On International Youth Day, I couldn’t help but write from the country with the most youthful population in the world. Uganda has the world’s largest percentage of young people under 30 – 78% – according to the 2012 State of Uganda population report (UN Population Fund) and more than 52% of Ugandans are below 15 years.
So what does this mean for Uganda and its development? According to most media reports – both global and national – a youthful population lays the foundation for unemployment, crime, drug and alcohol abuse, teenage pregnancy and even terrorism.
But rather than look at it from a negative perspective, as a major challenge that needs to be managed, how about we look at the positives of having such a young population?
Young people have energy, entrepreneurial spirit and flexibility to adapt to changing employment opportunities in our globalised world. I haven’t yet met a Ugandan youth without a Facebook page, and most are accessing it on their smartphones, when they’re not on WhatsApp or Snapchat. A huge number are university graduates with relevant degrees such as IT, accounting and finance, medicine, environmental management etc.
So what’s holding them back? In my view, it’s a political system that’s saturated with the older generation who care more about the contents of their own pockets than investing in the young people of tomorrow. On paper, there are countless schemes to develop youth entrepreneurship and innovation (e.g. The Youth Venture Capital Fund; Youth Livelihood Project) but despite the billions of shillings that have apparently been invested over the last couple of years, no measurable results have emerged as yet.
Although it’s frustrating, it’s difficult not to lose hope when the young people around me are so full of ambition and determination. For the last few months I’ve been part of a youth group in Kampala that goes by the name of “Amfuture”. Started by a passionate youth leader from my church, it’s a friendly, open group of at least 25 dynamic 16+ year olds, who meet every week to discuss different topics: money, family, studying, relationships, Christianity etc, and share ideas and advice with each other.
I am constantly impressed and inspired by the maturity and independence of these young people, the majority of whom are still in school or university. They all face challenges in their lives – big and small – from school fees to family problems, but what is remarkable is their attitude to overcoming them. For example, there’s one brother and sister (both in secondary school) who rear rabbits, chickens, goats and who knows what else in their backyard, to raise money for their school fees. They can tell you off the top of their heads the market price for the different breeds, sex and sizes of all their animals, their current turnover and their aspirations for growing their operations. Now just imagine that spirit harnessed and nurtured on a larger scale, across Kampala and the whole of Uganda…
That’s what I call youth development.