If it is true that an idle mind is the Devil’s workshop, then we are in big trouble. The latest statistics shows there are 14 million unemployed Ugandans.
And about 80 per cent of these, that is 10 million, are able-bodied youth. Those are 10 million workshops at the Devil’s disposal. Now, you know why the crime rate remains high.
Even government is concerned about the level of unemployment especially among the youth. In a Labour Day address to the nation, President Museveni acknowledged the problem and promised to to tackle the unemployment crisis.
Fed up of government’s promises of jobs that never materialise, some youth staged a demonstration to express concern over the high unemployment.
Where to get a job
One interesting thing about the Labour Day demo is that the youth put aside their political differences to talk about a common problem-–unemployment.
That was the first step in the right direction. The second step is to stop looking at government as a job provider. Already encumbered by veterans who are reluctant to retire, government simply has no capacity to employ 10 million jobless youth. Even if the “old timers” were sent packing into early retirement, it would make little difference.
The civil service cannot absorb more than 30,000 in a year.
The armed forces take in a similar number every year, but very few youth qualify to join. Most either do not meet the academic standards, or lack the discipline to make it.
The industries being set up by investors in different parts of the country also have very few jobs to offer. The days of a factory employing tens of thousands of workers are gone.
The only sector that can comfortably accommodate all these jobless people is agriculture. The farm is the only place I know where is always work to do.
My maternal grandfather used to have a spare hoe, for visitors who found him busy working in his garden. Instead of a seat, he would offer them a hoe. And work would continue.
A day at the farm
For security reasons, I do not carry tools like hoes and machetes in my farm truck.
But whenever I bump into someone I know on the street “surfing” for a job, I invite them to spend a day with me at the farm.
They usually accept the invite, anticipating a fun-filled day at the farm, enjoying jackfruit picked straight from the tree, and mouth-watering muchomo.
But like my grandfather, I always “suggest” we first do some “little work”, to whet our appetite for the coming feast. There is water to fetch. There are trees to prune. There are animals to feed. There are fruits to pick. Before you know, the day is gone.
Since I started inviting people at the farm, I have observed a trend that might help explain why there is a lot of unemployment in Uganda. My Ugandan visitors will always wait to be invited to take part in any farm work. Non-Ugandan visitors never wait. They simply get down to work.
There is this German youth, a volunteer with a local NGO, who offered to prune my overgrown fruit trees. When I asked him whether he had done it before, he admitted that he had spent the previous night reading it up on the internet, so he wanted to give it a try.
Stripped down to his shorts, and armed with a pruning saw, he set to work. By the end of the day, his skin was raw from insect bites and over-exposure to the sun. But he was satisfied with his efforts and happily settled down to munch away at roasted pork ribs.
For my Ugandan visitors, a quick farm tour followed by a long chat under a shady tree is enough.
And even for that, they have to dress up like they are off to Bwindi impenetrable forest. Heavy boots to protect their feet, dark shades to shield their eyes, a broad brimmed hat, to keep out the hot sun, mineral water to irrigate their throats, a jacket, an umbrella and a scarf, in case it rains.
After hosting several volunteers at the farm, both Ugandans and non-Ugandans, I have come to the conclusion that the current unemployment crisis has little to with lack of jobs.
There are enough jobs for everyone. The problem is we are looking for them in the wrong places.
While we are busy competing over the few jobs available in the civil service and other organisations, foreigners are coming to grab the numerous opportunities.
The foreigners are willing to start from scratch; some do not even have capital, just their brains and willingness to work hard.
Many Congolese refugees, for instance are doing very well growing maize on a commercial scale in Masindi and other parts of Uganda.
These are people who started off working as labourers on other people’s farms. Today they are renting land to grow maize and other crops that have a ready market locally and in the neighboring countries. Some have acquired maize mills and other agro-processing machinery, where they hire locals.
The youth who demonstrated on Labour Day want government to give them seed capital through the youth fund, so that they can go into business.
Instead of dishing out money to these youth, government should hire successful entrepreneurs like Aga Sekalala to tip them on where to find jobs.
Instead of wasting time hanging around waiting for government to get them a job, the youth consider going into farming, even if it means volunteering at someone’s farm in order to get the necessary experience.
The author is a farming journalist
and a consultant.