Saturday April 7 2012

Rising youth unemployment in Uganda, a tickling time bomb

Mostly unemployed youth check their names on a shortlist for jobs at Kololo Airstrip, Kampala.

Mostly unemployed youth check their names on a shortlist for jobs at Kololo Airstrip, Kampala. FILE PHOTO.  

By AL-MAHDI SSENKABIRWA

It played out like a gory movie script as Juliet Nalugya, 26, jumped to her death from the 14th floor of Workers House, Kampala about three weeks ago.
It has widely been said that Nalugya’s action was out of frustration, having searched for a job for five years but failed to find one.

Though the reason or cause of death is yet to be confirmed, Nalugya story is one that resonated with many youth, going by the comments from social network and radio talk shows.
Some of the youth even suggested that a counselling department be set up at Makerere University or a labour ministry for fresh graduates established, to avoid such incidents.

Unemployment bearing on polls
Other youth noted that the rising unemployment among the youth is a ticking time bomb that could easily result in a no vote for the current government come 2016 election, if not solved soonest.

Uganda’s unemployment rates are among the highest in the world, with 32 per cent of young people out of work. After youth-led revolts across the Arab world, some warn that sub-Saharan Africa, need to improve young people’s prospects to avoid social unrest.

According to statistics from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) and Uganda Investment Authority (UIA), of the more than 400,000 young Ugandans who enter the labour market each year, only about 113,000 are absorbed in formal employment, leaving the rest to forage for jobs in the informal sector.

While the national unemployment rate stands at 3.5 per cent, that of the youth is a whopping 32.2 per cent and higher for degree holders - 36 per cent. This worrying figures are, however, not conclusive as the government department in charge of labour does not have current aggregate figures on unemployment and underemployment.

The unemployment story is playing in an environment where Uganda’s population growth rate is the third highest in the world at 3.5 per cent. The youth and young people constitute almost 78 per cent of 34 million Ugandans.

Overwork & poor work conditions
Research also shows that the majority of youth are not only jobless but also those employed are overworked in conditions lacking in the core labour standards. Despite policies aimed at enhancing the quality and availability of gainful employment, youth unemployment has remained a major problem to the country.

Available data shows that youth unemployment is worse in urban areas, at about 40 per cent. Only 21 per cent are in paid employment. Ubos says that 9 per cent are employed in wholesale trade, retail trade and repair activities while those in the manufacturing sector remained at an average of 4 per cent.

Although President Museveni’s government has made “investing in young people” one of its fundamental social obligation - by making it the fifth pillar of Uganda’s Poverty Eradication Action Plan (Expired in 2008) which was the country’s overall national planning framework, soaring unemployment among youth is an indicator that it still has a lot of ground to cover.
According to the Population Reference Bureau, a Washington D.C-based research and advocacy group, Uganda’s fast growing population is worrying because it is not matched with the ability of the economy to create jobs.

Experts say failure to tailor the education system to train the youth more effectively for the workplace and to be active citizens, could lead to widespread disillusionment and social tensions.

“With less experience and fewer skills than many adults, young people often encounter particular difficulty accessing work,” states the UN world youth report 2012.
“During economic downturns, young people are often the “last in” and the “first out” — last to be hired, first to be dismissed.”

The report is a product of an e-discussion with the youth and representatives of youth-led organisations on the transition from schools and training institutions into the world of work.
Respondents mentioned that corruption and preferential family and political connections pose a disadvantage to most youth, as only those people who are well placed in society appear to have access to decent jobs.

The findings are in line African Development Indicators 2008/2009 statistics where an estimated 83 per cent of the youth are unemployed. The World Bank in its 2008 report warned that unless Uganda scales up her efforts to create jobs, the youth would be more involved in crime and armed conflicts.

According to the UN report, young people who are able to find a job must accept “an extremely low salary. Some employers are using this as an opportunity to exploit youth.”

