When he had a member of staff of his ministry read for him a statement addressed to a May Day rally, the minister of Trade, Industry, Regional Integration and Employment, Abdou Jobe, said that,” the Gambia government has said people should become self-employed as this would bring the necessary flexibility to the labour market”. Saying this four months after the conclusion last December of PAGE (Program for Accelerated Growth and Employment) is in a way an official admission of expression of the failure of that program and also their frustration over their inability to create jobs for growing army of the unemployed. PAGE brought neither growth nor employment. In fact it diminished both during the course of its program-life. Less people are now with jobs than before PAGE and there was more GDP growth, 4% than the 0,4% we had in 2014.
As if he has his head up in the clouds, far from what obtains on the ground the minister wrote that, “According to statistics, at least 20 per cent of Gambia’s active labour force is unemployed.” Those with feet firmly on the ground know that the figure is at least three times higher, or 60% at least.
The first time voters in the first Second Republican presidential elections, those who say “We-don’t-want-no-old-pa”-generation constitute one of the biggest losers under Jammeh’s reign. Yes, more schools were built for their younger peers and a university was founded but all these at the expense quality education, no jobs, drastically reduced living standards and poorer future life prospects. Gambia has by far the smallest population in West Africa, except Cape Verde Islands, but Gambian youths rival those of by far bigger populations like Ghana and Nigeria in prominence in the current desperate youth exodus in search for jobs and greener pastures in Europe.
On self-employment he Trade minister wrote that ,“Young people, more especially, need this kind of flexibility in labour markets to realise their potentials,” making little sense with that statement. Self employment has little to do with flexibility in labor markets. Such flexibility is dictated by demands not labour supplies. Self-employment is not promoted through preaching alone especially when not sincerely met. It is by legislating for more conducive environment; preparing players with better training in relevant skills, campaigns of attitudinal changes, giving tax breaks another incentives instead of the tax squeeze that the authorities are threatening to wage against even street corner hawkers, barbers, and other micro-enterprises.
In the statement read on his behalf by one ministry staff member, Mr. Lamin Fofana, the minister said this approach of calling for youth self-employment, “ ties well with current demographic situation of rising young youthful population of The Gambia. This demographic reality presents an opportunity for national development by harnessing the potential of the youth.” This so called opportunity has been largely translated as a defect with a swelling army of employed and enlarging households finding it all the more difficult to place sufficient foodstuff on the sinkiroo.
The statement read on behalf of the minister also claimed that, “Therefore, the government in partnership with key stakeholders provides the youth with equal access to opportunities that enable them grow, develop and prosper through self-employment ventures.” But this is a blatant lie and minister himself knows this. A Jola-speaking young man or woman from the Senegalese province of Casamance has far greater access than a Gambian of similar circumstances due to a deliberate state policy of jolanization and ethnic favouritism. A policy based on the concept of “compensating” members of that ethnic group for past “distresses.”
Jobe also claimed that, “…… the government continues to pursue programmes and projects to foster employment creation ,“ mentioning the EMPRETEC project and the Gambia Songhai Initiative as “ some of the recent interventions by the government to promote employability of the youths and women. “
“The success of these projects would go a long way in dealing with unemployment, in general, and youth unemployment in particular,” the employment minister said.
“These interventions focus on entrepreneurship and enterprise development, education and skills development as important policy thrust for employment generation.”
He added that the government would continue to provide the policy response needed to address the unemployment situation. It will also strengthen inter-linkages in the productive sectors and required institutional arrangements needed to place employment at the center of the nation’s development agenda.
Minister Jobe said for a more equitable and shared prosperity, the construct of macro-economic and financial policies must lead to inclusive growth – growth that is employment-intensive, and that creates opportunities and decent jobs for all.
According to him, the government recognises that the country’s most critical resource is its people, who are not only the drivers of its development, but also at the pinnacle of its development agenda.
“It is in this regard that the government continues to allocate resources to human capital formation to enable the availability of a healthy and skilled labour force to industries, as well as enhance employ ability and employment of labour both in the formal and informal sectors of the economy,” Jobe went on.
“In order to create more employment opportunities for people, the government recognises the importance to create job creators rather than job seekers. “This is why the government gives particular attention to entrepreneurship development, enhancing private sector competitiveness, linking agriculture to industry as well as the service sector of the economy.
“It also encourages research, science and technology and innovation, vocational and technical skills development, productivity improvement, harnessing opportunities in labour migration and promotion of the green economy, among others, to enhance employ ability.”
With almost everyone present knowing that the authorities mean little of what they say about job creation and employment generation, few really listened to the speech being read by the civil servant. In over twenty years of its rule the Jammeh regime has never been tired of talking about employment but it has in fact killed more jobs and employment opportunities than has been created in the private sectors. Under this time has been
Up to 80% of jobs and employment opportunities created during this twenty-year or so period has been in the security sector, with mostly soldiers, police constables and NIA agents and informers.
The talk of job-creation programs, five such programs were ran under his time, namely, National Youth Service Scheme, NYSS; Gam Jobs, EMPRETEC and the so called Songhai Gambia Initiative. Only NYSS was a nationally owned program, with all the rest being outside initiatives of the ILO, UNDP or others. That shows that fighting unemployment is not too high on government’s hierarchy of priorities. In fact calling for self-employment now may be a sign of government wanting to escape from its responsibility of job and employment opportunity creation. Coming as it does just after the conclusion of PAGE (Program for Accelerated Growth and Employment) in fact suggests that the authorities have become weary with the question of job creation. Now with the coming of EMPRETEC that responsibility is been passed on to the masses of unemployed.
But what is EMPRETEC? Empretec, a project being implemented by the Gambia Investment and Export Promotion Agency (GIEPA). Last month it certificated 32 young entrepreneurs after a six-day training on how to manage businesses.They were the 18th batch of entrepreneurs trained by Empretec. Speaking at the closing ceremony, held at a hotel Bijilo, Fatou Mbenga Jallow, chief executive officer of GIEPA, told the training participants: “I hope all of you have learned a lot that you will apply not only in your businesses but in other works.”
She said the government alone cannot provide job for everybody, so it is for the private sector to help.
“We have to create jobs and one of the best ways is to support and encourage entrepreneurship,” she said.
Madam Jallow said a lot of resources have been spent and more will be spent but if the participants do not make used of the knowledge gained, the project will fail and that means GIEPA has failed.
She called on the participants to share their new gained knowledge and skills with others who were not opportune to attend the training.
“I hope that the already certificated entrepreneurs will help in marketing the programme when we reach a point where we have to ask people to pay,” GIEPA CEO said. She noted that when that time comes, GIEPA will do the marketing but the participants will also help them so that people will appreciate the benefits of the training.
The six day training hopes to make not only entrepreneurs out of the trainees but to make them providers of Business Development Services which is clearly wishful thinking. APRC politicians, government bureaucrats, project consultants and even officials of international donor agencies, do not themselves believe in what they claim work, but it is like they have got nothing else but to make belief that attempts to fight against unemployment is going on and will finally work. What an unfortunate joke!