By Seltue Karweaaye
According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Liberia has a population of 4.5 million people, and 64 percent of the population lives in poverty. More than 60 percent of the population is under 25. One depressing reality in virtually every Liberian family is the sight of adults in their late 20s, and 30s who left school years ago, but have been unable to secure gainful employment.
Thus, at an age when they are supposed to be productive and integral parts of our economy, building the fabrics of our social life by settling down to raise families, and supporting their parents in their old age materially and emotionally, millions of them are still at home – with parents, relatives or simply roughing it out with more fortunate friends who have managed to find something to do.
To put the situation in context, Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh was 28 when he earned his doctorate and served as Budget Advisor to Liberian President William R. Tolbert. The late President Samuel Doe became Head of State of Liberia at the age of 29. Most of the soldiers who participated in the coup that overthrew President Tolbert were in their 20s and 30s….the examples are endless.
While recognizing the special circumstances under which these individuals operated, the fact is that they were in charge of the government, making and implementing public policy decisions affecting the lives of millions while in their 20s and 30s. That many Liberians still yearned for the good old days means that the earlier generations were largely successful and managed to keep Liberia united despite civil unrest, military coups, and very difficult periods in our history.
By contrast, many young men and women in Liberia today of the same age are still waiting to graduate, have graduated but cannot find jobs, have found jobs, but lost them to government economic mismanagement, have never left home, or are squatting somewhere with no end in sight. Many of the few who have found jobs cannot afford accommodation.
It is a sad truth too that many Liberians in their 20s and 30s have never experienced the joy and privacy associated with having a room to themselves, much less a tiny apartment. How can we get the best of them? How can we actualize the true potential of a 30-year old who still has to share rooms with siblings and other relatives? Personally, I have two nephews, holders of bachelors’ degrees at home, waiting for their very first job. What can their parents do?
This gross waste of our human resources potential – which should be one of our greatest assets – has grave social and economic consequences that the government glosses over or simply chooses to ignore. But this is one problem it cannot disregard.
To continue to waste the lives of our young people this way is not only criminal, but ignores the impact on the psyche and quality of leaders of the future: Why should our young men not be angry, when several years after graduation and already in their 30s, they still have to ask their parents for money to pay for meat pie or a haircut? Why should our young women not be irritated when despite graduating with good grades, they remain unemployed or unmarried simply because the basic ingredients for settling down – a job and a home are not only unobtainable but far from reach?
It was with shock that I read the reported revelation from one company, that in response to the company’s adverts for drivers, about seven bachelor holders and fifty high school graduates were among the 100 that applied for the available 10 openings.
Is President George Weah aware of the social and economic costs of wasting the potentials of hundreds of thousands of youths? Does he have a plan to tackle unemployment? What happened to the promises of “This is your government” and all the ‘Pro-poor or transformation’ hype he made? Is it sensible to fritter millions on his friends and cronies in government when Liberia has about 4 million people who are willing and able to work but about 77% of them cannot find productive, full-time, and paying jobs or what to manage?
It is a shocking fact that only about a few hundred thousands have sustainable and regular jobs, out of a population of about 4.5 millions. This simple statistic causes the country a loss of hundreds of millions annually from the absence of commercial activities that ordinarily should have taken place but did not. The social cost is unquantifiable but has short and long-term effects that sociologists have to study. What cannot be denied is that the situation is doing severe harm to the creativity and productivity of millions of Liberians between the ages of 21 and 30 years – the future leaders of our country, and nearly half of its population.
It is sad that when the performance of the Weah’s administration is mentioned, rather than objective analyses of the situation devoid of the usual connotations, a few Liberian youths, and adults, who perhaps by virtue of their proximity to power benefit from the mindless looting of the nation’s treasury, distorts the discussion and sing baseless commendations.
But when all the praises have been sung, the hard facts still stare back at us: millions of our unemployed daughters, sons, brothers, and sisters – including those entering the workforce for the first time and others who have lost their jobs due to the incompetent management of our economy will scan the pages of newspapers and websites for job advertisements. But like the situation at the company that advertised jobs reflects, thousands of youths will chase every available vacancy. And as we know, it is those connected rather than those best qualified that will end up filling most vacancies when they are available.
Congratulations to our graduates!
About the Author: Karweaye is a Liberian residing in the United States of America and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org