Possible solutions
In a recent address to a students’ conference from 33 higher institutions of learning, President Museveni said Uganda needs to create six million jobs over the next four years in order to absorb the youth coming into the labour market.

Reversing this trend is, however, a major challenge for the government, more so for a country that has an upright population pyramid with a high dependency ratio. The share of the productive and reproductive age group 15 – 64 years stand at 48 per cent, which means a large dependency ratio.

The challenge, according to sector players is to design integrated employment-generating policies that can create decent opportunities for young people who represent a majority of the population in Uganda.

Experts have described government’s efforts to create jobs through programmes such as Prosperity for All, Entandikwa and Youth Fund, as “inadequate” and would instead create more reliance by the youth on government.

A section of the youth have argued that the immediate step should be for government to lower the retirement age to 55 years, from the current 65, justifying that 15,000 jobs would be created for them annually, if the proposal is implemented.

Going by figures from the Ubos where the majority of jobs advertised since 2006 were in the public administration sector, the proposal by the youth would work. The share of jobs advertised in the public administration sector increased from 50 per cent in 2007 to 80 percent in 2010.

Experts cite education as a key step towards youth employment but emphasised that the type of education also mattered. The key elements of this include promoting vocational training and ensuring that the curriculum addresses the labour market skills demand. Also, the training in micro and small - scale business opportunities and career guidance for youth based on the manpower demand in the labour market.

One of the temporary measures the government has undertaken to deal with youth unemployment in Uganda is to encourage and promote export of both semi-skilled and unskilled labour especially to Iraq.

Government says it plans to engage a more sustainable basis for employment creation and poverty reduction through industrial development, especially through agricultural modernisation and implementation of the microfinance outreach plan.

Discourage handouts
Prof. Augustus Nuwagaba, an expert on poverty faults this plans, saying it will treat the ‘symptoms’ but not unemployment. “The real cause is lack of human capital. Handouts have never transformed lives. How much money will you give to all the youth?” he asked.

To reverse the trend, Prof. Nuwagaba says government must adopt a dual qualification framework, which enables students to acquire vocational skills alongside formal education. “We need to go back to the drawing board and ensure that we impart vocational skills to the young ones right from primary level.”

Mr Isa Matovu, an educationalist concurs with him, saying President Museveni must strive to address unemployment if he is to remain relevant to the youths. “This concomitant poverty among the youths - especially the educated lot - is a cause for concern. There must be a holistic approach to tackle this matter. This business of giving youth cash to fight poverty is simply a piecemeal approach,” he says .

Mr Livingstone Ssewanyana, the executive director Foundation for Human Rights Initiative says there is need for clear policies on industrialisation and commercial agriculture which could stir job creation.

The players say government has only succeeded in creating political and administrative jobs.
“These jobs, however, only supervise but do not create wealth. Their multiplier effect is low and that is why we have very high unemployment,” Mr Ssewanyana said.

“I don’t want to sound as a prophet of doom but surely, if nothing is done to create jobs for hundreds of thousands of unemployed youths roaming city streets we are indeed headed for a disaster as a country.”

According to Mr Fred Onduri, the commissioner for youth and children affairs in the ministry of labour, the youth loan scheme initiative is likely to create at least 11,000 jobs in the first year.

Youth fund
“This is a well-though out initiative and we are optimistic that it will go a long way in addressing the unemployment problem,” he says. To access the funds, youths in groups of 50 and who have attained O-Level education and above, will be required to create commercially viable enterprises.

Each group, according to Mr Onduri, will receive Shs5 million. Every enterprise will be charged with the responsibility of employing a minimum of two youth who will access the money at the 15 per cent interest rate.

However, the scheme, that was supposed to start before June has been marred with disagreements on the target beneficiaries and procedures to be followed to access the money.
Going by President Museveni’s confession that government cannot provide enough jobs for them, the youth are better off taking his advice to train and acquire survival skills that can enable them fight the widespread poverty in Uganda.

assenkabirwa@ug.nationmedia.com

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