After all the excitement of [Ghetto Republic president] Bobi Wine’s sensational victory in the Kyadondo East parliamentary race, and all the comments about how it represented an anti-establishment youthful revolution, President Yoweri Museveni finally weighed in. The gist of Museveni’s argument was that youth (biology) is not the big thing in politics, but ideology. Young people (he listed several in Uganda’s history) had come to power and made a mess of it, despite their youth.
Bobi Wine replied, and he made, by far, the more persuasive argument. While conceding some of Museveni’s points, he said ideology itself wasn’t enough. More important was “what kind” of ideology. But he was at his best, when subtly calling out Museveni’s hypocrisy. When Museveni and his very young comrades came to power 31 years ago, he extolled their youthfulness as revolutionary and fresh, as opposed to the regime of oldies they had overthrown.
Now that he himself had grown long in the tooth in office, he was suggesting that we should privilege the supposed wisdom of age over youthfulness. However, both he and Museveni make a mistake in not sufficiently acknowledging biology. Both of them think that jobs and corruption are the biggest issues for the youth. But are they? Some of the best surveys of Ugandan and East African youth attitudes were previously presented in the ‘Holla’ report. I haven’t seen recent ones, but its findings were close to that of another organisation that studies young people in our region, the Centre for Adolescent Studies in Kenya.
A while back, the Centre for Adolescent Studies found that in Kenya, while the politicians and policy people said jobs was the make or break issue for the youth, turned out their biggest fear was crime (and the fear of being murdered by criminals). The next big ones were pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Remarkably, the girls feared pregnancy more than even HIV/Aids. A child needs resources and time to look after, and can bog you down if you can’t get help. Gonorrhoea can be cured.
The Holla study also found that jobs were not the top concern of East African youth. But it also gleaned something else. In all of East Africa, including Uganda, the majority of young people wanted to migrate. Leave all this madness behind. Fundamentally, I think that young people don’t think politicians (in government and the Opposition) are the answer to their problems. They actually do have a strong sense of agency and think they can help themselves.If Museveni wants to be an enabler, he should just light the streets in the low-income areas where they live, and reduce the number of police and security resources dedicated to keeping a check on the Opposition’s Kizza Besigye, and shift them to ensure security in these areas. That would be the best youth policy. Strange? Not exactly.
Crime is a problem because young people feel a greater setback when the little money they have made is stolen from them by muggers. Then, they face a disincentive in making long-term plans, if they think they will be murdered in their youth.
From a health point of view, for youth, the government would have to do the things it is doctrinally opposed to today – have aggressive contraceptive support, legalise abortion, and spend more money on STD treatment!
When it comes to work, the Museveni government has got some of this right, but the policies are unpopular – for ideological reasons.
That plan to send Ugandan doctors to the Caribbean was smart. On the doctors, it’s wrong to argue that because there is a shortage at home, we can’t send doctors abroad.
We need to have a global view of the labour market. If a Ugandan doctor is worth $7,500 a month and we can’t afford to hire her at that price, send her to the Caribbeans where she can get that pay. Then import Pakistani and Bangladesh doctors, and pay them $3,500 if they are happy to take it. When I was last in Qatar, I spoke to a Ugandan who works with Al Jazeera there. She told me the single largest group of Qatari police were Kenyans! A Qatari policeman’s wage is probably higher than what an honest Ugandan MP earns.
Since our young people want to leave, help them do so by setting up agencies that allow them to achieve that safely. Also, reform education to give them the skills to succeed abroad. Museveni’s government would have to support investment in the arts, that he despises for ideological reasons – in centres that teach Spanish, Mandarin, German, Arabic etc. If young Ugandans are going to be cops in Qatar, the odds would be better for them if they spoke Arabic.
If you think biology isn’t as important as ideology in Uganda today, you’ve lost the plot.
Mr Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africa data visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com. Twitter@cobbo3