ZAMBIAN youth have been betrayed by false promises, UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema has said.
In his Youth Day message, Hichilema said the betrayal has been evidenced by the country’s high unemployment rates.
He said Youth Day was a time to celebrate young Zambians and their boundless energy and possibilities.
“Young people are naturally optimistic, they see a world of endless opportunity. However, our youth have been betrayed by false promises, evidenced by the high unemployment rates in Zambia,” Hichilema said.
He recalled that President Edgar Lungu had pledged to create one million jobs but had not fulfilled the pledge.
“Government must consider policies that engender an enabling environment for our youth that can bring Zambian farming into the 21st century. There are countless tomato farmers in Zambia and yet there is not one factory in existence that adds value by either canning or producing tomatoe paste. Zambia is home to special varieties of mushroom which we all enjoy during the rainy season, but there is not one farm that grows these varieties and cultures in dried or dehydrated form for sale in the region,” he noted.
“Being surrounded by eight neighbours, Zambia has a market of 250 million people on its doorstep. What should be promoted is a policy to get over 50 per cent of our production value chain locally. Linkages to agro-processing and other value-addition activities would not just create jobs but help invigorate local economy. There are countless other agri-businesses that our youth can be encouraged to start up. Our dairy industry could be increased to supply the entire region but in its current state, it’s failing to meet domestic demand. The Citizens Empowerment Fund was set up to help Zambian citizens set up and grow their businesses. Instead it has been reduced to a lending house for the ruling elites who shamelessly default on their loans.”
Hichilema pointed out that creation of job opportunities in Zambia was imperative to match the growing number of youth entering the labour force every year.
“With over half of the global population under the age of 30, the demographics are similar in Zambia, nothing has been done to address this minefield. Many have paid cheap lip service to youth empowerment but the policies in place belie all the rhetoric which is why employment opportunities for our youth have remained pitifully low,” he said.
Hichilema said the abolishment of meal allowances for students and the increase of medical students’ clinical placement fees by 400 per cent was not just shocking but an aberration.
“Especially that the very politicians who endorsed these moves were themselves recipients of a free education,” he said.
“Data from the Ministry of Health shows that Zambia has a shortage of around 3,000 doctors. The doctor-patient-ratio in Zambia is one doctor to 12,000 patients – the World Health Organisation’s acceptable standard is one doctor to every 5,000 people. So it is clear that this latest assault on an already impoverished youth is not going to address this problem nor will it encourage our young ones to join the medical profession,” he stated.
Hichilema said Zambia’s unemployment rate was between 40 – 60 per cent with the youth shouldering the highest burden.
“Our disillusioned youth have resorted to entrepreneurship and agriculture in a bid to earn a living. Majority of them working in the agricultural sector are still classed as working poor, on low earnings. A significant portion of them work as subsistence farmers or run small-scale businesses. However, many have neither the skill nor the technical know-how for value addition or scalability,” Hichilema said.
He said while government policy should meet the youth and facilitate knowledge and skills transfer, instead it was mainly foreign NGOs who were occupying the space as government had abdicated its responsibility.
“Government policies should now pivot and reflect a drive towards youth engagement. The future of Zambia depends on tapping into this infinite pool of talent. Let us be the generation that turned the tide and tackled youth unemployment face on,” said Hichilema.