By Kagwiisagye Hillary.
According to the State of Uganda Population report 2018, youth in Uganda are the youngest population in the world with 77% of the population being under 30 years of age. Of these, 1.2million Youth between 15 and 29 years of age are idle meaning they are neither in employment nor education or training of any sort (NEET). It is estimated that more than 40,000 young people graduate from Ugandan universities each year yet the market can provide only 8,000 jobs annually a situation which makes them susceptible to crime and victims of sexual exploitation and gender-based violence.
It is therefore only prudent and paramount that this youthful population is positively exploited, lest it is a time bomb because it will impede most forms of development at all levels since their participation is undoubtedly intrinsic to national development. This means that any development agenda would necessitate the youth being a prime focal point for any growth/development oriented programs since they constitute the highest population. This write up therefore looks at the political, economic, social and cultural practices that need to be employed to enhance youth participation in the development agenda. It also provides an insight on what problems the youth are facing today in addition to the existing information and recommendations on how best these problems can be overcome.
It should be noted that there’s no standard internationally recognized definition of who a youth is. However depending on the issues that need to be addressed, every society tries to define the youth in its policy framework depending on the specific socio-cultural , economic , demographic and political settings so as to create a good picture of who beneficiaries of certain youth development programs are.
According to the Uganda national youth policy, youth refers to all young persons female and male, aged 12-30 years. The United Nations defines youth as those persons between ages of 15 and 24 years. The UN however maintains that it’s important to distinguish between teenagers (13-19) and young adults (20-24) since the sociological, psychological and health problems they face may differ. Robert F Kennedy asserts that, “This world today demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quantity of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.”
The Youth are Uganda’s greatest asset
The youths are energetic, creative and very productive as these are individuals striving to achieve the very best they can in life, whereas most do this by pursuing academics, some venture into agriculture, business, creative industry among others. The youthful age is the hardworking age. The youth are a very vibrant and important component of the population. They are full of life changing ideas and their imagination is unlimited and if given a chance, the youth can come up with very innovative ideas. The global dynamics have changed putting innovation in ICT and social media, new business ideas, risk taking at the center of development . It is therefore imperative that, for Africa and Uganda in particular to ever achieve a vast stride towards developing from a 3rd world state to a 1st world, the goal must be to engage the youth as much as possible. Society must therefore unlearn treating them as passive receivers of information but rather as part and parcel of the development agenda. Policy makers need to pay keen attention to the views of a vast majority who are youth, ranging from sociological, economic, political and legal points of view. This means there is need to develop comprehensive, effective and inclusive policies that meet the modern challenges that our youth face today.
According to the 2014 Population and Housing Census, Uganda has a population of 34.6million people of which 77% are the youth (approximately 26.7million). The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) stands at 5.4 children per woman representing an average growth rate of 3.0 percent and was projected to be 39million in mid-2018 (UBOS 2018). Majority of Uganda’s population is young 47.9% between 0-14years, 49.2% between 15-64 years and only 2.9% above 65years. This statistically makes the youth a very significant component and should therefore be prepared well for the sake of future aspirations by according them the most critical element of growth; that is mentorship and quality time other than premium material things.
Let me balance this discourse by borrowing words of poet Shel Silverstein in his poem The Little Boy and the Old Man
“The little boy and the old man. said the little boy, “sometimes I drop my spoon.” Said the old man, “I do that too.” the little boy whispered,” I wet my pants.” I do that too, “laughed the little old man, said the little boy,” I often cry,” The old man nodded, so do I.” But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me,” And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand. I know what you mean,” said the old man.” –This is the feeling that we the young people get as often as not. A feeling that we are not needed by the adults, that our energy, talents and brains do not matter at all. Many a youth have been shunned from job offers due to lack of prior ‘experience’ and this creates a feeling of rejection. Policy makers therefore need to establish youth friendly structures and methods of work if for anything youth participation matters to them. For example, there is need to increase opportunities of training young people through graduate volunteer and training schemes. Else the idea of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’S) particularly on Poverty alleviation, Democratic governance and peace building and economic inequality which are globally set goals that seemingly determine our very livelihood as the young people will remain evasive for as long as the youth are not indulged to the core.
How can we get the Youth involved in the NationalDevelopment agenda ?
As part of the plan to enhance youth participation, society must identify the challenges that the youth face today and irrevocably determine ways to address them. The most pressing problem of our youth is the mindset. The Uganda Vision 2040 which targets driving Uganda from a “predominantly peasant society to a modern prosperous country within 30years” targeting an upper middle class with per capita income of 9500 UD dollars (at current conversion rate) acknowledges the need to develop and nurture a national value system to change citizens’ mind sets, promote patriotism, enhance national identity and nurture a conducive ideological orientation.
There is also need for concerted effort to decommercialise politics and mentor the youth to develop confidence to participate in leadership. Commercialisation of politics is largely to blame for continued youth failure to commit their intellect, energy and innovativeness to the political dimension and thus cannot influence policy. Highly commercialized politics at all levels including schools has both indirectly and directly incapacitated the youth to successfully participate politically. This can be vividly seen from the very few young people in leadership positions which has direct spillover effect in their integration in the national agenda .
