence, this situation, the scarcity of jobs, represents the African continent’s greatest challenge: rising economic insecurity. Africans who are economically insecure don’t take entrepreneurial risks. Instead, they fall prey to political manipulations, communal and social violence, crime, and of recent, terrorism. The leadership and policymakers of Nigeria ponder daily: why Boko Haram?  The governors and lawmakers of Niger, Mali and other parts of Africa wonder as to why is it that extremism is gaining a widespread foothold?  Sub-Sahara African nations and others wonder why young Africans are dying at sea in attempts to cross into Europe through Morocco, Libya, and Tunisia?  These questions have one thing in common: an answer that reflects a lack of jobs. Jobs mean opportunities and the lack of opportunities largely mean the lack of some form of jobs.

Common sense suggests that fulfilled individuals don’t listen to rhetoric and find it hard to engage in protests or violent agitation because they have a stake to protect.  On the contrary, hungry people are angry and therefore become amused by rhetoric that speaks to and brings forth their plight.  When people don’t have jobs and wealth or an asset, the likelihood of engaging in a protest is far greater than when they are employed, have income, and the basic necessities that make life meaningful.  If most African leaders and policymakers understood these basic social, economic and political philosophy, they would always govern in peace and with maximum security for all.

The lack of a job is, by itself, a personal and national security problem. Personally, the lack of job affects one’s survival. Nationally, the more unemployed citizens a nation has, the more crime and violence are prevalent, and the more unstable the society will be.

Jobs eradicate poverty; lead to better health care, facilitate educational opportunities because when people have jobs they are empowered and positioned to pay for learning, and provide for their families as well as support their communities, including their children’s education in ways that shape their future for the better.

It’s not surprising that most Africans worry about them and their children’s future.  Even those who have jobs are ill-prepared for retirement because they have no savings or recurrent income.  In Africa, we hear about growth all the time but nothing changes. Growth is necessary, but not sufficient. Growth must lead to wealth being more broadly distributed.  To do so, African leaders and policymakers must embark on a three-part strategy to invest in people, engage with the world and reduce the risks for those who want to take chances for a better future.

Step one is to focus on education, from infancy through college there should be access and workforce training. African nations and countries should double the number of low-income students enrolled in early childhood education centers and improved their performance by linking funding to quality measures.

It is also important for policymakers and leaders in African countries to acknowledge that not every high-schooler will head to college. So, while much-needed emphasis will be placed on advanced education, plenty of jobs can be filled by individuals who have some form of training, but not a four-year degree. Creating more opportunities for high school students to get into the workforce and learn new skills through apprenticeship programs will open other avenues for advancement.  In the state of Delaware where I live, and my two little girls attend school, it is called “Pathways to Prosperity.”

African countries need to prepare this generation and the next to be ready to compete in a global labor market and workforce where employers have an increasing number of options for where to hire.  Now, India and China are above the curves.  The CEOs of Google and Microsoft are Indians, born, raised and educated in India.  But they are CEOs of America’s best-known companies even though they attended schools in India. This is not magic; India is investing heavily in science, technology, engineering, and math education while Africa is not.

African leaders and policymakers also need to note that simply preparing students to compete in the global economy is not enough; they need to actively embrace the opportunities it presents in a variety of ways and here is why. Billions of new middle-class consumers are being added globally, and over the next 10 to 20 years, they will create trillions in new wealth outside of the United States, Europe and perhaps Asia.  That means, Africa could be the recipient but only those African nations that will be ready will benefit. Simply put, Africa needs an effective workforce development strategy.

Another area where we hear about much complains from African leaders is a trade.  Instead of trade, Africa is predominantly known for international aid.  An estimated 85 percent of all governments that beg for international aid are in and from Africa. African nations beg for loans, medicine, equipment, and even food.  So instead of being a trading partner, African countries are largely aid recipients––always on the receiving end.  My late sister who educated me once said: The one who gives dictates and the one who receives obeys.  Africa generally has no leverage internationally because it is a receiving region.

