My advice to our young graduates, sell chapattis

Why shouldn't our young graduates earn a living making rolex, a popular Ugandan street food?

Why shouldn’t our young graduates earn a living making rolex, a popular Ugandan street food?

“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.

Small businesses, like this stand, keeps an economy ticking over. They shouldn't be underlooked

Small businesses, like this stand, keeps an economy ticking over. They shouldn’t be overlooked

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.


One thought on “My advice to our young graduates, sell chapattis

  1. The snooty one says:

    It’s amazing how you can spend 3 hours talking to someone and not hear one thing they have to say.
    I’m reading this wondering what the 3 hours I spent talking to you were for, since you’d clearly already decided what kind of person I was.

    I have never thought and will never think I’m too good for any job. I’ve never had the privilege to do that, being from a working-class family that has always struggled to make ends meet.
    I’m laughing at the thought of me being “too fancy” to work menial jobs, when that’s all I did for years. I waitressed, washed dishes, and cleaned up after people (sometimes working 15-hour days) all through college and even after graduation.
    And when I came back home, I did actually get a job (I mentioned this in our convo), which I worked at for a couple of years.
    Crazily enough, I have dreams and goals, and so after saving up, I quit to try and get my foot in the door of a field I’m interested in. I don’t see what’s so bad about trying to find a job you like. Not a cushy job, which isn’t something I’ve ever even dreamed of. Just a job I like.
    And, no I am still not too good to do whatever job I can get if my plan doesn’t work. I think all jobs are important and as long as I can make a living, I’m good.
    You would have known all this of course, if you’d just asked. (I actually did mention a lot of the above, but apparently you weren’t listening)
    But as you condescendingly and dismissively told me several times, you think all Rwandan youth are just lazy and entitled, so why would you bother asking me anything, when you could just refer to your preconceived notions and write an entire blog post about it?

    Maybe try being a little less self-righteous, and a bit more open-minded, and exercise the listening skills you’re supposed to possess as a journalist.
    There’s always something to learn when you listen to others, including those younger than you.

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