By Jones Nhinson Williams
As the United States celebrated its July 4th (Independence Day) yesterday, the U.S. Ambassador to Liberia, Christine Elder, told Liberians and Africans that: “Successful economies in Africa have mastered a balancing act that creates a combination of laws and incentives that deepen the relationship with the companies that are cornerstones of their economies and attract new businesses, while providing governments much-needed revenues and creating domestic jobs.”
The Daily Observer in Liberia also wrote that “She (Ambassador Elder) said while aboard a flight in recent time, she looked at her passport and thought how lucky she was to possess it and to have the privilege of standing before Liberians to represent her country.”
One will hope Africans and African leaders will listen to what the esteemed U.S. Ambassador said.
Governments in Africa need to prioritize job creation, workforce development as well as industry and occupational innovation. No country strategically moves forward without jobs, labor factors, industries, and of course, without private sector businesses as well as without a clearly defined workforce development plan and strategy.
The idea of putting people in African governments even when they cannot offer their countries any meaningful thing is wrong and will always take African countries down. Government is not the place to create jobs, neither is it the place for the attainment of wealth, and the proving of ‘friendships’. It is a sector for people who want to effect change and give back to their countries and communities in a meaningful way.
Lawmakers in Africa should worry more about jobs and how to put their constituents to work rather than anything else, including their own self-interest, income, and benefits. African bureaucrats should do the same.
Every morning when I enter my office after a long morning ride on the Amtrak, I am always alert because somehow I know I should, or be prepared to respond to a question from either a federal or state lawmaker, policymaker or bureaucrat about the state of the labor market–about jobs, businesses, occupations, wages/income, the labor force, the employed and the unemployed. And about industries – the growing and declining ones.
A nation becomes better and great when it puts its citizens to work. When people have jobs their country, their communities and families become the prime beneficiaries. They can afford a decent living, have their homes running well, their kids can have access to education and healthcare, and more. When citizens have jobs the government benefits because there is a direct security link to employment; revenue generation is linked to employment, and development is also linked to employment.
When people have jobs their retirement future is largely assured, and the future of their children is also set on the right path.
One of the shortcomings of the lack of jobs in most African nations is due to the lack of innovation and the non-prioritization of the private sector. Other factors include corruption, greed, and sheer stupidity. One such sheer stupidity is the belief that government employment is the answer to job creation in Africa. That putting hundreds of people–party supporters, political campaign agents, friends, loyalists and others–in government jobs with a heavy bearing on the national budget means all is well. No, it is wrong and it affects a country bottom line.
Another setback is the fact that labor ministries in most African nations are treated as union offices or courtrooms where labor disputes are adjudicated. Labor ministries are not courtrooms or justice ministries, they are policy hubs intended for labor policies and regulations. Their prime objectives are to move a country forward in terms of employment and labor market balance.
As such, the key function of labor ministries is to put unemployed people to work, train job seekers; advocate for workers’ future and their rights such as better wages, better working conditions, better retirement etc.; liaise with businesses and ensure employers’ rights; advocate for businesses so that they can create more jobs and boost the economy, and more. It also includes looking at the labor market, in general, to determine how industries and occupations are changing and preparing the workforce for the future.
In developed nations such as the United States, Canada, and the UK, labor ministries are proactive agencies because everything that moves starts and ends with the labor market. The interest rate on bonds, credits, and all other financial instruments depend on jobs. The housing market depends on jobs. Wall Street’s and other financial services’ projections and trading depend on jobs. Federal, state and countries budgets depend on jobs, businesses and the private sector. Overall, an economy, no matter which one, depends on the labor market and all the factors associated with it. Even the security and sovereignty of a nation, any nation, depend on its ability and capacity to put its citizens to work so that they earn better wages and improve their living standards.
Until African countries can begin to prioritize private sector job creation, workforce development, industry and occupational innovation and more, younger Africans will continue to risk their lives to cross the desert in North Africa on their way to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea.
Until African governments begin to prioritize putting their citizens to work and investing in the private sector, they will continue to have deficits, internal insecurity and chaos. Until African governments begin to invest in workforce development, their citizens will not be able to meet the needs of the modern labor market, and will, therefore, be unable to compete in the global labor market. Until African governments prioritize private sector investment and jobs creation, their countries will continue to rely on foreign aid, and instructions from the international community and Western nations.
China, India, Singapore, South Korea, the Philippines, and others, once developing countries, are self-sufficient and do not rely on foreign aid because they have and continue to do the right things.
Today, most of the physicians, nurses, engineers and information technology experts in most developed nations are from India, China, Singapore, and South Korea etc. The proof is, the CEOs of Google, Microsoft and other big global tech companies in the United States and in most developed nations are all Indians even though they attended schools in India. African presidents, ministers, lawmakers, and others frequently travel to India for medical and related check-ups.
The reason is simple: India invested and continues to invest in workforce development, especially in occupations that relate to the knowledge-based economy as well as in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Africa must do the same for its people, and for its own security and future. This is a must!
Jones Nhinson Williams is State Administrator of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Programs for the State of Maryland. He was Maryland State Government Labor Market Information Manager during the recent global recession from 2008 – 2010.