Tuesday July 22 2014

Youth unemployment is a high priority security issue

By Cato N. Lund

As I watched the picture published on Monday, July 14 of a group of apprehended young men accused of participation in the recent attacks in the Rwenzori region, a thought struck me: “What if these people had a job to lose?” On Tuesday, the Kasese District chairperson, Lt Col Mawa Muhindo, is quoted thus: “It is crystal clear that most of our youth were lured into such nasty activities because they have nothing to do.”

Unemployed young people with no hope of finding gainful employment become angry when they no longer have a single coin to take to the sports betting kiosk or the malwa joint. A lot of anger will easily accumulate and be available for any promoter of any kind of “nasty activity”.

The Daily Monitor published my article about youth unemployment in Uganda on October 24 last year. The article was caused among other things by the variation in the numbers that claimed to denote unemployment; they ranged from 5.2 per cent to 80 per cent. After some little research and number-crushing, I landed on 2/3 or around 67 per cent as a credible figure. It relates to the age bracket 18 – 30 years.

In the 2002 census, this group amounted to 22.3 per cent of the total population; it has probably increased since then, 23 per cent might be a conservative estimate now. We don’t know the exact size of the Ugandan population at the moment; a common estimate is 35 million. The census later this year will give us the answer.

If we take 35 million as a plausible figure for the total population of Uganda right now, slightly more than 8 million will be between 18 and 30 years of age. With 2/3 of them unemployed, we have a potential army of 5.4 million angry young men and women that can instantly be recruited into any kind of action that offers an opportunity to vent the anger. Tribal differences seem to be inflammable stuff, with the establishment of ever more “cultural institutions” with heads that are given traditional titles that translate to “kings” in English; there are heaps piled up of this stuff, which a tiny spark can set ablaze.

A mistake may have been made when the kingdoms were restored more than 20 years ago. To emphasise their role as purely cultural institutions, they should not have been given their old names making the Kabaka, the Omukama and the Kyabazinga kings respectively of Buganda, Bunyoro and Busoga; these are all territories.

Kingdoms in this territorial sense are a contradiction within the Republic of Uganda, and they breed misunderstandings that might have been avoided if, instead, the cultural heads had been named kings of the Baganda, Banyoro and Basoga. The Central Government could then have gone ahead and acknowledged other cultural institutions ad infinitum without causing territorial tension.

Presently, people tend to think of the kingdoms in territorial terms, which further intensifies already venomous land wrangles. With a pool of angry and idle youth at hand, nasty episodes may easily occur and escalate into serious trouble. The men and women “with nothing to do” are in number roughly the size of the population of Scotland, potentially a formidable force.

Security checks are good and I have no problems with being examined whenever I enter a possible terror venue. But no terror attack can have such devastating consequences for the society as the explosion that could follow the accumulated disillusion, anger and despair among the five million jobless youth. It is a security issue of highest priority to create work and provide adequate education for them before the fuse burns out and the fire reaches the primer.

The Rwenzori region attacks were a warning. Any type of tension or dispute can erupt in a similar way but as long as “kingdoms” are created inside and on top of each other and people associate “kingdom” with “territory”, tribal clashes may remain most dangerous.

Mr Lund is a visiting senior lecturer, Department of Architecture and Physical Planning- Makerere University. catonlund@gmail.com