It is a time that African leaders realize that their respective governments should have an important role to play in promoting trade. That means looking at tariffs, maritime services, and major transportation infrastructure.   It would require establishing and supporting financial instruments and institutions so exporters aren’t at a significant competitive disadvantage. It also means corporate tax rates in African countries need to provide an incentive to global businesses so that they manufacture there rather than merely exploiting natural resources.  It also means African governments should seek to attract—and retain—more skilled immigrants, who would add enormous value and energy to their economies, and create jobs for African workers.

These are some of the things that set developed nation apart from Africa in many respects. The ability of people in Western nations to earn a decent minimum wage, to access affordable and quality healthcare, and to live a retired life in dignity differentiates them from so many countries in Africa where those conditions don’t exist.  And this is one main reason young Africans fall prey to misguided ideologies and another reason why insecurity persists on the continent.  When young people have jobs and can afford the necessities of life, they wouldn’t listen to power-hungry, failed and trouble-making politicians.  In the absence of that, they get won over easily.

What we have seen over and again is that failure to provide this basic support––the need for jobs––ruins the economies and social stability of many African nations. When citizens don’t feel confident in their own financial future, they won’t spend the money that fuels the consumer-driven economy, and the result is economic, social and political chaos.

Investments in job creation and workforce development should help those in the workforce attain the basic four tickets to a stable and secure middle class: a reasonable wage, a comfortable retirement befitting a lifetime of work, affordable health insurance, and enough money to save for their children’s college.

Another thing that Africa’s development policymakers need to consider highly in conjunction with job creation is affordable health insurance.  Unlike most developed and western nations, health care is not a law or a right in almost all African countries. Hence, it is not affordable.

Transitioning health care services away from relief assistance, humanitarian projects and non-governmental arrangements to a free enterprise market system based on value would help eliminate a system that is laden with poor and inadequate services.  It would also prevent unsupervised medical experiments on Africans in most cases. It also means more good physicians, nurses and other medical workers would want to stay and work in Africa, open and manage their own clinics and related medical facilities because, instead of some politician determining their salary, they themselves will through a free and competitive market system that promoted and enhanced by government efforts.

The last, but not least, the thing that African leaders and policymakers that want their countries to succeed need to focus on are college affordability.  In many Western nations, there are programs established to assist students of any background to attend any college and pursue any occupation he or she wishes.  It is called “Student Loan” program in places like the United States.  This program, which is a repayable loan scheme and of which I am a beneficiary when I one of my graduate programs at NYU, pays for two years of community college for some students and up to four years for others that want to go further.  In fact, it helps some other students go as far as doctoral level.  It is one of the best formulas in workforce development.  It is not free, but it is accessible to all by choice.

In Africa, these ideas can work and can be paid for with ease. All that is required are the will and determination, and having the right leaders in the right places.  I see them work in the state of Delaware where I live, and in the state of Maryland where I head the state’s labor market analysis and information.  Today, the unemployment rate in the state of Maryland is below four percent.  Under my watch, the state of Maryland employs more people than at any point in its history. And the job growth rate has been among the best in the United States for the last couple of years.  All it takes is a good executive who listens, good policymakers who think, and knowledgeable operatives who act.

The bottom line is, African leaders and policymakers need to comprehend that long-term success requires an active government that partners with private businesses to ensure that the abundance of economic growth is shared broadly. Sharing this plenteousness is not about being a “good politician.” It’s a matter of having simple economic sense and understanding that labor is the bedrock of success for individuals, families, communities, and governments. When people work they pay taxes, and when they pay taxes, the government not only has sufficient funds to do things, it benefits from peace and security.  Therefore, Africa needs more jobs, not politicians.

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Jones Nhinson Williams

Jones Nhinson Williams is a Liberian philosopher (born in Pleebo, Maryland County but hailed from River Gee County) firmly educated by the Catholic Church. He is an American trained public policy, labor market information, strategic management, and workforce development professional with accomplished global experience in job creation and institutional governance.

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