Uganda has grappled with unemployment for a long time now. The problem was exacerbated by the COVID 19 pandemic lockdowns.
The unemployment rate has been subject to change over the last 10 years. Statistics show that in 2012, the unemployment rate in Uganda was at 3.55%, and then it dropped to 1.91% in 2013. For the next 6 years up to 2019, Uganda stood in the range of 1.91% to 1.92%, until 2020 when COVID 19 hit the economy and set the rates shooting back to 2.77% in 2020 and 2.94% in 2021. Analysis shows that it is likely to hit 3.10% by the end of 2022. Yet again, every year universities release more than 40,000 graduates in to the economy and only 9000 jobs are created within the same period. To beat these unemployment odds, Uganda needs to create more than one million jobs yearly for at least the next six years.
The youth comprise of more than 78% of Uganda’s population. Such a number can either be the rise or the fall of an economy, depending on how much effort has been put in empowering them. Uganda, as a country that is growing economically, should be deliberate in this regard. And what better way to do that than to support the part of the population that has the numbers, innovation, creativity, time and energy?
In 2016, Uganda was ranked he most entrepreneurial country world over. This is because of the many small and medium enterprises that comprise a very big percentage of Uganda’s private sector. The youth own 56.6% these enterprises, and this goes to tell you that this group was hit the most by COVID 19.
The government of Uganda in 2012 put in place a Youth Capital Venture Fund to help the youth who are business oriented grow their enterprises in a bid to reduce unemployment. This fund was meant to touch all three categories of youth (the uneducated, those that didn’t go to tertiary institutions but attained a skill, and those that graduated university) as long as they were interested in entrepreneurship. But over the years, the government set in motion more youth funds that targeted specific groups of youth. These include the Emyooga program for those who attained skills and Parish Development Model for those that did not attain a formal education.
These programs, when they are set in motion, are always successful to a certain extent. The youth capital venture fund for instance, eight years after it started could boost of 8500 benefactors annually, ideal loan paybacks and 6 billion Uganda shillings collected from these businesses as tax revenue. All these despite the setbacks it encountered when two of the three banks that were selected to undertake its activities and contribute to the fund pulled out of the deal and only one remained.
The biggest problem encountered by these programs however, is lack of consistency on the side of the government. After they are launched, there are no serious evaluation reports, monitoring activities or mentorship given to the youth involved. These, alongside tax waivers, are very much needed.
Above all, there is need to keep financing the programs. In the recently passed budget, the government financed the PDM alone, leaving the other youth funds unfinanced. That means that the biggest percentage of the youth is not being supported in this financial year. This is a great setback, especially for programs that should now be up and running, learning, remodeling and growing. I implore the government, especially the parliament, to refocus on these programs, refurbish them and always monitor their performance and growth.
Our role as MPs is to continue to inspire the youth and be their voice in the National Parliament about development projects like PDM, Emyooga and Industrial parks that have been established in different regions of Uganda, and ask the government why others, for example Kabarole Industrial Park, have not taken off. The government must continue to domesticate youth friendly programs. This, however, calls for training of the youth at all levels, starting at the grass roots, so that they can believe that it’s possible to improve. The future of work means that young people who start on small scale can grow their small enterprises to a point where they can become self-sustaining and professionally run, businesses that create jobs for the entire country and the region.
We should continue to improve job creation opportunities training, startup capital and prevent Ugandans from abusive behavior and discrimination at work. Government should seriously consider creating more jobs locally, sign agreements with countries that undertake to employ our youth, and use the foreign affairs ministry/embassies to provide information on available opportunities abroad.
The writer is Edson Rugumayo
Youth MP Western Uganda.