I was drafted last week to attend the International Youth Day celebrations in Katakwi. The day promised interesting conversations on the future of the youth and my hope was we’d get to meet many young people who were doing incredible things for a networking session.
Katakwi, the host district of the event had grown in leaps and bounds from the last time I was there. They now had a road, still dirt murram but wider, large scale farms cropped out of the ground bearing maize, rice and citrus trees, a bank outlet had been opened and the trading centre promised more than just a drive through. There were cops at almost every two kilometres, either because the President was prevailing over the ceremony or that the people here really treasured their security. There was a visible presence of youths in the district too. The many we met on our way to the venue were in NRM T-shirts cheering on and drumming at 8 am in the morning.
With little work to do and high unemployment rates, the youths are at the disposal of anyone with a penny to spend and they are many. Census figures show that Uganda has 26.7 million young people in a population of 35 million people (about 78% of the population). The only other country with such numbers of young people in the world is Nigeria (which is a middle income country).
The young people in Katakwi were already playing a pivotal role in harnessing the development of the region. It was easy to tell even from the display stalls, the robots that provided home security were an innovation of the young people, the applications that detected cervical cancer in women – which got the vice president musing – were primarily developed by young people. The local economy of agriculture was being guaranteed by the sweat of the young people majorly. It could not be argued otherwise that the young people were not having an effect on the local economies.
These developments are not limited to Katakwi alone. Even in the capital city Kampala, the best architectural designs are developed by fresh graduates burning with ideas, the peace and tranquility on which much praise is heaped is guaranteed by the security services whose major numbers are young people. The law firms are taking the best graduates to handle their troublesome cases so are auditing firms. Despite all this recognizable growth in the economy largely inspired by young people, there hasn’t been much deliberate target of investment in young people.
Statistics provided by UNFPA show that only 4.4 million of Uganda’s young people are employed in Uganda and most of these in the agricultural sector and are largely female. These minimal and quite dismal figures require concerted effort to sort. Government and private sector need to take a joint effort at involving youth in the critical sectors of the economy like Agriculture, Industries, ICT and Services.
Another call that was sounded by the UNFPA Representative Esperance Fundira was the tailoring of our education needs to suit the current job market. Many of the youths with academic qualifications remain largely unemployed or underemployed due to the education system that has for a long time not revised its curriculum despite growing societal needs.
If the youth day and commitments are to hold, then the primary action is to start investing in young people and there has never been a better time than now when they are more than half of the national population.