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Uganda Youth Convention falls short

By Rukiya Makuma

Allegations that NRM politics taint convention deprives youth of the help they need

They are everywhere on the streets young boys hanging out doors of speeding matatus, shouting, gesturing, hoping you’ll come in so they can make a couple hundred shillings. This is the only job that does not require start-up capital, says Gerald Mugume, a taxi tout at Bweyogerere stage. Like his colleagues, Mugume wants to start a job that can sustain him and his family but there is nowhere to acquire capital; the banks say he is not credit worthy. Consequently, many youth get caught up in crime. The recent wave of kidnappings across Kampala have been committed by desperate young men and women.

To combat the challenges that confront many of Uganda’s youth, the Uganda Youth Convention (UYC) held a conference at Makerere University from Aug 8-12 that included youths from all 113 districts in the country. Each district was supposed to send 50 English speaking youths between the ages of 18 and 35 to generate ideas on creating employment opportunities and equipping the youth with skills and knowledge on how they can start up their own businesses rather than waiting on the government for jobs.

According to the new African Development Indicators (ADI) report 2008/2009, which focuses on youth and unemployment in Africa, 83 percent of Ugandan youth are unemployed. The World Bank has warned that unless Uganda scales up efforts to create jobs, the youth will find their way into crime.

Some of the strategies suggested at the convention included reducing the retirement age for civil servants from 60 to 55, which is projected to free up about 15000 jobs. Another is the Shs4 billion the government has put aside this financial year to provide soft loans to unemployed graduates. President Museveni said the money will help the graduates start small businesses. According to statistics quoted at the conference, Uganda produces about 400,000 graduates every year but only about 80,000 get employed. If the 320,000 unemployed graduates were to go for the government soft loans, each would walk way with a paltry Shs12000. This is not even enough to start a small business of selling roasted ground nuts on the streets. This strategy needs a serious rethink.

The executive director of Enterprise Uganda, Charles Ocici, said there is urgent need for the youth to realise that resources they need to start enterprises do not have to come from external sources. He said the youth can sell even property like chicken or clothes and use the money to start up something small.

But Rose Nasimiyu, a second year social sciences student at Gulu University, who was a participant at the convention, disagrees: How about someone who does not even have a hen to sell, where do you expect such a person to get start up capital? She says the problem stems from  the organisers assuming that everyone has property back home ,which in reality is not always the case. I am the first born in a family of four and I cannot ask my parents to sell the small piece of land they have for me to start up business when they have just finished paying my fees throughout school, she says. This would also be unfair to her siblings, she adds.

But what has the government done for the youth? Yes, it has established health centres at all sub-county and parish levels and introduced universal primary and secondary education but there are still no drugs in these hospitals and the universal education has not eased the countrys high unemployment.

In an August 4 New Vision article, Odrek Rwabwoogo, chairperson of the UYC, says university education is good for any nation only if it translates into innovation, industry and entrepreneurship. We havent been fortunate in this area. Uganda has a lot of certificates on the streets with little skills and much anger bubbling below the surface, he said.

Moreover, the conference, which was held under the semblance of a national youth forum that includes all youths regardless of their political party affiliations, apparently became more of an NRM youth convention.

Rwabwoogo is Museveni’s son-in-law and, at 35, he is above the age ceiling for youth. It was also his public relations consultancy firm, Terp Consult, which organized the convention. There were also claims that participation in the convention required an NRM party card.

Although they comprise 65 percent of the population, the youth, argues Professor Edward Kakonge, chairman of Uganda Debt Network, have suffered the most in this country. They are the ones looming the streets, suffering in hospitals because there are no drugs, and have been exploited and manipulated in all sectors of the economy in spite of being the majority stakeholders as voters and decision makers.

He says the NRM has done nothing for the youth for the past 24 years and nothing now can undo the harm already caused.  In Obote’s regime, the youth were organised under an umbrella body known as the National Union of Students in Uganda, which was intended to bring together students. But it also ended up benefitting students belonging to the ruling party.

In 1993 the NRM put in place the National Youth Council (NYC), established by the NYC Act, with the intention of providing a forum through which young people’s concerns can be addressed. The non-partisan, non-discriminatory council was intended to channel patriotism, national consciousness and unity among the youth nationwide.

But Prof. Kakonge says the Uganda National Council is an NRM project mobilised by the NRM big wigs and only admits people who believe in NRM ideologies. He says the other political parties targeting the youth have also failed to come up with a clear strategy.

Parties, according to Kakonge, were responsible for causing the rift between the youth based on party affiliations and he cautioned the youth to think of how they can develop their nation together instead of thinking in terms of party ideologies, which can change anytime

The convention will meet every year to asses their strengths and weaknesses and to find possible solutions for improvement. But it must be clearly kept out of partisan politics if the youth are to move together as a single homogenous group.

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