After his Form 4 examination, Jackson Sospeter was given two choices by his parents –to either go into business or further his studies. Although he had good scores that could enable him further his education, Jackson opted to go into one of the seemingly lucrative informal businesses in Tanzania –driving a bodaboda [commercial motorcycle].

“I decided to start driving bodaboda because it is very profitable,” the 25-year-old said at the bus park in front of St Augustine University at Mwanza. Most of his passengers are students and staff of the university. On a daily basis, he makes an average of TSH30,000 when the school is in session but between TSH10-20,000 when the students are on vacation.

Jackson comes from an impoverished family, and his parents cannot afford to gamble thousands of shillings on education without concrete assurance that he would be gainfully employed at the end of his studies. For Jackson and his parents, going into business after his secondary education is a safer bet in securing his future. The money he used to buy his bodaboda was contributions from his relatives.

Like Jackson, millions of Tanzanian youth are faced with the choice of schooling or going into business as a result of the unemployment scourge. For those who complete their studies at the university or vocational colleges, in the absence of jobs, they go straight into business.

Survival of the fittest

Straight out of campus, finding the first job and starting a career has always been a complicated process. But each year, it is proving to become harder for young people.

According to the ILO report of (2010-2014), the joblessness rate among people of ages 15-24 in Tanzania is 6.5 percent. Critics and employers say at the base of youth unemployment in Tanzania is a mismatch between teaching in the institutions of learning and the needs of the labour market. Youths’ attitude towards work as well as a lack of practical techniques, especially soft skills associated with their professions, was also cited.

A 2015 Peace Child International report states that globally, there are millions of young people out of school who are ready to work but lack the relevant skills businesses need. In Tanzania, mismatched skills have caused many graduates to experience a difficult school-to-work transition and inability to secure their first job.

In 2014, a survey released by the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA), revealed that despite the improvement in university enrolment in Tanzania, 61 percent of graduates lack employability skills, technical mastery, and necessary work-related capabilities.

“Employers said most graduates lacked self-confidence, could not express themselves properly and lacked the technical mastery required in the jobs they are seeking,” the IUCEA report reads in part.

Consequently, employers are shunning new graduates for highly skilled personnel. While young people may have excellent academic qualifications on paper, employers demand people with experience for most jobs. As a result, there is increasingly a near-absence of entry level jobs for fresh graduates.

But a few lucky ones seem to have figured out how to catch the attention of employers in the labour market quickly.

Mathias Athanas could be considered one of them. His first ‘real-time’ job came as a referral from one of his lecturers at the university when he was in his final year. Simultaneously, his university requested for his CV for possible appointment.

“I was lucky. Nowadays, it is tough to get such opportunity,” says the 28-year-old graduate of Public Relations and Marketing.

What did he do differently? Mathias says his active participation in school curricular activities helped him to get a head-start in the job market. As an undergrad, Mathias was the Secretary General, and Public Relations Officer of a student association at St Augustine University called Southern Students Public Relations Association [SSPRA].

“I sometimes travel to represent the university. That was how the university management knew me. I also did some voluntary and mandated internship while in school.”

Fault in the education system?

From kindergarten to Standard 7, Swahili is the medium of instruction in schools. Students start practising English and French languages at the secondary school level. Teaching and policy experts say this affects the confidence level and quality of graduates produced in the country, especially in competition with their counterparts in the international market.

Development Policy Analyst and lecturer at St Augustine University, Dotto Bulendu, says most Tanzanian youth only get to practice foreign language at school. “When they get home, they speak their local language. At schools, during private studies, the discussion is in Swahili. It, therefore, becomes hard to speak a foreign language.”

Bulendu says this has caused many youths to miss international opportunities. “Many of them [youth] suffer from inferiority complex. They lack the confidence to compete internationally even though they are technically sound.”

