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For the bulk of the youth life is hard and sad, but there’s still hope


ARTICLE SUMMARY: In this keynote address delivered June 28 at the National Interparty Youth Conference organised by the Inter-Party Youth Platform and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Prof. Olum outlines the challenges faced by young men and women and suggests remedies.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY: Yasin Olum is associate professor of political science at Makerere University.

It is my deepest pleasure to have been invited to deliver the keynote speech at this very important National Inter-party Youth Conference, under the motto “For Youth and By Youth”. A national conference of this magnitude which brings together young people from the major political parties (NRM, FDC, DP, UPC, JEEMA, CP, and PPP) in the country could never have been so timely.

More importantly, the three sub-themes of the conference on “the youth and economic development”, “the youth and political participation”, and “the youth and social services” are aptly curved around the core of what touches the central nerves of the youth in Uganda today. Permit me to emphasize that it is within these three sub-themes that the role of the young political leaders can be squarely located as a sure way of confronting the development challenges of the youth in the country.

It is interesting to note that whereas a few decades ago one would be too happy to be referred to as a youth, not so today under the socio-political and economic challenges that they confront. In short, the youth are not in an enviable position. The majority of the youth in the world live in Less Developed Countries (67 percent in Asia and 17 percent, likely to rise to 29%, in Africa).

Constraints in socio-economic development pose additional challenges to the youth mainly due to their limited access to resources, mainly finance, education and training, employment, health care, and broader socio-economic development opportunities.

Age-wise, nearly 40 percent of the world’s unemployed – approximately 81 million – are between 15 and 24 years. Unfortunately, these gloomy global and continental youth statistics resonate at the national level as well. For instance, Uganda has the world’s youngest population with over 78 percent of it below the age of 30 and about 8 million aged between 15 and 30. The population continues to grow at a rate of 3.2 percent annually.

The country has the highest youth unemployment rates in Sub-Saharan Africa; 18 percent of youth in the ages of 15 – 24 and 16 percent in the ages of 18 – 30 are both under-employed and unemployed – 72 percent  in urban and 83 percent in rural areas. The statistics for unemployed youth with tertiary education indicates that 36 percent of university graduates are unemployed. HIV prevalence is 4.8 percent for females and 2.3 percent for males ranging from the ages of 15 – 24. In education, the majority (91 percent) are enrolled in primary and secondary schools and 49 percent in universities and only 33 percent have attended or completed a vocational training program.

Females face more challenges than males in accessing not only education, but also employment opportunities (36 percent for females and 9 percent for males). Poverty also afflicts the youth as hard as it does the adults. These are certainly negative figures for the country.

Given these gloomy statistical youth map, it can be asserted that the youth of today confront several and serious development challenges among which include the following general ones:

1)         Lack of a clear strategy to create data, information and messages in order to generate both public and political support for youth development in a positive way, thus obstructing a focused attention on youth messages;

2)         Securing committed, competent, and youth-centred leadership that can publicize the assembled messages;  

4)         Data collection systems about young people do not focus on development but on problems;

5)         Deficiency in clearly designed youth programs;


6)         Unclear agreement on common agenda of priority issues for youth development;

7)         Negative public perceptions of the youth;

8)         Lack of strong constituency to support the youth apart from leaders using them for their own ends;

9)         Disconnect between popular issues, institutions and strategies;

10)       Weak and poor interpretation of youth development programs;

11)       Vague and emotionally-based monitoring and assessment of youth development programs;

12)       Role of actors in youth development activities remain unclear;

13)       Unclear linkage or synergy between public and private sectors to support youth initiatives;

14)       Weak and fluid infrastructure for funding, training, advocacy and networking for youth development;

15)       Limited solid support for youth programs in the neighbourhoods or communities; and

16)       Lacklustre commitment by various leaders that create narrow goals (largely self-centred) and limited opportunities for sustainable youth development. 

Specific negative vices that have been associated with the youth in Uganda include: lack of practical knowledge, skills (e.g., financial management, soft skills like problem-solving, critical and creative thinking, and work ethic) and work-related experience; impatience and easily frustrated emotionally; have high demands and expectations; desire for making quick and easy money which is spent lavishly; lack sense of commitment or responsibility to themselves and to others; frequently engage in high mobility in terms of space and petty jobs resulting into high turnover; undisciplined, violent or militant, provocative and stubbornly unprincipled; low self-respect, self-esteem, integrity and personal confidence; and prone to uncouth social behaviours such as alcoholism, drug abuse, promiscuity and corruption.

