On the last birthday of Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, he appreciated the challenges faced by the youth and argued the government to create more opportunities for them. I believe he was right and on point considering that the rapid urbanisation is leading to an unsteady increase in youth population in urban areas.
As per 2014 statistics, Uganda has 33.4 per cent of its population between the ages of 15 -34 and about 21.6 per cent of the total population living in urban settings. Among those living in urban centres, 35 per cent and 29 per cent of 15 to 24 years and 15 to 29 years respectively are not working.
Even those who are working, the majority are in informal sector. The continuous dearth of employment in the formal sector has made many of the young people face three options: getting jobs in the informal sector with insecurity and poor wages and working conditions, getting jobs in the low-tier service industries, or developing their vocational skills to benefit from new opportunities in the professional and advanced technical/knowledge sectors.
Although the overall literacy rate in Uganda is (72.2 per cent) and 85.9 in urban centres, a large portion of young people are not able to choose among any of these options causing long-term unemployment, which makes them highly vulnerable. Because of this, the use of ICTs should be emphasised. ICTs has not only dramatically reshaped employment markets around the world, but it has also earned huge revenues to the economies. For example, India’ income through IT is approximately $142 billion per year.
However, the access to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure and services in Uganda is still low particularly in rural areas, the Internet is still expensive, there is even OTT tax and government has not set up many youth centres where free training should be done. ICTs play a pivotal role in reforming the ways in which most of the traditional services are produced, traded and delivered, as well as offering opportunities for the generation of new activities and employment in many service industries.
ICT is extremely important in generating strongly diverging forces for the young workers. ICT is able to change the economics of many sectors by reducing the importance of scale, facilitates an expansion in employment in small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and creates new skilled employment opportunities through a number of ICT training initiatives. In the knowledge era, continuous education and training is the only way for job security, especially if the education and training is in ICT-related skills. If they demonstrate enterprise and creativity, there are vast opportunities for the young people. The government, therefore, should make sure that the following initiatives are in place:
Providing public ICT access through libraries and youth centres; offering ICT skill training programmes; providing ICT access and training to disadvantaged target groups, including people with disability and their caretakers; distributing free computer training resources through libraries and youth centres; and providing subsidised electronic gadgets to learning community through government initiatives. For instance, government of Uganda should make sure low cost computers are distributed either freely or at low cost to the student community.
Others are establishing computer reuse schemes to provide affordable refurbished computers to youth on low income and non-profit youth groups; education through ICT; Narrowing the digital divide; ICT employment generation through entrepreneurship; promoting public-private partnership to generate employment; bridging the gap between the knowledge economy and the informal sector; and putting young people in charge.
Promoting youth employment and employability requires important integrated effort that includes actions in the areas of education, skills development, job supply and support for young low-income entrepreneurs, particularly in the knowledge intensive sectors. It is clear that there is an extensive potential for ICTs to generate employment for young people. However, this potential will not be realised unless our country has a range of supporting strategies mentioned above.
Applying ICTs in education is a key to provide young people with ICT skills. The participation of young people in the development and implementation of initiatives involving the use of ICTs to generate employment is a key factor in the success of such initiatives. Mentor support for starting ICT-related enterprises is an important service that our government could organise to provide advice and guidance to young entrepreneurs.
However, for this to happen, the budget allocation for the ICT ministry must be increased from Shs123b as it is now in 2019/2020 budget that will be read next week to at least Shs400b or more.
Mr Kahigima is an ICT specialist/national co-coordinator of Organising for Action.