Another weakness identified by Bulendu is that most Tanzanian graduates have limited international exposure. “They think locally not internationally. They mostly don’t look for international opportunities,” Bulendu explained. “You may find someone with Masters Degree, but he or she doesn’t know what is happening in the international community. They have nice and handsome GPs, but when it comes to networking, they don’t have it.”

There is also the issue of near absence of vocational training colleges and the quality of education in these institutions. According to a 2016 World Bank report on skill use and deficit in formal sector enterprises in Tanzania, “while firms with a higher share of tertiary-educated workers are more productive, there was no such impact from those with only secondary and technical vocational education and training.” The same study revealed that the quality of Tanzania’s education and training has hampered on innovation and growth in the country.

Martha Emanuel Matwu waits earnestly for the government to announce job vacancies. Photo Credit -Oluwabusayo Sotunde (1)
Martha Emanuel Matwu waits earnestly for the government to announce job vacancies. Photo credit: Oluwabusayo Sotunde

Where are the jobs?    

Tanzania, a predominantly rural economy is hoping to achieve a middle-income status by 2025. In the past 5 years, its annual GDP growth rate averaged 7 percent, surpassing Sub-Saharan Africa average GDP growth rate of 4.4 percent during the same period.

Despite relatively high economic growth in Tanzania as well as partner states of the East Africa Commission (EAC), youth unemployment remains a great socio-economic concern. According to official data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in 2014, the economy created 282,382 formal-sector jobs while an estimated 800,000 to one million youth entered the labour market at the same time.

Most graduates like 22-year-old Martha Emanuel Matwu who recently graduated from Bukundi Medical College, Mwanza, earnestly wait for the government to announce job vacancies. In the mean time, they engage in whatever job comes their way.

Originally from Bongo [brain] land (Dar es Salaam), where the smart ones go to “make it”, Martha moved to a rural island in Mwanza to work as a Finance and store keeper.

“I am doing this work while I wait for job advertisement that pertains to what I read in school. Once an opportunity is advertised by the government, I will leave this job,” she says.

A recent study published by Aga Khan University titled “The Tanzania Youth Survey Report” revealed that 60 percent of Tanzanian youths believe that it doesn’t matter how a person makes money, as long as they don’t end up behind bars. Significantly, the report revealed that about 54 percent of youth aged between 31 and 35 are in self-employment.

Tanzania’s unemployment bulge has been blamed on past economic reforms in the country, especially the Structural Adjustment Programmes [SAP] that was adopted in the 1980s. From that time onward, the country has struggled to maintain its economic foothold. Subsequent policies have not been able to stop the collapse of major flourishing industries, especially the manufacturing and textile industry.

Today, the major employer is the government but it cannot employ everyone. The private sectors in Tanzania are weak. Many of those who work in the private sector do so without a formal contract. This means there is no job security, even for some of those who have been employed. There have also been incidents of people working in factories without contracts. When they sustain bodily injuries, they are kicked out with no compensation. What’s more, there are lots of underpaid workers.

To cushion the effect of unemployment, one of the things the government did was to establish a public employment service agency called Tanzania Employment Service Agency [TaESA] –an executive agency under the Ministry of Labour and Employment that provides job placement, vocational guidance, and job counselling training.

Principal Labour Officer at Tanzania Employment Service Agency [TaESA] for the Lake Zone region, Samwel WemaAmi said the services are necessary because of the weaknesses encountered. “Most young people are not confident, especially during an interview. When we refer them, the employers reject them because of ‘language problem’ and confidence.”

TaESA has 474 employers in its book. To date, it has registered 2,233 youths. Of this number, only 1,206 have been counselled. Of those counselled, 1,045 youths were referred to employers for employment and only 223 youths have been employed from the program within the Lake Zone region.

The Entrepreneurial Mind    

As the painful reality begin to set in that investments and sacrifices poured into hours of attending lectures and reading has left them without gainful employment, an increasing number of youths are starting their own business.

