By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network
NEW YORK | 11 December 2023 (IDN) — Thousands of young Malawians are packing their bags for a chance to make serious money in Israel working on farms and orchards.
Some 15,000 Palestinian workers recently lost their jobs when they were barred from entering the occupied West Bank.
“If I’m successful going to Israel, I will gain a lot of experience and possibly open my own farm,” said Blessings Kanyimbo, an applicant. “It’s everyone’s dream to acquire capital.”
An article in Malawi’s The Nation newspaper, quoting the Israeli ambassador, Michael Lotem, called the deal a “win-win” for both countries.
Malawian President Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera is reportedly planning to send more young people who, it is alleged, will get paid $1,500 a month – a fortune in a country struggling with inflation and poor management of the economy.
Israeli recruitment agents have been advertising for people aged 25 to 35.
Chikumbutso Mtumodzi, director of Information in Malawi defended the transfer. The young people will be engaged in agricultural activities, which is part of the labor export, a private sector-driven initiative with the Malawi government coming in as a regulator of labor-related issues, he said.
“When they go there, they are also paid,” stressed Mike Ching’amba, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources lecturer. “They are not just going there for internship and work. They get paid.”
Sounds good? Kondwani Nankhumwa, leader of the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party doesn’t think so.
Secrecy of the deal
Nankhumwa, speaking in parliament, questioned the secrecy of the deal, which he described as “an evil transaction”.
“[The] government has gone into such an agreement with Israeli companies when it is fully aware that there is war. No sane parent can send his or her child to work in a country that is at war,” Nankhumwa told journalists after.
Leaders of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition and Center for Social Accountability and Transparency, among other groups, have demanded that the Malawian government release the agreement under which the recruitment drive is happening.
Authorities from the two countries have made assurances that the recruits will not be involved in warfare. But some are wondering if Malawi can repatriate its citizens if anything goes wrong as the war continues.
“Anything can happen anywhere but we are assured (by Israel) that the same level of safety that is being accorded to Israelis will be accorded to Malawian citizens,” responded Moses Kunkuyu, a government spokesman.
Victor Chipofya, a political science lecturer at Blantyre International University, was not satisfied. “Everybody, including Thailand, is pulling out their people from Israel, he told Al Jazeera by phone. “How come Malawi is the only country taking our people to Israel? These are the questions that we’re supposed to be asking ourselves.”
According to the Israeli diplomat, foreign workers are needed to plug the gap created by 350,000 Israelis recruited into the military. This left a gap in some sectors, he said.
In addition, Malawi faces a foreign exchange shortage that has disrupted businesses and led to the scarcity of essential commodities like fuel. The country is also experiencing a cost-of-living crisis further exacerbated by the central bank devaluing the national currency, the kwacha, by 44 percent “to counter supply-demand imbalances”.
The deal with Israel is an attempt by the Chakwera government to create jobs for its young people—half of Malawi’s 19 million people are 18 or below—and generate foreign exchange. According to the authorities, only 9 percent of its 20 million people are formally employed.
Last year, the U.S. came across with a gift—a $350 million infrastructure grant from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) for the Government of Malawi. “This agreement opens a new chapter in the partnership between the United States and Malawi,” said Secretary Antony Blinken, who chairs MCC’s Board of Directors.
Israel recruits farmworkers also in Kenya
The money is supposed to pay for the upgrade of more than 300 miles of roads to connect farmers to markets and strengthen the country’s land administration.
In a related development, Kenya’s Labor ministry announced the country will also send 1,500 farmworkers to Israel to be employed on three-year renewable contracts earning $1,500 per month.
Dr. Ekuru Aukot, leader of Kenya’s Thirdway Alliance party, questioned President William Ruto’s jobs policy. He told the news agency Semafor Africa that the President’s focus on jobs abroad was an indictment of his administration’s “failure to create jobs which he promised during his campaign in 2022,” further warning that the policy could deprive Kenya’s workforce of energetic, young talent.
Further, the decision to send farmworkers to Israel during the conflict was “irresponsible” citing safety concerns. Malawi and Kenya, however, insist that workers be sent to safe areas. [IDN-InDepthNews]
Photo: Hundreds of youths flocked on 27 November 2023 to the Golden Peacock Hotel in Lilongwe, where an Israeli agent was recruiting people to work in Israel under a labour export arrangement with the Malawi Government. The picture shows some of them queuing at the departure gate. Source: The Nation.
IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.