There’s need to increase investment in adolescent health, education and participation services. In order to ease access to sexual reproductive health information which remains a big challenge. No wonder one out of every four adolescents in Uganda becomes pregnant before age 19years making it one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to 2018 data, complications related to child labour and pregnancy is the leading cause of deaths worldwide for girls aged 15 to 19 years as it exposes teen mothers to increased risk of ill health and adverse pregnancy outcomes thus the measures to address these challenges need to be tagged to the specific needs of of adolescents in order to achieve desired results.
A report from Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC 2015) indicates that most of the young people are either unemployed(13% of youth aged 15-29) or underemployed (63 % of youth 15-29 years). Youth unemployment in Uganda remains high at 11.1% much higher than the average unemployment rate of 9.4%. It is further discovered that 13.7 % of female youth of working age are unemployed compared to their male counterparts at 8.9% (UNDP 2015). According to Uganda National Household Survey (2016/17), the total employed population was estimated at 9million compared to 15 million persons who are working implying that 6million people are in unpaid work. It can also be noted that majority of the employed youth lack a 10 year perspective plan for what they earn with low levels of saving and a culture of consumerism. They love to hold parties and carry expensive gadgets. This therefore calls for a concerted effort to pull the youth to the financial sector through digital financial services like mobile banking, insurance and mobile money to encourage savings among the youth thus promote financial literacy.
Additionally, as technological advancements take shape, the mismatch between the skills of university graduates who are particularly the young people and what the market requires widens. The education system produces mainly graduates who are not critical thinkers and thus lack the necessary skills to transition into the labour market as the knowledge acquired from institutions of higher learning depreciates with technological advancement. The global dynamics no longer care about what graduates know but what they can do with what they know thus necessitating the need to learn, unlearn and relearn. Efforts are therefore needed to reform the education sector, teaching methods to focus on critical thinking and innovation and entrepreneurship.
Rural urban migration has created an opportunity for poverty and unemployment to thrive. According to UBOS. (2018), as of 2017, the urban population was estimated to be 9.4million people up from 7.4 million in 2014 with the majority being the youth. This bulge continues to pause a challenge to both the government and policy makers on how to provide opportunities for these young people. This means limited access to clean water, good roads, housing, and health care and increase in crime. The annual crime rate in 2017 stood at 667 implying that out of 100,000 people, 667 were victims of crime compared to 666 people in 2016. This calls for efforts to decongest urban areas and promote balanced regional growth.
Society today needs to fully recognize the value of youth participation and enact policies that strengthen young people’s voice in the decision making process. Policy makers need to take into account the perceptions of the young people ranging from political, sociological, economic and legal points of view. Society should not only stop on seeking the opinion of the youth on what matters to them, but they must embrace youthful involvement to see the youth centered programs coming to fruition. Making the youth part and parcel of the development agenda uproots the possible possibilities of them engaging in drug abuse, moral decadence that comes with idleness and exclusion from policy making. It is not a choice for the makers of policy but rather an obligation given the demographics to involve the youth other than making them mere passive receivers of information on the development plans.
Appeals for diversity to all spectrums must be made ranging from socioeconomic, media houses, to politics, education and recreation. Areas like sports, drama industry and technology need to be supported. It is mostly the young people that have a liking for these fields. Therefore if these fields are made key priority areas and commercialized, the young people can turn their passion into excellence. The richest economies are investing in entertainment for example Nigeria is very popular for their music and Nollywood, the United Kingdom for premier league and the United States of America for Hollywood and Basketball. All these examples epitomize countries making a fortune from talent oriented fields. We need to support and develop talent. The participation of the national team “Uganda cranes” at the intercontinental show piece Africa Cup of Nations says it all. Therefore, Uganda needs to improve its competitiveness internationally in areas outside traditional commodity exports like manufactured goods thus necessitating the need brand our economy and country by exporting our culture.
The need for overhaul in the education sector is also paramount. The education curricula need to be reviewed and innovations made in order to minimize the mismatch between skills required by the job market and what the education system produces. The education system is stuck with the colonial system that produces white collar graduates and thus the need to enhance a creative and effective developmental scope that will give the nation mechanics, engineers, innovators and metal fabricators.
Kagwiisagye Hillary is a student of Quantitative Economics at the Makerere University School of Statistics and Planning where he doubles as the School President, he also works as a volunteer at Project Act Africa.
References: Uganda National Household Survey FY 2016/17. Uganda Bureau of Statistics
UNDP. (2015) Uganda Human Development Report 2015. Unlocking the development potential of northern Uganda
UBOS. (2018) Statistical Abstract 2018. Kampala Uganda Bureau of Statistics.
Robert Francis Kennedy. United States Attorney General 1961-1964
Population and Housing Census (2014) UBOS.
EPRC. (2015) Economic Policy Research Centre report. 2015
Shel Silverstein(poem). The Little Boy and The Old Man.
State of Uganda Population Report (2017). Transforming Uganda’s Economy: Opportunities to Harness the Demographic Dividend for Sustainable Development.