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By Enock Jjumba .S.

A fact that the future of this country depends on the equitable, proper investment in young
people and that we are not doing exactly that, is to amputate life from its base. Government
programs directed toward addressing youth issues have both fallen short and are often
discriminative. The heritage of our nation relies not only on our agility to leverage opportunities for young people but also on creating equal platforms that favor all.
I was recently part of a team at Reignite Africa that was, as part of organizational strategic
planning, engaged in a rapid qualitative assessment with youth leaders from Mayuge and
Rukungiri districts. The aim of the assessment was to understand the nature and challenges of
youth leadership, participation, and contribution to policy and governance processes at the
district and lower levels.
There were glaring differences between the two focus groups (one from each district). On one
hand was a group of enthusiastic young leaders from Rukungiri that reported a more active
engagement in national affairs, but with employment challenges for their electorate. On the other was a group surrounded by hopelessness as a result of a broken system that shared a myriad of challenges young people in their different sub counties face that ranged from child marriages to substance abuse.

Whereas both regions reported high unemployment of youth and perpetual
corruption of government officials, there were overarching differences. For instance, youth
leaders from Mayuge had never benefited from the youth livelihood fund at all unlike many of
their counterparts from Rukungiri who reported receiving the fund on behalf of youth groups
they represent at the district level.

Additionally, whereas both groups had not received formal
induction training from government for the role they currently hold, those in Rukungiri had that opportunity from their political parties and NGO’s. In short, those in Rukungiri were not as despondent.

Such differences are perpetuated by the political-economy of the country.
It is a right not a privilege for all young people to get an education as it increases their
opportunities to find decent work and contribute meaningfully to the development of their
communities.

However, a UBOS Education Monograph Report, 2017 revealed higher literacy
rates in Kigezi region and central (higher than the national average of 72%) compared to the East and Karamoja sub-region (less than 24%). If education is supposed to be the most reliable
opportunity equalizer, then such differences in literacy levels are tragic.
Besides, inclusive political institutions create inclusive economic institutions that work for all.
Therefore, in adopting a holistic approach to address youth issues, it is important to pay attention to the nuances among youth from different regions and backgrounds.

Like Robinson and Daron assert in their book, Why nations fail, extractive political institutions concentrate power in hands of a few who in-turn disproportionately distribute resources to benefit minority groups.

Differences are hence created and advanced by political favoritism in the first place. And so it is naïve to categorize youth and their issues-from unemployment to ideological disorientation- as uniform. World over, meaningful participation of youth in the affairs of a country is what puts the nation on the right development trajectory. Therefore, if the future of this country lies with the youth, it is only prudent to adopt context-specific strategies that direct national policies and programs more equitably, lest we risk deepening regional imbalances and the evils that come with it.

The writer is an economist working as a policy advocacy fellow at Reignite Africa

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