Youth In Uganda: Opportunity meets Pessimism.
It is 2 am by the time sit down to write this article. And by the look of things, it will be a little over an hour from now when I finally put the pen (or is it the keyboard?) to rest. I know, I must be sleeping by now. But Heck! What do you do when, just as you’re preparing to set out and hug your pillow, out of nowhere, an idea springs up and you’ve got to put it down on paper, lest you forget it the morning next?
I have been reflecting all-day (and for a bigger part of my yester-nite) about the potential and risk our largely youthful population holds for dear country, we might be sitting on a large gold mine or land mine, depending on which way you choose to look at it: credulity versus optimism.
Youth a Gold mine?
I have in the past one year met an exciting number of youth both at University and around the towns; Kampala and my native Masaka. There’s such un-tapped potential in these young people that by merely talking to them for 10 minutes, one can not help but get sucked into their world; a world of unlimited possibilities and unrelenting resolve to tackle the problems that have dogged previous generations. I have a friend, who’s a Mechanical Engineering student, his is a dream to build Uganda’s second car (after the Kiira EV), he thinks the Kiira is no major feat, and that he can do better than that. Across the road in the Department of Chemistry, I happen to sit in lectures with the new breed of Ugandan Oil scientists, 80 or so of them; young, energetic and cerebral Ugandans being readied to take on the responsibility of pumping Uganda’s first barrel of oil (They graduate in January 2017, and Uganda is expected to pump her first barrel of oil in that same year), a short distance away, in the department of Botany are the Ethnobotanists, leading the drive to have the quality of our herbal products improved and introduce new techniques in packaging, preservation of the herbs. On entry into the department, one is greeted by the neat display of the different herbal products on sale; produced by students of the department, for the wider market. I could go on and on about the different projects, scientific and non-scientific, that the youth are involved in.
And so you know, I have only drawn upon examples from two departments and from only one university — Makerere. But the same narrative is true elsewhere, in other departments; ICT, department of Agriculture, Biochemistry, young people are coming up with inventions. Away from education, even in the informal sector, there is a considerable number of young people coming up with inventions on monthly, if not daily basis; from attempts at making planes by youth in Katwe, Jinja, Mbarara and some other place. To fashion designers, and of course, not forgetting the vibrant music industry. Country wide, technology is being embraced and more especially among the youth, ages 18-35.
How do we tap into this Potential?
My idea on this is simple…in fact, too simple.
1. Suppose one shrewd business mind came up with a soft drink X, marketed it among the youth (who’s population today, stands at approx. 15 million, excluding those below 15.) with each bottle costing ugx 1000 (approx. $0.5)
2. Shrewd businessman number 2, came up with a Broadband company Y, offering cheap, fast and reliable internet.
And now, assuming each Ugandan youth consumed on average, drink X; 2 times a week, for a year (0.5*2*52*16m = $832 million), slightly higher than the proceeds from tourism in 2012.
If the same number of youths subscribed to internet packs from company Y at a fixed rate of $10 per person per month, company Y would earn (10*12*16m = $1.92bn), nearly equivalent to the total allocation to the roads sector in this year’s budget.
In light of the above, a big youthful population is an asset. No?
Youth a time bomb?
Excitement generated,in part, by the figures above aside, youth can be a challenge or even worse, a disaster especially if: youth unemployment rates remain high (currently above 80% in Uganda); if policies are not streamlined to aim at the youth who constitute the majority of Uganda’s population; rampant corruption is not addressed; education sector revised to horn skills that encourage self-employment.
You can not, with one hand promise the future; education, jobs, health care, e.t.c, and with the other hand take away the same, through; corruption, unemployment and run down health and education systems. This only serves to ignite youthful anger, which if not quenched in time, soon escalates into total anarchy.
Unemployed youth are canon fodder for street-wise political actors, and, if deployed, a mixture of youthful anger, resolve and a promise of a better life, can make for a very flammable situation which no government, however strong can survive. Tunisia and Libya are shining examples.
In the youth today, the country has its greatest asset. Forget Oil, Gold, Timber, and all the other natural resources: for they are all finite—depletable over a few generations. But an educated, skilled, inspired youthful population can be the key to socio-economic transformation for Uganda in particular, and Africa in general.
The writer is a student currently pursuing a Bsc. degree (Zoology and Chemistry) at Makerere University.