Unemployment sucks. It not only deprives you of your financial security, but also your dignity and respect. You have to ask for help, you have to show your shame. In the UK, it’s the welfare office but in Sudan, there is another kind of social insurance institution: the family.
Sudanese family members help each other out—without question. If you can’t find a job, your parents will happily support you until you do. It doesn’t matter how old you are, if you need it, someone in your family will look after you.
Older interviewees talk about how this “cushion” makes youngsters too picky or over-ambitious in their job search. Instead of getting a job at the bottom of a company and working their way up, they say that young Sudanese want to start at the top. They are not patient enough for the workforce. They say that in the past, they had to earn their positions through hard work.
Part of the problem is that most jobs today do not involve training and promotion like they did in the past. A company that offers recent graduates training will see it as a favor, not as a necessity. Young graduates simply don’t want to get stuck in a job for five, ten years without further training. Their qualifications will become void and they will not be able to improve their position. It may pay to be picky. (and I would add, that it is difficult for young people to get any kind of job at all!)
If you can’t study, one alternative is to study. If you can’t find a job with a bachelor degree, you can do a masters. If you can’t find a job with a masters, you can do a PhD. This up-hill educational slide is especially true of women. While a young man must think of saving for his wedding day, young women are less constrained financially and are therefore more able to pursue their professional ambitions. In certain fields, like architecture or bio-chemistry, for instance, I have been told that women dominate because there are so few jobs, men opt out for more profitable but less professionally ambitious careers. Women stick it out. As Sudanese culture places a huge emphasis on education, further education for women is seen as a worthy pursuit.
I recently spoke with Hind Abbas Ibrahim, a communications professor at the University of Khartoum and she commented that this uphill slide was the one positive side of unemployment in Sudan… but I have noticed yet another silver lining.
If you can’t get a job, you can volunteer. So many of my Sudanese friends volunteer and give considerable portions of their free time to social organizations and charities… and especially those without jobs. It is seen as a good way to wait for a job.
Long ago, I was a volunteer research assistant at the Population Council in Cairo. I was helping out on their study of the costs of marriage and Gulf migration. I remember reading an article about how Egyptian unemployed young men were “bare branches” and might pose a security risk. The rise of harassment has also been blamed on this economic state of affairs. While this is possibly true of Egypt, I feel that in some ways, these bare branches might also be positive in other parts of the world.
You could say: There are a great number of young, educated Sudanese who are extremely frustrated by their economic situation and could pose a security risk to the public. They are dangerous!
But you could also say: There are a great number of young, educated Sudanese who have plenty of free time which they do not want to waste at home. They are brimming with potential and are ready to volunteer for good!
Just a thought…