COLUMNIST | JOACHIM BUWEMBO
Whoever is involved or interested in securing Uganda’s future needs to take a second look at the way our youth are being prepared. They also need to look more
closely at the way resources for youth empowerment and livelihood enhancement are managed. It would be informative to make a comparison between the way the oil industry is being prepared and the way the youth of Uganda are being prepared
for the future.
The importance being attached to the development of the petroleum industry leaves one with little doubt that we value oil more than the youth. If you value something, you safeguard it. The precision with which the oil production is being planned is a million times more than the attention being paid to the youth preparation.
There are timelines for the activities in the petroleum sector. The energy minister is always co-ordinating with the sector players. There is nothing that the big ones — Total, CNOOC and Tullow do in Uganda that the minister does not scrutinise.
Some $20b (sh72 trillion) is being invested in the petroleum industry by different players, including the taxpayer. The Government, through the minister and even the president, are monitoring each and every dollar to ensure that it does what it
is supposed to so that nothing goes wrong and the deadlines are adhered to.
On the other hand, the youth minister was last year almost becoming a nervous wreck when she tried to follow up on the funds released for youth livelihood. Every
other youth group she interviewed told her their projects had not made headway because they had signed for money which they never got or got a small fraction.
Now just imagine the Total, CNOOC or Tullow chief coming to Uganda to check on the progress of the oil investment. They go to Bunyoro oil fi elds and arrive at
the site where they expect a lot of activity. Instead, they fi nd some demoralised technicians yawning, who tell them that work stalled several months earlier because the equipment they signed for as having received has actually not yet arrived into the country.
Or the chiefs to check on the pipeline at the place their records indicate it has reached. They find virgin bush and are later informed the pipe laying is still a hundred kilometres behind, that the reports they have been receiving were just reports, not the reality. Anybody can see that such a scenario cannot happen with the implementation of the oil exploitation plans. But it is the usual stuff for the
youth programmes. It is, therefore, not far fetched that oil is being handled like it is more precious than the youth. The difference between the youth and oil, however, is that the youth will grow even if neglected.
That is why in spite of the poor implementation of their programmes, they have not died, not physically at least. They are economically stunted but alive. It would be interesting to read and analyse the relationship between the jobs created in a year to the amount of funds disbursed for youth empowerment.
There are, for example, many daring Ugandan youth, possibly a million of them, who have gone out into the ‘unknown’ to seek employment. Despite all the horror stories of torture, sex slavery and murder emanating from the Middle East, our youth continue fi nding their way there.
MPs on a fact-finding mission recently brought back unacceptable death statistics, possibly higher than what we suffer in the Somali war zone. But the youth still go. Have any of the youth funds gone into helping such youth get visas and buy air tickets? Additionally, there could be up to a million male youth engaged in bodaboda business. Did they all buy the bodabodas using youth funds?
These are two areas of mass youth employment and one would wish
there was as much offi cial monitoring as goes into the petroleum development programme. The other category are a hundred thousand or so youth in the taxi industry, working as drivers and conductors. Then fi fty or so thousand young women are in the hospitality industry working as waitresses in their food kiosks.
The problem with these activities is that they really involve no special skill and, therefore, are quite fragile. Anytime that serious investment is made in mass public conveyance (bus, train) will see the people in taxis and bodaboda becoming redundant. And thus a million plus youth would become unemployed, thereby sharply reducing effective demand in the economy and making security of persons and property more precarious.
In all, we need to collectively and seriously treat the future of the country’s youth with at least the same seriousness as oil.