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Saturday, 15 October 2011

Readers Weekly : A Mandatory National Youth Service?

The Government recently suggested that it was considering making national service training for youths mandatory. According to Defence Minister GBM, “National service can also be used as skills centres and hopefully this will turn round the situation of high levels of unemployment among the youth in the country". The President in his speech to Parliament also hinted that this may the solution to tackling youth employment. Stopping short of endorsing a mandatory scheme, he announced that "the PF government will among other things enhance the capacity of the Zambian national service by transforming it into the Zambia Youth Training Service, so that the various camps throughout the country are turned into non-military skills training centres". Some have called it “a well thought proposal” which would address the youths “who are languishing on the streets”.

To delve deeper into this issue, we asked our readers via our Facebook ,  website and email, whether the Government is right to consider a mandatory National Youth Service. We had some of the most illuminating responses to date (including alternative detailed models). The following is but a small glimpse of the most interesting “properly identified" responses :

Lighton Phiri :
Brilliant idea! An educated guess! It sure beats the idea of having school leavers wait for at least a year before they can get into versity of college. Not quite sure if things have changed, but i graduated in December 2001 and had to wait until 2003 to get into university. I was fortunate enough to get a job six months after finishing, but the majority of my peers succumbed to alcohol, marijuana and other elicit activities in the process. I should mention here that a number of them died as a result. I know of A-level programmes that were introduced many years ago, but i doubt they have yielded any tangible benefits.
Mwiya Musokotwane :
Loads of countries have mandatory military training, but I don't think its practical. It would in no way solve the issue of unemployment. National service is a short term solution. Sure kids would have a couple months of military training and learn new skills, but then after they would simply face unemployment yet again. So yes its a good distraction from delinquency- but not a solution to unemployment. So should it be optional? I don't see any reason why not. Should it be mandatory? No. The unemployment problem can only be solved by encouraging entrepreneurship. What Zambia needs is more enterprising people starting quality businesses. And some of Zambia's already existing large businesses need to be more aggressive than they currently are. Fix Zambia's enterprise problems and you'll fix the unemployment problem.
Kay Love :
No, I do not agree that Zambia should introduce Mandatory National Service for the youths because mandatory is force. Considering force which is a mass per unit area, I strongly think that just a mere National Service would be very beneficial if the youths join with their consent because force is another form of violence. Yes, [the benefits of] national service can outweigh the costs. Moreover, that will create jobs, encourage the youths to participate in the disciplining of their well being as well as preparing them to be involved in political system of our country. It will be beneficial because youths will become independent. This terminates the burden away from parents who have larger families to support. The [best] way [is] to let youths to make up their choices and that is having freedom and democracy...
Mweemba Mwiinde :
National Service will not in any way solve the Youth Employment problem. On its own, it's a cost without any guarantee of any returns on the money to be invested. The government should instead make that money available for entrepreneurship. As it is, we have youths running very profitable ventures but they unfortunately cannot access funds to increase their capital. If these businesses minded youths are allowed to grow they will become employers. We shouldn't go back to those dark years of National Service. Much as we love the PF, we cannot just blindly agree on anything they propose.
Nchindika Nankolongo :
This is a great idea. Projects and businesses are not about how much you have as capital, it’s about having ideas on how to grow the little money you have. Most people have pointed out the advantages: discipline, skills being developed etc. This will combat the high levels of unemployment because those skills can be used for starting a self-business, that’s employment. Talking of costs, while the skills taught vary [to include] farming, tailoring, sports, carpentry and plumbing, end-products should be sold to the markets at large. I bet that will give the national service an income to survive on. The service can be self-financed. All they have to do is look for people with the right skills to tutor and section the youths into departments of their interest. It’s a very possible and good project for the youth and nation at large in that the youth gain their skills at a nil cost and the nation won't have to depend on imports.
Izai-zai Yikona :
National service is a good idea. Mandatory for a period. Those days it was 18 months. The people I know who went to national service in the seventies are very switched on individuals…It promotes self-discipline and focus, and though someone may say it does not solve the problem of unemployment, I'd say not completely, but it fills our streets with more disciplined and more skilful youth who though un-employed can do something private and beneficial (for themselves and society) with their skills, like fix a car or make and mend furniture, as opposed to having absolutely no skill at all, which leaves only the option of illegal and often destructive activity. In these centres there can be industry and agricultural production as well, which could create revenue to make these institutions either self-sustaining or profitable to the sponsor (government). Just as it is true that opportunities are scarce, it is also true that there are many who are lazy and complacent and have become used to getting away with it, just waiting for someone else to do it so that they can beg, crying about how hard it is. The benefits of having national service (done properly) beat by far the current condition, and would go a long way also in correcting the mentality towards contributing towards the collective. This is what I think.
Chilumba Ngosa :
My proposal to this effect will be to establish a Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) particularly to sit either under Ministry of Commerce or more importantly under Education. Zambia has not fully tapped into this and there could be a lot of talented young boys and girls out there who have great talent but not been recognised. JETS at one point had a sense of direction but because of no political will to fund R&D, it seems to have died a natural death. Once this is established, a well thought through plan can be ascertained and every element to do with youth development will be properly streamlined as opposed to mumble jumbled up type of approach. We have already existing rewarding models like Don Bosco project, so this is something that can easily be amplified at National level, especially that Decentralisation will be implemented soon at sub district levels. Decentralisation will help provide alot of answers to some of these long pending problems.
K Musanga :
National Service is a good move and should for citizens who have the fitness, health, and also willing to do so. The High school recruitment [is a] good target because many young people are seeking a direction and vision for their lives. Basic military training would be useful but engage also in emergency, disaster and business skill. The skill learned in ZNS was what many people in my father's generation ended up using such skills for career advancement and development Increase open recruitment and offer more incentives such as tuition assistance, skills training, especially in vocational related field. Engage the youths in national development, community projects and infrastructure. Do I support increased ZNC? Yes…but may be optional but not mandatory. Ages 18-30 may be a good age to promote and encourage youths in within this category but offer the cons and pros to the candidates before they sign on.


