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What The Educated Youth Unemployment Epidemic Looks Like In Rwanda

Life in Kigali
Life in Kigali
Venant Nshimyumurwa

KIGALI – Every year, about 500 to 750 graduates from universities and higher education institutes are dumped onto Rwanda's saturated job market. Without a position to match their qualifications, many settle for low-paid jobs while others resort to scams or even prostitution to survive.

Twenty-five year old Yvonne has a bachelor’s degree in sociology but works as a waitress in a bar in Remera, a Kigali neighborhood. She makes $65 a month. Like many other young people, she is facing major economic and personal difficulties.

“Before coming here, I looked for a job that matched my education, to no avail. Favoritism undermines the job market,” she says. “We take the recruitment tests as a formality, but they already know who they are going to hire.”

Many unemployed graduates open small shops. In Kigali’s Nyabugogo market, 27-year-old Pascal sells clothes, although he’d much rather be doing something else. “It isn’t profitable,” he says. “Taxes are high, clients are rare, but I can’t afford to do anything else.”

Thirteen young dynamic graduates grouped together to create an association called Tujyimbere (Let’s Go Forward), which promotes the development of information and communication technologies in the Northern province. “We’re highly motivated, but the banks are impeding us. To sign our loan, they are asking for collateral that we don’t have,” says Alphonse Habimana, president of the association.

The “new crooks”

Some unemployed graduates are so discouraged that they resort to making a living through dishonest means. A common scam, say the police, is pretending to be a public official or a tax collector; others print fake bank notes or official documents.

These “new crooks” are often university graduates who use new technologies for their misdeeds. “Not long ago, a young 28-year-old IT specialist managed to recharge his phone credit for five months without paying,” recounts a Kigali resident.

New forms of fraud are also developing within social groups that used to be above suspicion. “A young, well-dressed girl covered with jewelry approached me in Nyamirambo (a Kigali neighborhood) and told me, in good French, that her cell phone battery had died and that she had to send an important message to a colleague at a bank. She borrowed my phone, hopped onto a motorbike taxi and disappeared,” says Immaculée, a shopkeeper.

Unemployed girls in Kigali also turn to another type of business: on weekends they take the bus for Kampala, in neighboring Uganda, for prostitution. They can make more than $200 in a weekend.

Beware empty stomachs!

To lower unemployment rates, which were estimated at 30% in 2008, the government promised to create 200,000 jobs per year. “We will reinforce young people’s abilities through professional training and lower the unemployment rate to 5%,” said Prime Minister Pierre Damien Habumuremyi when he presented his government’s plan last November.

At the Health Ministry, officials have already received 1,836 applications for only 60 spots at a temporary two-month job organizing archives at the ministry. "And all the applicants have a bachelor’s degree,” says a ministry employee, as 30 new applicants jostle outside to submit their applications before the deadline.

One month earlier, the Rwandan National Statistics Institute had to organize a written test on the bleachers of the Amahoro national stadium in Kigali to recruit codification and data management employees for the general census. There were so many candidates, most of whom were newly graduated, that no single room could contain them.

Many are worried the youth unemployment situation is a ticking time bomb. “Most young people are at loose ends. Even if they don’t make themselves heard, they are very unhappy about the perspective of a bleak future," said one young graduate, who has been unemployed for the past five years. "Be wary of those whose stomachs are empty.”

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