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Congo: Graduates grapple with jobless crisis

November 6, 2023

Congo's educated young people have been battling high unemployment levels and a congested labor market, prompting calls for government intervention.

Students sing and dance after receiving their certificates during their graduation party
A lack of stable work has left limited options for many qualified young CongoleseImage: Fredrik Lerneryd/AFP

The burgeoning education system in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) churns out thousands of graduates every year — but the country's congested labor market is struggling to accommodate all of them.

Many freshly qualified young people find the transition from academic institutions to the labor market a daunting endeavor, especially as most jobs are created within the country's informal sector — over 88%, according to figures from the International Labor Organization — resulting in a scarcity of formal employment opportunities.

Soured dreams

Patrick Konga, a young resident of Kinshasa, is one of those affected by the high unemployment levels.

"I studied international relations, but so far, I am unemployed. Let the government help us," Konga told DW. "If they want us to work, we'll work. We're competent.

"Since I finished my studies, I have never been hired anywhere. It hurts me," Konga added.

Konga, who in 2018 obtained a bachelor's degree in international relations from the Free University of Kinshasa, said he has not given up.

"My dream is for me to have a job since my parents made me study," he said.

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Young people resorting to 'professional prostitution'

There are millions of others like Konga who are educated, but currently unemployed.

Desire Ebondo earned a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Lubumbashi in 2019.

She told DW that the only only means of survival available to her is to work as a street vendor selling mobile phones.

"This small activity certainly gives me the strength to be able to live because I don't have any other profession that can give me stability in this country," Ebondo said. "I have always dreamed of being a businessperson, but the DRC still has serious problems."

The lack of stable employment has left many young people with limited options — often resorting to what Francois Tshitenga describes as "professional prostitution."

Tshitenga holds a degree in political and administrative sciences from the University of Kinshasa but has been working in jobs unrelated to his field for over a decade.

"You can be a law graduate but end up as a salesperson in a shop," Tshitenga pointed out.

Could the government do more? 

Many jobless Congolese blame Congo's saturated job market on the reluctance of older workers to retire and make way for a younger workforce. 

"Here in Congo, it's always old people who fill all the positions. We are sacrificed," lamented Tshitenga.

But Desire said this situation can change if the government were more proactive and put some good policies in place.

She pointed out that the country's constitution guarantees the right to work, protection against unemployment and fair and satisfactory remuneration. 

"If the government can get it right, I think this unemployment issue could still come to an end," said Ebondo.

Djamba Omekenge, a lawyer practicing at the Kinshasa-Matete bar, said the government does not have the political will to solve the issue.

"The state does not respect the commitment to assume or ensure this responsibility under labor law," he told DW.

To Omekenge, the constitution and the legal system are not practical, resulting in there being no protection within the law for the unemployed.

"The justice system should have been able to protect the unemployed. But the justice system does not work," Omekenge added.

The plight of Congo's educated youth underscores the urgent need for action to address unemployment.

With an overburdened job market, the dreams and potential of the nation's young graduates are turning sour.

As the country approaches its presidential election in December, the question of how future leaders will confront this crisis looms large and demands meaningful solutions.

Jean Noel Ba-Mweze contributed reporting to this article, which was originally published in French.

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