“Sell chapattis”. That is advice that no varsity graduate wants to hear soon after being awarded, say, a first class degree in political science. But perhaps they should.
Not because they don’t deserve swanky jobs in air-conditioned offices but rather because if they wait for such jobs they will join the thousands of young people whose days are spent reading the job announcements in local dailies, Invaho Nshya and The New Times, and submitting their CV’s to as many front desks as possible.
Rwanda’s national unemployment rate of 3.4% is statistically low. However, I can bet my right arm that it rises exponentially when only recent university graduates are concerned.
To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if it went up to between 20-40% for those who graduated between 2010 and 2014.
The talk now is guhanga imirimo (self-employment/ job creation). That is well and good. But, in my opinion, unless there is a dramatic shift in people’s perceptions of what ‘work’ and ‘employment’ is, the jobless figures will not decrease.
Last month, I had a chat with a 27-year-old Rwandan lady about education in the country. And as is wont to happen when having a three-hour long conversation about education, we soon started talking about life after university and the existing job market.
After graduating from a liberal arts college in the United States, the lady returned home and started looking around for a job. The problem was, nothing in the existing job market piqued her interest that much and she refused to take a job she wasn’t passionate about.
I found that ridiculous and I told her so.
I couldn’t understand why someone would prefer to make no money instead of a little money. Was it because they too fancy to get their hands dirty? Was it because their parents simply coddled them and told them to wait for the ‘right’ opportunity?
The entire conversation left me bemused.
After taking a week or so thinking about the issue I’ve come to the conclusion that we, Rwandans, have a weird mentality when it comes to work, especially so-called menial labour. I find this attitude hilarious because menial labour is the basis of our economy. The way we downgrade it you’d think that we were a superpower.
Interestingly enough, such snootiness isn’t found in countries that really are superpowers.
Working as bartenders and restaurant staff is a rite of passage for most university graduates in the West (especially in the US and Canada). Mowing lawns and washing cars is a summer job for most high school children and delivering newspapers, as I did, is a job that many primary pupils do before or after school. Working with your hands is celebrated there.
Sweat isn’t something to be avoided at all costs; rather it is something that proves that you have honestly earned your bread.
I’m not saying that things here are as bad as they once were; in fact young people currently in university are at the forefront of the change. These days’ part-time students man the nicer cafés and restaurants in Kigali and other major towns in the country.
These students, who need to pay rent, food and other costs, are doing whatever they must. In fact, I know of one security guard at the College of Education- University of Rwanda (former KIE) who, after working all night, joins his colleagues in class in the morning. In a year, he’ll graduate with a degree from the Faculty of Humanities, Language and Education.
Now, if only those who had graduated had such bloody-mindedness. If only they approached the job market with one thought in mind, “I must pay my bills, no matter what”.
I wish that instead of depositing their CV’s and then sitting at home all day, they bought some flour, cooking oil and started making chapattis to sell. Or better yet, joined the teaching profession in rural areas.
I’m not suggesting that selling boiled eggs is the solution to our employment issue, what I’m saying is that our attitude to certain jobs has to change. If you have to mop floors, mop them.
If you have to create apps, create them. If you have to return to the village and work on the farm, use your education to increase productivity. For at the end of the day, no matter where the banknotes come from, they are all legal tender.