Wednesday May 7 2014

If young people have nothing to eat, they will eventually eat us

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

So I read in Sunday Monitor the youth of Arua telling President Yoweri Museveni, “No jobs, no votes in 2016”.
They are right that the jobs situation for youth is terrible. Some data suggests that up to 84 per cent of Ugandan youth are unemployed. However, this problem is not unique to Uganda and tells us that something that cannot be easily fixed by governments is taking place here.

In Nigeria in March, a stampede for government jobs killed six people. There were 5,000 immigration service jobs on offer. A mind-boggling 500,000 people turned up. In Nairobi a few days ago, a Middle Eastern airline was recruiting a handful of airhostesses. There was a riot as thousands of young women fought to hand in their applications, the riot police had to be called in.
And that is the story in most parts of the world, from Greece, Brazil, and round to Egypt.

There are many economists who hold that the present generation of youth will be the first not to do better than their parents. And they are probably right.
The matter of youth unemployment has been around with us for centuries. However, we cannot do the things ancient rulers did to keep youth preoccupied. A popular means was war. The young men would go off to fight. Many would die in the battlefield, thus the enemy of the monarch actually helped solve his unemployment issues. Those who survived were allowed to pillage and plunder conquered lands.

These are relatively peaceful terms. If you were heartless, you would say world peace has created its own problems…youth unemployment being one of them.
The other is technology. In my own media industry, it has been a bloodbath in the west, and the technology machete is slowly coming our way. Bloomberg has automated parts of its news production. Robots are replacing miners, and driverless trucks are taking over in many heavy industries.

If for nothing else, because youth unemployment and poverty will result in hell for all those who have something, it is the one problem that needs a bi-partisan solution. The Kenya political class found out the hard way in the post-election violence of early 2008. The violence after Mwai Kibaki allegedly cheated opposition leader Raila Odinga of victory, but soon lines got blurred.
In Kisumu, Raila’s backyard, the youth soon made a move on property owned by him and his family. In some of the strongholds of Kibaki, pro-regime youth started to rummage estates and businesses owned by his supporters. The political class woke up, smelt the coffee, and rushed to sign a power-sharing deal to end the mayhem and save their interests.
Still, there are some “public works” that the government could institute to ease life for young people:

•One; send young people to carry out adult literacy classes. The same classes would also teach people in the villages basic health tips. Pay the cost of their transport, food, and accommodation, and even Shs150,000 a month.
•Launch a national programme to eliminate malaria, and use the youth. Send them to distribute and teach people how to use nets; let them lead actions to cut tall grasses where mosquitoes hide and to spray their breeding grounds.
•Pay those Arua youth and others Shs100,000 each to go and clean police and military barracks, and repair the horrible houses there. This money could be chopped off from the Defence and Internal security budget, and it wouldn’t leave a dent.

•Get the youth, for a little pocket money, to clean Uganda’s towns every last weekend of the month.
•Finally, they say what saves Uganda is its fertile land. Neighbour Kenya has no little land. What saves it is its saving and credit cooperatives (Saccos), and “Kyamas” (investment clubs). Every Kenyan, even dead ones, belong to a Sacco or Kyama. Every third or so home in Kenya, perhaps every two in three plots of land, every one in two taxis and matatus, are built by or bought by a loan from a Sacco.

The laws governing Saccos in Kenya are extremely stringent, and supervision of the sector very diligent. Your security for most Sacco loans are your guarantors. And your guarantors, usually close friends or family, are hammered if you default. So the pressure on you to perform with your loan is extremely high.

We need to borrow a leaf from our neighbours, and enable a Sacco culture partly through law, but also good policy. That political money wasted on “youth enterprise” creation should be given as seed capital to Saccos instead.
With its fertile land and water, plus similar initiatives outlined above, if we did these, we would just sit back and watch miracles happen. And, yes, while we are on the subject, why not employ youth as election officials in 2016?
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