Just recently, following the full re-opening of the economy, I have been reflecting on a number of issues concerning Uganda and I can’t help to wonder if as a nation we have discovered what to treasure and what trash. The past two years gave way for intense reflection and if anything, despite the great loss of lives and livelihoods suffered, it was an opportunity to learn, unlearn and re-learn.
One of my reflections is the fact that Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world. According to the World Bank, Uganda holds 2nd place in the world with about 78% of the population below the age of 30. But most of the time, this statistic is mentioned with dash of distress, ultimately because of the state of the nation.
The thought of 78% of the population being youth that require access to quality education, employment, health care, ready markets, and all-round inclusion usually turns the heat up for policy makers and implementers. But this should not be the case, I believe this is one of the biggest advantages our country has, and with the right level of clarity and strategy we can definitely reach great heights.
According to the United Nations, there are about 1.2 billion youth accounting for 16% of the global population and this number is projected to rise to 1.3 billion by 2030. So, it goes without saying that youth are here to stay and can no longer be spoken about as liabilities but rather as prospects. Youth were the most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and for a steady recovery, we must apply a ‘human-centred recovery’ approach with Youth as pivotal.
Now more than ever is a chance for us to refine our systems and create an enabling environment for youth to perform at their greatest potential and contribute to a more productive economy. The labour market for instance, having a youthful population is a source of abundant labour force that could generate significant tax income to the economy, however, the reality is that our economy needs more labour intensive investments to achieve this.
As it stands, in Uganda brain drain is on the rise, thousands of skilled and semi-skilled youth leave the country every year in search of work, putting the country at a huge loss. By nature, youth are dynamic and thirst for learning and success.
It is therefore, only natural that they migrate in search for an environment that will spur their growth. Essentially, better education, employment opportunities and favourable entrepreneurial conditions will create a bountiful supply of quality labour and boost our economy.
Have you ever stopped to wonder how certain societal conditions lag us behind and cause laxity? A case in point, is youth engaged as ‘taxi-touts’, this, in our society is considered a labour activity which like many others, only provides enough income for hand-to-mouth survival. Just imagine how much more productive these individuals would be doing more mentally engaging work.
The World Bank Human Capital Index suggests that due to unequal human capital development opportunities for youth, an average child born in Uganda would only be 38% as productive as an adult due to lack of quality education, healthcare and other basic requirements for growth and exposure.
Heeding to SDGs through social inclusion plays a huge role in realising the value of young people. Society should consider young people as best capable of building a new socio-economic status and thus should be given the power of mutual sustenance.
Youth achieve gratification when they are surrounded by a community that values them by respecting their rights and recognising their contributions. The aspect of youth involvement in the design and administration of programs, policies and in other decisions that affect their lives increases effectiveness and contributes to their development. Therefore, this must always be taken into keen consideration without tire.
Consider even just the simple things we may take for granted, imagine how much renewable energy can be generated naturally with only the 78% of our population. With the latest global research and innovation on the production of clean electrical energy through footsteps, exercise equipment among others, we can harness the day-to-day activities and vibrancy of Youth to fully utilise resources for sustainability. But then again, in order to accommodate innovations such as these, we need favourable infrastructure in place which is still lacking.
Although youth may often be perceived as a burden or contributing to society’s problems, we are important assets for the economic, political, and social life of our communities. Recognition of this significance and the fact that the future of our nation is tied to ours development, is an essential ingredient for sustainable development both today and tomorrow.
Uganda’s 78% is indeed a treasure to be treasured.
Mujuni is a Policy Advocacy and Communications Practitioner