“We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future”. This is a famous quote by the former president of the United States of America, Franklin D. Roosevelt. It’s a reflection of what youth can do to nations when well empowered to be agents of positive change.
It is by far no doubt that the youth comprise the biggest percentage of the global population, with productivity capabilities to sustain economies; they are very energetic, innovative and with insatiable desire to discover new ways of solving critical challenges. The youth are a strong resource to nations.
In a country like Uganda where 78% of the population is below thirty-five years of age, the youth have demonstrated that they can influence and change the direction the country can take. This is not only in the political spheres but in the socio-economic spheres too.
This potential of the youth is however less exploited by governments especially on the African continent, with many government leaders underestimating the potential of the young to be agents of change. It is common to find leaders denying youth the chance to take part in decision making process. This denies these youth the chance to deliberate on key issues affecting them and the country as a whole. Those who get the chance to air out their views don’t get consideration when final implementation of decisions is made.
With less involvement in decision making, many youth have resorted to unproductive activities where they feel they are recognized, leaving other key economic sectors with no workforce.
Youth involvement in agriculture
Because youth are less empowered, many regard agriculture as a “no-go” sector for career options. Many look at the sector as being for the rural poor, illiterate, failures in life and yet many go for years with no formal employment. Governments need to put in place centers that will train and empower youth to value and look at agriculture as a crucial sector for job creation and poverty alleviation.
Uganda’s statistics indicate that out of the four hundred thousand students that graduate from institutions of higher learning annually, only ninety thousand get accommodated into the formal employment market. The big question would be, “where does the other bigger percentage end?”
Most youth leave school with a mindset that they will get employed in offices where a paycheck will come every end of month. However to the disappointment of many, this does not come to be a reality. They end up getting so disgruntled and lose hope of getting employment. Because they think a degree holder cannot do farming, they end up engaging in illegal activities like gambling, sometimes engaged in criminal acts like robbery, pickpocketing, and others, to make ends meet.
Government is putting in place strategies and policies to bring youth into the agriculture sector and to also create champions for the improvement of the same. However, due to politicizing of these campaigns, most of them have failed to meet their desired objectives to have an impact. Even with National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS), Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) and others in place, the number of youth taking on agriculture for a career is still lower than 20% of the total workforce in the sector.
In most African countries, youth are looked at as less experienced to take up political positions. Current presidents have used this as an excuse to cling on to power, claiming there are no potential replacements to run the country. This has created dictatorial tendencies that even those who come up with the desire to take up political positions are frustrated. With the trend of politics getting monetized, youth are kept away from active politics because they can’t afford to run a successful campaign that always gets expensive in the process.
The United Nations has tried changing this trend by encouraging youth to run for political offices with the “Not too young to run” campaign. This however has not been impressed by many leaders especially those in Africa.
Youth around the world have been branded the “Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Wareen Buffet of tomorrow” because of their innovativeness. Youth owned businesses are coming up each day, all in a bid to fight the challenge of youth unemployment. From street vending to app development, to enterprise setups, the youth have proved to be Uganda’s next business moguls in entrepreneurship. The government has embraced this struggle with support by setting up innovation hubs, designing policies pro to startups, and the recently introduced Youth Livelihood Programme.
One big challenge these startups are facing is the business mortality rate. Due to the state of the economy, most of these businesses never live to enjoy their fifth birthday. The Youth Livelihood Programme has not benefited most youth due to the challenges encountered in its implementation. With money being given to youth and yet with no training in financial management, lack of experience to run business and lack of mentorship, the programme has been misused. What is meant to work as “venture capital” has been treated as “gift” from the government to the youth and are not willing to pay back the money. Due to lack of training, many of these youth have invested in non-productive business, whose returns are insufficient to pay back both the principal and mandatory interest.
As we celebrate this year’s Youth Day, let us change our mindset towards youth, support them, empower them and groom them into champions and ambassadors of transformation.
Photo credit: Mo Ibrahim Foundation