Government should stop the rhetoric and enforce its commitment to our youthful population. Unless Uganda unlocks its young people’s potential, the country risks losing out on sustainable development.
This is because Uganda will have the second highest dependency ratio in Africa, only behind Niger. So Uganda must not take lightly figures by a recent UN Children’s Education Fund report.
Currently, Uganda’s young population stands at nearly 60 per cent according to Uganda National Household Survey (UNHS) 2012/13.
This means close to 20.4 million of our 34 million populations are below 18 years of age. This means 20.4 million Ugandan children are soon joining the jobless ranks.
For sure, these are compelling statistics for immediate action to refocus our attention to the problem of youth unemployment or else we wait to reap the unwelcome returns.
Worse, current World Bank figures indicate more than 62 per cent or 4.5 million of our 7.2 million youth between 18 and 30 years are unemployed. Yet each year, more 400,000 young Ugandan graduates are released to the job market.
This demands Uganda must prepare well in order to reap any profits from our young population as promised at the celebrations to mark the International Youth Day in Moroto last week.
Uganda’s young population should be tapped into, and managed well, to reap demographic benefits. But for now, this young population ‘bulge’ is a burden on Uganda’s working age population, estimated at 16.3 million.
This means Uganda has fewer workers with very many young mouths to feed. This produces a high dependency ratio because only 3.3 million of the 16.3 million people are formally employed.
But this non-working age population should also give us hope. Soon, Uganda should benefit from increase in the working age share of this young people.
Despite its apparent shortcomings, Uganda’s young population should offer a youthful and widened domestic market, ready labour, attraction of investors, widened tax base and innovations from increased competition.
But government alone cannot respond to these challenges. This calls for a strong and strategic public-private partnership in order to unlock these young potentials. These demand opportunities and platforms for their ideas and innovations.
Unfortunately such options narrow now. Worse, college and university students find it difficult to secure placements, get exposure, and gain practical on-the-job skills.
As Uganda relies on the private-sector, both local and foreign, government should create a policy that mandates investors to take on apprentices.
Moreover, government and businesses should register apprenticeship programmes across occupations so our youth receive. This is workable as government readily licenses, and supports these businesses by offering land, and tax exemptions.
Overall, government should mandate potential investors to take our youth for apprenticeship or employment as a core basis for licensing businesses and reduce our dependency ratio.
This has worked for Egypt, Malaysia, and Cuba, and so can it for Uganda.