By Eronie Kamukama
A couple of years ago, Alice Ariho, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Education at a university in the far south western district of Kabale. However, this was never her dream course as she had always wanted to do creative arts.
Like many fresh graduates, she hoped to find a job immediately after school which she did in one of the secondary schools as an English teacher.
Her stay at the school was short-lived not because she lacked the interest in teaching but because she lacked basic classroom skills that help to teach students in the most effective way.
Ariho relocated to Kampala and padded its streets in search for a job. “I cannot remember how many curriculum vitae I have sent to different companies yet I have been unsuccessful in finding what to do,” she narrates.
Her wish is to improve her artistic skills to earn a living. Her story echoes the predicament of many youths in Uganda.
Youth and unemployment in Uganda
Charles Zirarema, the Director of Policy, Planning and Programming at the National Population Council Secretariat says 65% of Uganda’s population is 18 years and below, 23% is 19-30 years old which means 88% of the population is below 60 years.
Unfortunately, the spiraling youth numbers are not simultaneous with the creation of jobs in the market. The national unemployment rate stands at 9.4% yet universities continue to churn out 400,000 graduates in Uganda annually.
According to statistics, youth unemployment is estimated at 62% and this is more prevalent among youths living in rural areas.
World over, there are 1.8 billion young people aged 10-24 according to a recent United Nations Population Fund report. This is the largest youth population ever, most of who live in developing countries.
However, majority youths are currently unemployed, a problem attributed to inadequate skills. United Nations estimates show that 74.5 million youths are actively searching for jobs but all efforts are vain.
Joseph Munyangabo, director for Policy Alternatives and Technical Advisor at International Republican Institute explains that Ugandan youths are ambitious and ready to work but lack the opportunities as a result of the mismatch between the country’s education and the people’s aspirations that would engage their physical and mental capacities.
“There are not many jobs for theoretical thinkers yet this is how our education system prepares them,” he says.
Youthful population: A threat or a blessing?
According to Augustus Nuwagaba, an Economist at REEV Consult International Limited in Ntinda, Uganda’s population is young, unskilled and unemployed. Therefore it has low income which causes a low purchasing power.
This implies that these youths do not have the capacity to purchase commodities and so do not attract investments.
Furthermore, he says this population becomes a liability to the country because it has no ability to spiral the country’s economic growth.
“When people are looking for where to construct factories, they are looking for areas where people can demand and buy their products. This is discouraging in a situation where you have a population that is young, semiskilled, unemployable and has low effective demand,” he says.
He puts emphasis on ensuring that the young population is healthy, skilled and gainfully employed, because then it would be an asset that will steer the economic development of the country. However, short of this, it can be a huge challenge.
Nuwagaba calls for a more hands-on education system. He adds “We also need to change the attitudes of these youths to love work because this same population also shuns work.”
John Mushomi, a Population Studies lecturer at Makerere University says the youthful population presents an opportunity for Uganda.
Once the right policies are put in place and implemented in terms of skilling the youths, Uganda will benefit from what he calls a demographic dividend.
“We shall have an army of Ugandans entering into the workforce. If there are right jobs and they are well skilled, they will earn, save, invest and contribute to the economy.
Lawrence Bategeka, a senior research fellow in Economics turned Hoima Member of Parliament, notes that about 51% of Uganda’s population is below 14 years.
The working age which is between 18-50 years is a small proportion compared to the children. When one combines the young and old people above 60, the dependency ratio is very high. This means that the young adults have to work harder to feed those they are looking after.
He says Uganda can only benefit from this young population in future if they are able to live long.
He explains, “They are a burden so if majority of people who are dependent die when they are young, there is no way they can translate into a positive contribution to the Ugandan economy.”
This means the children have to be immunized as early as possible, grow up with proper health care and feed very well. They also must be educated and well skilled or they become delinquent.
He states that the government has to stop creating the problem from the bottom or the dependency ratio remains high.
“There is no way you are going to continue to have more children and expect to have enough resources to continuously turn them into an asset. You then must stop creating the burden of more children using family planning practices.”
He also maintains that there has to be a deliberate move by all stakeholders to stop the recurrent problem of high birth rates and then turn the existing children into assets.
In the wake of a number of criminal gangs like the famous Kifeesi, Bategeka blames the high crime rate and lawlessness of the youth to failure to turn the children and youths into an active labour force.
“What we are seeing now is the failure as a country to deliberately reap from this youthful population,” he says.
Munyangabo advocates for more investment in skills development in technical institutions. He insists that the government has to anticipate the upcoming jobs in the market and prepare the nation to work in this labour market.
Uganda has put in place opportunities through which youths can create jobs using their skills such as the Youth Livelihood Program but only time can tell whether this project will save the country’s job crisis.