The East African Community Common Market, launched in July 2010 set out to among other things; establish the free movement of workers to ease access to employment by job seekers within the region. Uganda as a member of the EAC should strive to benefit from the Common Market, and the free movement of workers in particular in order to address the challenge of youth unemployment.
Uganda has one of the world’s largest percentage of young people under the age of 30 years at 78 per cent according to the 2012 State of Uganda population report, and the youth unemployment rate in Uganda is reported as one of the highest in Africa.
Rampant unemployment has seen many a youth get involved in an unregulated informal sector where they are often exploited, underpaid, and involved in gambling, crime and risky ventures. This situation is not very different in the other EAC states.
Since the launch of the Common Market there have been strides towards implementing this freedom including progressive elimination of work permit fees, and popularisation of Swahili to enable Ugandan workers more easily communicate with other East Africans.
However this process has faced challenges at both regional and national levels which have hindered its visibility, and derailed the expectations the citizens nursed at the dawn of the Common Market.
Currently, there are complaints of East Africans failing to access jobs across the region owing to conditionalities regarding age, nationality, and income levels. The process has also been quite slow; with stalling of negotiations on liberalisation of the labour market.
Progress of conducting manpower surveys has also been slow, causing delays in addressing gaps in the labour market. Additionally, initiatives to assess progress of the Common Market including the recently launched Common Market scorecard have overlooked the free movement of workers, posing questions about the EAC’s commitment towards this process.
Uganda in particular is yet to make this process a reality. At the moment a manpower survey has not been conducted, hence absence of information on skills gaps and potentials to inform the process.
The youth also harbour fears that a liberalised labour market would result in loss of jobs to their regional counterparts who are deemed as better skilled. Absence of labour market information is a hindrance to allaying these fears.
Indeed in recent years, the media has been awash with reports of graduates failing to acquire jobs as a result of lacking practical and soft skills, and some employers have been reported to prefer foreign workers to Ugandans. The Common Market hence presents a challenge to the country to consider the region’s employment needs in its curriculum reforms. The need for practical skilling for the youth cannot be over stated.
The Common Market also sought to promote trade, agricultural development and investment all of which would have a positive impact on employment creation.
For example, the agriculture sector, although looked down upon by most youths owing to dwindling and unpredictable returns has the potential to provide gainful employment if the challenges hampering its productivity are addressed.
It is also important to promote investment through focusing more on infrastructural development and addressing supply side constraints like high electricity costs as opposed to providing massive tax incentives that result in loss of revenue which would have supported income generating activities and industrial training for youths. Infrastructural development will also encourage industrialisation hence increase employment.
There is need to redeem our commitment towards implementing the Common Market as a probable solution to the youth unemployment challenge.
Ms Asiimwe is a programme officer SEATINI-Uganda.