5,000 jobs advertised, 500,000 apply: Africa's unemployment crisis only getting worse

From Kenya, Nigeria, Tunisia, Zimbabwe, Ghana, to Malawi it's so difficult, pilots who trained in top schools are lucky to get jobs as bus drivers.

SOUTH Africa’s unemployment rate did something that is not happening elsewhere on the continent - it decreased unexpectedly in the three months ended June, figures from Statistics South Africa showed Wednesday.

The unemployment rate fell to 25.0% in the second quarter from 26.4 percent in the preceding quarter. Economists had expected the jobless rate to increase slightly to 26.5%. 

However, while the number of unemployed people decreased to 5.23 million in the June quarter from 5.53 million in the March quarter, that was still too many millions of people unemployed.

And  elsewhere in Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Tunisia, or Kenya it is probably the worse time ever to be looking for work in Africa.

When Kenya’s judiciary recently advertised to fill 1,000 vacant positions, they became overwhelmed when about 80,000 applications flooded in. 

According to local reports, after sorting through the 80,000 applications, the Judiciary found that 41,452 were from Kenyans interested in clerical jobs, with many of those university degree holders yet the requirement was for lower academic qualifications.

Aside from the dramatic xenophobic attacks in South Africa, in which at least seven people died and thousands more fled the country, and huge migration numbers from Africa to Europe, this is yet another symptom of the continent’s worrying unemployment problem.

In Kenya, this desperate scramble by thousands of applicants for a handful of vacancies is just one of several recent events. In April when 800 nurses in Mombasa country started a strike, the County health Chief, Khadija Shikelly, revealed that advertisements for 52 nursing vacancies brought in over 500 applications and that was just after it had been posted. 

Also, earlier in July when the Kenya Ports Authority put out a notice seeking to replace 28 employees fired for taking part in a strike, more than 3,000 job seekers turned up. This was a similar story for a private security firm in the country, G4S, when 8,000  turned up for recruitment of 150 guards despite the fact that the posts had been circulated internally. 

With Kenya’s youth unemployment rate standing at 67%, this isn’t surprising - nor is it unique. Over 10 million young Africans join the labour market every year and with the combined challenges of low job creation, poor skill matches and poor skill development, these stories are set to become increasingly commonplace.

In Tunisia in 2011 for example, when the government announced a vacancy for 3,465 new teaching positions, the ministry received more than 330,000 job applications. 


One of the most shocking incidents however took place in 2014 when at least 16 people died in stampedes when half a million people applied for fewer than 5,000 Nigerian government jobs. 

The Education Rights Campaign blamed placed the blame on the government for inviting more applicants than the interview centres could accommodate. This at a time when between 1.2 and 2.2 million young Nigerians join the labour force every year and the government placing the unemployment rate at a controversially low figure of 7.5%. 

For many, the desperation of applicants is palpable with many selling themselves short of their abilities. Also in Nigeria, hundreds of qualified and licensed Nigerian commercial pilots having spent millions of Naira on training at home and abroad, are taking up “lowly jobs as bus drivers, estate agents and office assistants”. 

In Ghana, the manager of a job website-cum-recruitment agency described his experience of this when he noted “a trend [that] began to emerge. More and more graduates started applying for lesser jobs. At the same time, the number of vacancies per week began to decrease with decreasing salaries.” 

His rude awakening came when he was screening CVs for an administrative assistant job and the educational qualification was High School. The salary was Gh¢350 ($100) per month. The CV that he was screening was that of a good friend of his that he made while they did their undergraduate studies at University of Ghana, Legon - Ghana’s most prestigious university. 

Exporting workers

In some countries the situation is so dire that the government is turning to exporting their workers. 

In 2013 for example, then President of Malawi, Joyce Banda, introduced a new strategy to combat unemployment with plans to send up to 100,000 migrant workers, aged between 19 and 40 years, to South Korea, Dubai and Kuwait. 

Critics were concerned that President Banda’s plans would equate “modern-day slavery”. However, according to experts at the time, up to 200,000 youths were entering the job market in Malawi that year and with only 40,000 new jobs created they were clutching at straws, 

In Zimbabwe meanwhile, the government is packaging its unemployment exports as “brain circulation”. In June the country’s Higher and Tertiary Education deputy minister Godfrey Gandawa said his ministry had signed agreements with several countries for labour exportation which, ostensibly for fear it might be perceived as a continuation of the brain drain, is being officially referred to as “brain circulation”. The minister claimed that the government is drawing up a database of unemployed graduates dating to as far back as 1980 with a view to sending them to neighbouring countries such as Botswana and Angola. 

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