Maputo, Mozambique - Beto Magumane Cossa was orphaned at 14 when his father was killed by a woman with whom he was having an affair.

Alone and with no other family living in Magude, a rural district 155km from the capital Maputo's shopping malls and luxury hotels, Beto lived off the money his brother sent home from working as a miner in South Africa.

Life was difficult but manageable - the money his brother sent home was enough to keep Beto clothed and fed. If things got tight, the neighbours helped Beto out by giving him food. But a few years after their father's death, Beto's brother returned home sick with HIV/AIDS and couldn't work. Beto tried to find a job to support them both, but no one would take him on.

Desperate and frustrated, then aged 18, Beto committed three burglaries and was caught trying to sell the stolen goods at a gas station. He received a two-year prison sentence, and his brother died shortly after.  

"No one would give me a job. They said that they didn't trust me, or that I was too young," Beto told Al Jazeera.

Beto's story is one all too familiar in mineral-rich Mozambique, which is facing a dire youth unemployment crisis despite the country experiencing impressive economic growth.

Huge natural resource extraction projects run by multinational companies create few jobs for local people and home-grown industry - much of which was destroyed during a 16-year civil war - is unable to absorb a labour force that grows by hundreds of thousands each year, while highly sought after public-sector jobs are reserved for the politically connected.

Locked up in Boane juvenile prison, about 35km from Maputo, Beto told Al Jazeera that he wanted to get enough money to start a "business".  

He said he would to buy 1,400MZ ($45) of stolen gasoline from a tractor driver he knew, sell it for 1,800MZ ($58) making a profit of 400MZ ($13), and then he would repeat the cycle over again.

Extraction industry - few jobs

A 2012 report by the Open Society Foundation estimated that 70 percent of people under age 35 in Mozambique - who form the majority of the 25 million population - cannot find stable employment.

Natural resource exports have Mozambique's economy humming [Reuters]

First-time entrants to the labour market and unskilled youth such as Beto, who is illiterate and speaks Changala instead of Portuguese, Mozambique's national language, are worst off.

Lacking jobs at home, many Mozambicans such as Beto's brother migrate to next door South Africa, which also has high levels of youth unemployment, to work in mining and agriculture.

Relative peace and stability since 1992 when the war ended, make Mozambique attractive to investors, and the economy has grown by more than 7 percent each year over the last 10 years, spurred by projects such as the MOZAL Aluminium plant near Maputo, and from mining by Brazilian company Vale in Tete province.

Recent discoveries of huge quantities of natural gas continue to push growth upward.

But the mineral and gas extraction projects create few jobs - just 3,800 in 2010, according to a 2014 report by Africa Economic Outlook. The few jobs that Mozambique's "megaprojects" create tend be highly qualified positions that are often taken by foreigners.   

Unlike South Africa's mining industry, which needs a huge labour force and provides jobs, the capital-intensive projects in Mozambique use heavy machinery to extract coal and gas and require little manpower.

Mozambique's impressive post-war progress in reducing poverty and child mortality has stalled in recent years, and it remains one of the world's least developed countries, still greatly dependent on foreign aid, with about half the population living in poverty.

Civil war

Internal industry and much of Mozambique's infrastructure was destroyed during the civil war. Today, the private sector creates just 18,000 jobs for 370,000 youth who enter the labour market yearly - a ratio of one job per 20 entrants.  

Ozisus Marachava works in Mozambique's informal market, washing cars and running errands [Sam Cowie]

 Twenty-one-year-old Ozisus Marachava is fully literate,  computer skilled, and speaks English. But like many  young men his age, he has only ever worked in  Mozambique's large and unstable informal market,  washing cars and running errands.   

 "We have to make our own jobs here," he said, referring  to his brothers who travel between Mozambique and  South Africa, buying and selling goods such as snack  food and cosmetic products.

 According to Cremilde Domingo, a social worker at  Boane prison, the majority of young people she works  with commit crimes related to poverty and lack of  opportunity, such as burglary, robbery, and stealing  mobile phones.

"We have [natural] resources but no jobs," she said.

Ozisus spent time in prison for stealing a mobile phone and now is completing high school at night. He said it's easy to get a job if you have a family connection, even if you're not qualified to do the job.

"No one in my family has the kind of connection to get me a job, all of my family went to South Africa," he said.

Jobs in the Mozambique's public sector are highly sought after and a common complaint is that they are reserved only for those close to the ruling FRELIMO party, which has governed Mozambique since independence from Portugal in 1975.

"For many, the only way to get promoted is to join the ruling party," said Fernando Lima, a Mozambican analyst and CEO of independent media group Mediacoop.

Recently elected President Felipe Nyusi said he recognised nepotism as a serious problem and promised to fight it.

Agriculture is key

Analysts say strengthening Mozambique's agriculture sector is the key to generating sustainable employment for young people.

According to Francesca Dallavalle, a youth employment specialist at the Food and Agriculture Organisation, lack of investment and development mean agriculture is not reaching its potential as a job and income generator and as a result, young people still associate it with poverty.

"Many young people in rural areas grow up watching their parents working the land and may even have contributed as child labourers," she said. "This taints their perception of agriculture and its potential."

Back at Boane prison, Beto Magumane Cossa, now 20, said when he's freed he plans to go and work in the South African mines and save enough money to build a house - an idea inspired by his late brother.  

He said he will give his wages to his boss to look after, so he doesn't feel tempted to spend it on alcohol and women.

"With South African wages I can buy the materials to build a house," he said. "In Mozambique you only get enough to build the roof."

Sam Cowie traveled to Mozambique with the International Reporting Project (IRP) 

Source: Al Jazeera