Khadija Liganga says heavy tax burden scares youth from doing business in Tanzania. Photo Credit -Oluwabusayo Sotunde
Khadija Liganga says heavy tax burden scares youth from doing business in-Tanzania. Photo credit: Oluwabusayo Sotunde

While the choice is somewhat limited as a result of capital, most youths in Tanzania are deep into free business, including selling of mitumba [second-hand clothes].

Stephen Damien, a graduate of Computer Science from Dar es Salaam University sells mitumba short knickers, jeans and kid clothing at Illagomojia Market in Mwanza. To beat unemployment in its game, Stephen started selling mitumba while he was still a student at the university. After graduation, he went directly into the business and ever since, he hasn’t done anything relating to his course of study.

“I decided to stay on in this business because of the shortage of job opportunities in Tanzania,” he says.

Apart from mitumba, educated youths are engaged in the cultivation of vegetable and fruits. Most of them have [or lease] land in rural areas where they cultivate their crops which are later sold in the city at stalls and supermarkets.

However, as much as these young people are going into business, many complain that they do not get enough support from the locals as many Tanzanians prefer to buy imported goods.

Sometimes, there is the conflict between the government [police] and youths that are small business owners because they [youths] want to do the business informally. They don’t want to pay tax from the little capital they have.

Speaking from experience at her shop in Malimbe, outside the city center of Mwanza, Khadija Liganga, the founder of Dida Vitenge Wear, says, when she left her regular job, many of her friends believed she made a wrong choice. “In Tanzania, most people don’t see this [tailoring] job as something you can do and prosper. They don’t expect a degree holder to do this kind of business. Some of my colleagues say I wouldn’t go far.”

“The challenge for small entrepreneurs is that before you open a business, you need to pay tax and the amount of tax depends on the nature of the firm you want to start. As a garment workshop, we pay TSH360, 000 on a quarterly basis. This scares most young people from starting their own business because this amounts to paying taxes before starting a business. As a result, they do not formalize their business. And that is why you don’t find many people going into banks to open a bank account in the name of their business talk less of going to the bank to get a loan in the name of their business.”

For small business owners like Khadija, starting a business formally [the legal way] is tough and expensive. Before starting a business, business owners are expected by law, to pay some money [tax] to the Tanzania Revenue Authority [TRA], pay for the public license and also make a yearly payment to the city council [yearly]. The location of the business determines what to pay as tax as business owners are charged 10 percent of what they pay as shop rent. As a result, many small businesses are operating without the formal approval of the government, and this hinders them from getting the necessary support to help their business.

“If you don’t pay, they will lock up your shop, and before they remove the padlock, you have to pay a fine,” Khadija says.

How can things be made better?  Khadija says the government needs to cut startups some slack. They need to lower tax rates for small business owners.

“You know in Tanzania when a foreigner comes and want to establish a big business; they give him/her sometime before paying tax. It should be the same for locals and small business owners too.”

Closing the Gap

How can Tanzania solve the problem of unemployment when agriculture, fishing, and mining are mainly for domestic purposes?

Dotto says there is need to formalise the informal sectors so that they can provide the much-needed employment. “Tanzania doesn’t export fishes formally. But many fishes from Tanzania are taken by road to neighboring countries like Kenya where it is professionally packed and consumed.”

Hassan Mrope, a young media relations officer at Dida Vitenge Wear, wants entrepreneurship to be taught in schools, right from the primary level.

“Everybody should learn how to be an entrepreneur, not that everybody will be an entrepreneur. But everyone should have an entrepreneurial mind so that when they are not employed, they can start their own business.”

Executive Director of Education for Better Living Organisation (EBLI), Bernard Makachia, posits that there is need to examine if the school curriculum is responsive to the needs of the job market.

“I will also encourage young people to go into agriculture business. I need a doctor once in a while. I need a lawyer probably once in my lifetime, but I need a farmer three times a day,” he added.

For Khadija who has seen it ‘all’ regarding working in the formal and informal sector, she says, “We need to give youth a chance to solve the problem.”

This story was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation’s African Great Lakes Initiative.

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