These chronic and systemic challenges have to be remedied urgently before the situation explodes volcanically, causing catastrophic consequences to the country’s political and socio-economic infrastructure.

Hence, to extricate themselves from the entrenched paradox they find themselves in, young political leaders can undertake several roles. I intend to highlight some critical ones as follows:

1)         Need for a focused attention on data, information and messages that promote a broad public consensus around investing in young people;

2)         Design mentoring and after-school programming based on targeted advocacy;

3)         Philanthropists and public agencies directly involved in youth development programs should agree on a common agenda of priority issues for youth development research and evaluation in order to have efficient and effective coordinated expenditure on youth activities;

4)         Need to counter negative public perceptions of youth and of the core youth development messages (e.g., female youth are seen as inferior, segregation between rural and urban youth, challenges faced by disabled youth in the labour market, discrimination and social exclusion based on ethnicity, race, religion, tribe, language, and migrants), by clarifying on the messages that advance the youth course. The use of ICT by experts should empower the youth to overcome this barrier and to collapse the digital divide, thus empowering the youth through fundamental right of access to both local and global networks and information and knowledge as well as through the creation of new socio-economic opportunities for gainful employment;

5)         Build vocal constituencies that can articulate issues, including armed conflict, violence, exploitation, and all forms of environmental degradation, on behalf of the youth so as to deliver results favourable to them;

6)         Connect to popular issues, institutions and strategies as well as building adequate capacity and creating institutional spaces for effective youth participation;

7)         Strengthen and interpret the evidence base for youth development programs;

8)         Encourage monitoring and assessment of youth programs;

9)         Define the full range of the roles of different actors, including among the youth such as young women and girls, youth with disabilities by eliminating all forms of discrimination against them so that they can fully enjoy their human rights and democratic freedoms;

10)       Strengthen and link public and private support systems for youth by using an integrated approach that combines supportive micro-and-macro-economic policies and targeted measures tackling labour demand and supply and the quality and quantity of youth employment;

11)       Build sustainable infrastructures for funding, training, advocacy, and network development for youth;

12)       Saturate neighbourhoods or communities with solid support programs and ensure that the youth participate in the development of local, national and international strategies and policies; and

13)       Leaders should commit their effort to broaden goals and increase the opportunities for the youth.

These interventions can be deployed on short, mid and long-term basis. The different stakeholders (youth generally, youth leaders, CSOs, Government, Parliament, and development partners) can contribute significantly to confronting the development challenges of the youth in Uganda. Each stakeholder should clearly define its interventions based on its mission, vision and goals. 

Fortunately, these challenges can be overcome because of the existing opportunities amongst the youth because they are more flexible and productive than adults; easy to hire because they are cheaper than adults; highly motivated, energetic, creative, ambitious and hopeful; capable of delivering quality work outputs under close supervision; easy to re-train and re-adjust to become enterprising and to fit into new situations; courageous, dynamic and receptive to new and risky challenges; mostly unmarried and can therefore be focused and loyal to initiatives; good listeners with positive attributes for excellent inter-personal relations (friendly), attitudinally positive, and quick to learn; easy to mobilize to engage in teamwork and network activities; eager to gain experience; passionate and vocal about youth issues; potentially capable of giving back to the community.

Therefore, as you fully indulge yourselves in and with these critical national and global issues, I implore you to be honest, objective and analytical in order to arrive at implemental resolutions to improve the deplorable living conditions of the youth in this country. Tolerance of each other’s views over matters that cut across the youth from different political parties and the commitment to achieve a better Uganda for “the youth, by youth” could never have come at a more timely moment.

We must join hands to address the obstacles and challenges hindering youth development and identify those opportunities that encourage and secure healthy living conditions including an environment of quality, and access to education, resources and employment.

At this juncture, I wish to appeal to youth leaders in this conference to identify innovative and proven solutions that stimulate the thinking of leaders in all sectors – public, private, philanthropic, and non-profit sectors – about the actions needed to support youth development. 

I, henceforth, wish all of you a very successful conference.