Since childhood, James Sekitooleko's mother implored him to study hard, get
a good job and be successful. After 17 years in school, Sekitooleko
graduated with a bachelor of Tourism degree and thought he was prepared for
But when his job search didn't bear results for a full year, Sekitooleko
took to boda boda riding, at first as a stopgap. He rubs shoulders with
school dropouts and they have little regard for him. They wonder why he went
to school at all. Having started with one motorcycle, he has since bought
two more, which he hires out to others at Shs 10,000 each per day. Plus the
Shs 20,000 he makes from the one he operates, he makes a modest Shs 40,000
After five years as a boda boda rider near Crested Towers in Kampala,
Sekitooleko has lost any hope of getting an office job. He speaks
resentfully about his disillusionment, saying he was born in the "wrong
country, at the wrong time". The only person who still nurses that dream is
his mother, who insists that her son will get an office job befitting of the
graduate she pushed through university.
Sekitooleko doesn't want to tell his mother, who he says spent about Shs 7m
of her hard earned money on his university education, but he has lost hope
of ever finding the job she wants. He feels unemployable after six years on
the street and his new dream is to raise money and venture into the import
Sekitooleko feels he can hardly compete with his former peers in the job
market and is probably right. Research by the Economic Council of the Labour
Movement, a think-tank based in Copenhagen, Denmark, found that 15 years
later, young workers who remained unemployed for at least 10 months after
school in 1994 earned 14% less than their peers who were employed right
Ali Mpaata, a human resource expert in Kampala, says that remaining
unemployed after school means one misses opportunities to gain experience,
connections and confidence, which are critical for his career development.
Makerere University's Prof. Augustus Nuwagaba says part of the problem is
the high cost of the education system, yet its products hardly get jobs.
Nuwagaba, who heads the consultancy firm Reev Consult, says many Ugandans
are losing faith in education because the investment they make isn't
In the end, says Nuwagaba, households which sell off family property like
land and livestock to educate children end up poorer, especially if the
children fail to secure jobs.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO), the UN agency responsible for
labour issues, says youth employment is a big global problem, with some 75
million youths between 15 and 24 out of work. ILO warns that "an entire
generation" unemployed does not bode well for economic and political
Political leaders around the world have recognised that it is their
responsibility to ensure work for young people. Yet this does not usually
happen without political a shake-up.
In November 2011, after destructive youth-led riots in London, British
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg launched a 1.6b Pound Sterling fund to
subsidise companies that employ young people. But youth unemployment in
Britain still stood at 22.4% last month and Clegg may need more drastic
In a speech to Parliament on the heels of the September 2009 Kayunga
demonstration in which about 30 people were killed, President Yoweri
Museveni identified unemployed youths as the main cause.
"The youths are yearning for employment," Museveni said, "and the NRM is now
in a position to address this problem."
His solution: Artisanship, cottage industries and small and medium
enterprises. Museveni identified a host of enterprises he thought fit for
the youth: wine-making, cheese-making, juice-extraction, rice-hurling,
milk-processing, silk-rearing and weaving, handloom-weaving, bread-baking,
flour-milling, fruit-drying, wood-work, welding, poultry, tailoring,
spice-processing, pottery, etc.
Museveni went so far as to describe the "unemployed, landless youths are a
blessing (in disguise)", seeing them as the beginning of a proletariat and
lower middle-class that would be nurtured by ensuring that each
trading-centre in Uganda had cottage industries to keep them busy.
"Money for this is not a problem," the President said.
That year, the government had earmarked over Shs 134b for the National
Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS), more money for the Poverty
Eradication Action Plan (PEAP), Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF),
Peace Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP), and other programmes.
"Can we fail to get Shs 30 billion from all these monies to support cottage
industries of the youths? I do not think so," Museveni said.
In his 2011 manifesto, Museveni made further promises to boost youth
employment, notably a Youth Enterprise Capital Fund to provide start-up
capital for entrepreneurs on concessional terms. The fund, the manifesto
said, would be accessed by youths of all levels of formal education after
they have got training in business and managerial skills from Enterprise
In line with this pledge, the government recently entered a partnership with
three banks to create a Shs 25b fund from which youths can borrow to do
business. But there are already complaints that the qualification
requirements, particularly the O-level certificate that borrowers need, will
leave out many. Others say the sums they are offered are too small.
Museveni's manifest had promised that big businesses which deal with
youth-owned companies would be "given special incentives", while youth-owned
enterprises would be given "preferential treatment" in supplying government.
James Kaggwa is one of hundreds of youths that last year received training
in Information and Communication Technology skills, hoping to benefit from a
Business Outsourcing Programme based on opportunities from developed
countries, which was promoted by government. They are still waiting.
Sometimes Kaggwa is called for small jobs in internet cafes in town, but the
big projects government promised have not come.
"Every time I ask about it they tell me to wait," Kaggwa says.
It comes as bad news to Kaggwa and his colleagues that the BOP programme
might be dead in the water, as high youth unemployment in rich countries has
spurred a campaign against exporting jobs to poor countries.
In President Museveni's recent speeches he accuses his opponents, especially
FDC President Kizza Besigye, of mobilising unemployed youths to destabilise
the country through protests. Some NRM functionaries have referred to these
youths as lumpens, hoodlums.
Youth Minister Ronald Kibuule is now most fascinated by the Youth Fund.
"Borrowing Shs 5m at a fixed interest rate of 15% per year is the best deal
the youths can get and many of them should be able to make it," says
Kibuule. He says they are also lobbying for the academic requirements for
borrowers to be removed.
But, as Kibuule will realise, the success of these stop-gap measures will
remain limited as long as the education system, which is the root cause, is
"You can't imagine that everyone can start and run a business," says
Nuwagaba. He argues that only a small percentage of people are interested in
entrepreneurship and others must find jobs elsewhere. One problem with the
education sector, Nuwagaba argues, is the lack of manpower planning and
prioritisation, with many people trained a few areas while other critical
fields lack manpower.
There are no recent figures on youth unemployment in Uganda but a 2006
estimate by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development put youth
it at 22%, while overall unemployment rate stood at 3.5%. The actual
figures, Nuwagaba opines, "are now much higher given harsher economic
conditions and the fact that the economy is slowing down".
Uganda's population, estimated to be growing at 3.2% per year, is among the
fastest growing in the world, with young people constituting about 78% of
the total. To avoid a crisis, the economy's capacity to generate jobs must
grow at an equal rate. The Uganda Bureau of Statistics says over 7 million
Ugandans are unemployed or underemployed, earning less than US$ 1 a day.
Writing in 1970, Walter Rodney argued that one of the reasons Africa is
underdeveloped is because at a time when human labour was the most important
factor of production, Africa's able bodied men were taken as slaves to
develop other parts of the world. This time around they have stayed home,
but their country remains unable to engage them. The repercussions may turn
out to be as bad, or even worse than slavery.
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Received on Mon May 21 2012 - 16:03:50 EDT