More than eight years ago as the ruling NRM sought to earn the party chairman, Mr Museveni, a fourth term in office, the party released a manifesto in which it committed itself to partially addressing the unemployment question by enabling youth internship programmes to come into play.
“The NRM government shall encourage internships for youth at various tertiary institutions. The main objective of this programme is to enable students acquire hands-on experience and make them more relevant to potential employers,” the 2011-2015 manifesto reads, in part.
According to the document, investors who would be willing to give students internship opportunities would be given special incentives and recognition for their role in the fight against unemployment. The nature of incentives were, however, never spelled out.
The release of the manifesto came at a time when unemployment figures for the country were not looking good. While the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was reported to have been growing at an average rate of 8.3 per annum and economic growth at an average rate of seven per cent per annum. Nice figures, one would say, but they had translated into a bigger job market.
The African Development Bank’s (AfDB) Partnership Forum put the national unemployment figures at 83 per cent.
Nationwide figures for unemployment among graduates were hard to come by, but the World Bank had put the unemployment levels among the youth in Kampala City alone at 32.2 per cent and unemployment among university graduates in the city at 36 per cent.
At the time, it was estimated that public and private universities were churning out at least 45,000 graduates per year, while tertiary institutions were churning out many more onto the job market, but the country was bereft graduate level positions for them to occupy.
The public sector was at the time the biggest employer of university graduates. Only a small percentage were taken up by medium and large scale private sector firms, but those constituted and still do constitute a negligible percentage of the national economy.
A census of business establishments, which was conducted a few months before the NRM released the 2011-2015 manifesto, had actually revealed that the medium and large scale private sector firms constitute a very small share of the employment sector, providing slots for only 3.3 per cent of the nation’s entire workforce, including graduates, professionals and unskilled labourers.
The census blamed the small numbers of those employed in the private sector on the nature and structure of the Ugandan economy, which was described as predominantly and of a household and microenterprise nature.
The document stated that the main sources of employment in this kind of economic structure include provision of informal services, artisanal manufacturing and agriculture, which may not necessarily require graduates or professionals.
In light of that, the promise to kick-start the youth internship programmes was greeted with optimism as it was seen as the beginning of concrete action against unemployment among university graduates.
The expectation was that the programme would begin in the Financial Year 2012/2013, but come June 14, 2012, it was not part of the budget speech that was delivered by the then minister for Finance and Economic Planning, Ms Maria Kiwanuka.
Ms Kiwanuka’s speech instead focused on the Youth Venture Capital Fund into which government claimed had enabled 3,000 youth to borrow at least Shs8b. She said an additional Shs3.25b was to be made available.
She also promised to establish a Graduate Venture Capital Fund and capitalise it with Shs16b to help bankroll activities of graduate youth, who would generate bankable proposals, but not mention was made of the youth internship programme.
Nothing was said or done on the same in the entire period between 2011 and 2015, prompting President Museveni to once again promise to work on it as he hit the campaign trail ahead of the February 18, 2016 elections.
The item was in position number 11 on a list of 15 interventions that Mr Museveni said would be acted upon in order to create jobs and fix the unemployment question.
Failure to fulfill the promise has meant that unemployment among graduates and non-graduates alike, continues to be a big problem.
Statistics released by the National Planning Authority (NPA) in March last year indicate that 700,000 people, regardless of their qualifications, descend onto the job market every year, but only about 90,000 ever get jobs. About 87 per cent of those who are willing and ready to work cannot find jobs.
NPA’s senior planner in charge of education, Mr Hamis Mugendawala, says 20 per cent of the 13 per cent who do find something to do are underemployed. This category included teachers, who were found to have ditched their profession and taken to operating boda-bodas in order to have something decent to take home.
“We see a lot of trained teachers riding boda bodas, and doctors as secretaries and in businesses instead of going to hospital. There is a problem at the moment because we are looking at achieving a middle income status by 2040. How we get there will depend on what we do today,” Mr Mugendawala said.