  1. These are just my views on the national service matter.
    The first thing govt has to do is create demand for employment , create an environment that encourages entrepreneurship, investment by local and credible international investors so they can set up firms in the country which will require people with specific skill sets, and i'm quite sure the country has enough qualified people to satisfy the demand.
    On to the national service (NS), mandatory no! optional yes!.most countries you see with mandatory military service have got security issues to address or made it compulsory during times of conflict.I'd definitely not want to be in a country with the majority of the population are frustrated unemployed youth with some form of military training(if some form of military training will be part of the course), this would be bad in times of civil unrest.
    i think the skills they offer are good but not meant for everyone. moreover some these skills should be incorporated in the school curriculum, i see no point in being taken to a remote area to teach a person how to "manage their life" or farm when they had more than enough time, 12 yrs to be specific, to do so. This just shows the failure of our education system,many youth leave school with all the academic knowledge but no entrepreneurship or survival skills. In my opinion what govt should do is create free apprenticeship centers where youths can go and learn higher level skills,depending on the grade attained after leaving high school, like IT, accounting, motor vehicle engineering, mining, public services, various forms of agriculture the list is endless in the 1 or 2 years they spend after high school and leave with a credible qualification. this will mean the trained person can get a higher paying job and govt will end up with a bit more money from the tax being collected. being realistic,not many youth will leave NS with credible qualifications to show an employer, that will give him or her a fighting chance against other more qualified people in our current employment situation.
    National service is not the solution to unemployment, a major overhauling of the countries systems, e.g education is what is desperately needed. Lets not have politicians making hasty decisions just to look like they are doing their work when in actual fact they are worsening the situation. The country has so many experts from universities, economists, engineers, teachers etc who can sit down look into the countries matters offer suggestions, plan for the future and present their findings and recommendations to parliament and the Zambian people but i personally have never seen this. That's what they are there for.

  2. Muna,

    You have some valid points you have advanced across on the issue of NS as general rule of thumb to curb unemployment. I am of the view that the NS is should be part of the solution to reduce youth unemployment but to make it as a career. Skills transfer is the great experience and resource that many can benefit from ZNS. we may not experience an invasion from foreign invaders to wage war against us but having a disciplined youth also would build responsible citizens.

    The only questions I have are:
    1. How many youths should ZNS recruit annually and for how long?
    2. Upon discharge from ZNS what is the way forward?
    3. How can we make it ZNS be less military but more of professional and civil institution?

    Kunda MK

  3. Reducing unemployment at the level of 50% is a mammoth task. If you look at unemployment statistics in Europe which have remained static between 10% to 12%,you will appreciate how difficult it is to reduce unemployment of 50%. Developing a sustainable business culture is not an easy project to embark on,particularly in a developing country.Capital investment,skills and business acumen; these are assets that need time and tremendous effort,for them to be of use to the one who owns them.Let us not forget the recession we are enduring now to be reminded of what caused it,in the first place.


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