By Nabukenya Sophia, Re!gnite Africa 2016 Youth Leader
“….Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts itself off from its youth severs its lifeline; it is condemned to bleed to death.” — Kofi Annan,
Uganda has one of the fastest growing and youngest populations in the world, with 78 % of its population below the age of 30. The youth account for close to 11 million of the citizenry, with female youth accounting for 51% of these numbers. At least 80% of Uganda’s youth population resides in rural areas (NYP, 2001). While this can be a good basis for economic growth, this foretells significant Challenges to a country already wrestling with the highest youth unemployment rate in the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa, which can threaten the political stability of the country.
Today, as the country faces a growing ‘youth bulge’ numbers do not necessarily translate to either influence or respect at both the local and national levels. Yet despite their numerical strength and the historical relevance of generational identities within the country, youth have reportedly felt marginalized and manipulated by their political leadership; dismissed by their elders; and ill-served by programs designed to serve them.
In Uganda, although eligibility for contestation in the national parliament starts at the age of 18, people under the age of 35 are rarely found in formal political leadership positions. It is common practice to refer to politicians as ‘young’ if they are below 35-40 years of age. Youth are deficiently represented in formal political institutions and processes such as parliaments, political parties, elections, and public administrations. The situation is even more difficult for both young women as well as women at mid-level and decision-making/leadership positions.
Structurally, Youth are recognized as a minority group of citizens according to the Uganda Parliamentary Act. This perception has not changed even though the demographic make of Uganda presents a completely different reality from the time these special interest provisions were made. Rather than being given an opportunity to prove themselves as potential leaders, they are immersed in an ocean of sympathy as a special interest group. Therefore there is need to appreciate and rethink development programmes and related policies aimed at young people to ensure younger people benefit and influence policy processes more meaningfully across the bar
The Nature of the Policy Process in Uganda
While youth involvement and participation at local and national levels are provided for under the Constitution of Uganda, 1995, the Local Government Act and the National Youth Council Act, Uganda also lacks the discipline to implement most of her policies and has been criticized for developing the best policies on paper but failing to implement the same, despite having the financial and technical resources to do so. (see Table 1).
Table 1 Extent of youth participation and involvement in the decision-making at various
|Community level||District level||National level|
|Participation to a great extent||13.8%||4.7%||2.8%|
|Not at all||45.6%||77.1%||89.8%|
|Source: Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (2011). Review of the National Youth Policy. p.15.|
The above table confirms that despite the well stated laws and policies to support youth engagement, Uganda’s young people are still not included and empowered enough to benefit from political and economic activities. The youth structures that have been set up are not productive because of inadequate funding, alleged manipulation by politicians or lack of political will to strengthen such structures. These efforts have also been criticized as being mere tokenisms because the youth structures are ineffective and weak. Visible political activism seems to be largely limited to university students, which leaves out the majority of youth, who live in rural areas (Jorgensen 2009).
Recognizing and involving youth in decision-making processes is more than just engaging young people for the sake of inclusivity. It’s about availing them with opportunities to meaningfully engage and inform economic, social and political policy processes and outcomes at all levels, and entirely recognizing their measurable benefits and rights to participation. This practice is, however, vital ensuring the achievement of internationally agreed sustainable development goals and to refresh the development agenda
Strategies to encourage participation.
A youth-friendly and inclusive legal system is an important component of an environment that enables youth political participation.
There is also an urgent need to embrace social media as a tool for fast, cheap and easy mobilization of youth
Engagement should be culturally sensitive, flexible and be delivered in a variety of ways that are tailored to the cultural and other social circumstances of young people from diverse backgrounds.
In a nutshell, youth who comprise the majority of Uganda’s population have to get actively involved in the decision-making process for durable democracy. Neglecting issues of youth risks compounding governance challenges, constraining the realization of young people’s potential and provoking violent conflict.
Government should bear in mind that neglecting to nurture young people into leadership roles not only risks denying the country future responsible leaders, but also risks cementing a culture of violence among the youth and future leaders. Who may resort to violence to get their way and could in the future use similar methods to remain in office and frustrate those who try to replace them