Some of the unemployed university graduates have taken to vending sweets, hankies and airtime cards on the streets of Kampala. Some of these developments can be attributed to failure by the government to embark on the implementation of policies that will grow the economy and generate jobs. Others are blamed on the education system.
“We have very scanty data on skills development. At least 27 per cent of our students in institutions of higher learning are in science and technology training against the recommended 40 per cent. One in every five workers is underutilised,” Mr Mugendawala said.
The problem is made even more complicated by the fact that other related projects such as the Graduate Venture Fund never took off, while others like Youth Livelihood Development Programme and the Uganda Women Entrepreneurship Programme, which government has been funding, have many restrictions regarding the scope and range of activities that they fund, which makes it practically impossible for some of the more creative youths to access funding.
At the same time, many of the youths who would have benefitted from activities under Operation Wealth Creation have not been able to do so because they do not own land.
The acting commissioner for youth in the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Mr Mondo Kyateka (pictured above), told Daily Monitor on Monday that the matter was recently the subject of a Cabinet discussion which has since directed the ministries of Public Service and of Gender to act on it.
“The ministry of Gender and that of Public Service worked out a paper, which was presented to Cabinet. Cabinet has since advised the two ministries to go on a retreat and come up with a document which will guide the way the internship programme will work. It will focus on both internship and apprenticeship and also address the incentives that are meant to be given to private sector establishments that provide internship opportunities,” he said. Mr Mondo did not say when the retreat will take place or give projects on how long it could possibly take for technocrats from the two ministries to come up with the said paper.
It is sweet music to the ears that government officials have already embarked on trying to operationalise the youth internship programme.
While Uganda already practises some form of internship programme, especially in government ministries and agencies, it is very inadequate. All that it seems to do is to give people in institutions of higher learning space to learn how to dress and speak like public servants and perhaps learn to put in a lethargic approach to work. This needs to change.
It is highly recommended that as officials from the two ministries prepare for the retreat, they take time off to study other countries and establishments which have a wealth of experience in running internship programmes.
The US is one such country. The White House runs a hands-on internship programme which gives many young Americans the opportunity to get invaluable working experiences and build leadership skills. The programme helps to mentor and turn young people with an eye on leadership positions, enabling them to get insights into how the Executive office is run.
White House interns are given tasks ranging from attending meetings, writing memos, managing incoming inquiries and carrying out research on various subjects. All these prepares them for future public service.
The Department of State also runs a Students Internship Programme, which gives participants a firsthand chance to look at diplomacy in action and the many careers and positions of responsibility in the foreign and civil service.
Back home, the Joint Managing Director of Kakira Sugar Limited, Mr Mayur Madhvani, told Daily Monitor in an interview a few years back that he had learnt the trade of financial and business management from his elder brothers, Jayant Madhvani and Manubhai Madhvani, by sitting in their offices to watch them conduct the family businesses. That prepared him to take over as nexus of the Madhvani Group. All these could help feed into the working document that the technocrats are working on.
“Business, Technical, Vocational Education and Training (BTVET) is the way to go. Senior Six leavers sit home more than seven months on vacation. Why shouldn’t that time be used for apprenticeship training before joining university? Records indicate that Germany is far ahead as far as skills development is concerned because of that. Government could do the same so that even if doors are closed to them after university, they have something to turn to,”
Margaret Rwabushaija, Workers MP
“Some private companies have been going to universities and taking on some of the brightest students there and later employing them, but I do not think the idea of giving them incentives is sustainable unless the companies are willing to give their employees reasonable salaries and benefits such as medical insurance. Why should government lose revenue by giving a tax holiday to a company if it is keeping the citizens in poverty by paying them peanuts?”
Agnes Kunihira, Workers MP
“The idea of a Youth Internship Programme is great as it would help some of the youth beat the employers’ usual demand for work experience, but the government has not been very serious in implementing it. The political will to commit time for supervision of existing programmes has been lacking. President Museveni recently donated equipment to youth in Kampala and Wakiso [districts], but the interventions are isolated. What about the youth in Amuru?
Lucy Akello, Shadow Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development