An Inter-Generational Governance System: Securing Young People’s Future
Over the years, young people in Uganda have been referred to as dreamless dreamers, impulsive, entitled, hedonistic, impatient folks. They have been sidelined and diminished to beneficiaries- flouting their legal rights as potential partners in national affairs. While it comes to civic participation, young people are often viewed as too naive, eminently immature or too unconcerned to meaningfully participate in democratic and decision-making processes, thus constraining their ability to influence decisions that directly affect them. In Uganda today, the youth, below the age of 30, make up 78% of the 46 million national population (United Nations, 2020).
However, despite such an enormous number, their representation at the national level and in decision-making processes has been tokenistic. The older generation has vehemently clung to power and propagated a gerontocracy- a governance system of old men and women- whose pathology has intensified in the last five years. Shockingly, only 1% of the Uganda population is above the age of 65 (Plecher, 2020); conversely, the average age of cabinet ministers- those making the crucial decisions, and deciding the future that belongs to the young generation, is 65 (Daily Monitor, 2019, 1).
The exclusion of young people
As stipulated in the National Youth Policy (2001), the role of young people entails promoting democracy, socializing to learn diverse skills, being patriotic and loyal to Uganda whilst protecting her well-being (Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, 2001, 11). Yet significant decisions are made without their input, an imminent contradiction to the guides enshrined in the National Youth Policy. For instance, in 2017, an unpopular bill was tabled and passed by the 10th parliament that restricted access to social media to only those who paid a tax. Beyond the appeals for social media regulation, this law has inevitably affected young people who comprise over 60% of the social media users in Uganda (Kemp, 2020).
Additionally, young people have voiced their cries over an inept and inequitable education system, calling for urgent reforms. But in the eyes of the decision-makers, this is hardly a priority. The nation has a booming number of structural unemployment as young people graduate without definitive employable skills. Annually, over 400,000 graduates are released into the job market to compete for 15,000 available jobs (United Social Ventures, 2020). Many of them end up on the streets, the school of hard knocks, taking lessons from the folks who decided to drop out of school earlier or those that had no chance to go to school. On average, a child born in Uganda today will only be 38 per cent as productive when she grows up as she could be if she enjoyed complete quality education and full health as the World Bank’s Human Capital Index (HCI) suggests. Indeed, a child in Uganda completes seven years of education by age 18, compared to 8.1 for their regional counterparts. However, actual years of learning are only 4.5, with the 2.5 years considered ‘wasted’ due to poor quality of education. For instance, only 6 per cent of children in Uganda can read a paragraph at the end of the fourth grade (World Bank, 2019).
The irony in the meaningful engagement of young people
In principle, young people can play their constitutional mandate and enjoy the benefits of being in a state. This includes contributing to national policies and participating in economic, social and cultural development aspects to enjoy an adequate standard of living and well-being. In practice, however, young people are excluded from decision-making processes on issues that matter to them. Their futures are in the hands of the older generation whose knowledge on the current and future realities of the world is narrow and only visible through the lenses of their previous decades’ experiences. Yet, evidence suggests that young people play active roles as agents of positive and constructive change. The recent waves of activism led by the youth such as the People Power Movement are indicators that the youth are not inept as aforementioned but adept, prolific and empathetic leaders, problem solvers with prototyping mindsets and risk-takers with disruptive ideas. To put it bluntly, young people have enormous potential to drive growth. They are the activists, innovators, leaders and workers of the future (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 2018, 13). Once aptly engaged, unrest, intractable poverty and governance challenges and their implications can be on the verge of stalling.
What can be done to accommodate this blooming talent of young people?
Accommodating this magnitude and blooming talent is a forward means of securing the future of the youngsters. The government needs to deliberately invest in building structures that allow an inter-generational governance system to prosper. In this kind of scenario, young people co-lead with the elders, make decisions with a common goal while putting the priorities of young people forward since the future belongs to them. Platforms that empower them intellectually should be reinstated so that their voices are strengthened and mainstreamed into the policies being decreed. Such inclusive initiatives ensure that no single voice of young people is stifled when planning development, creating jobs, and they build their vitality and diligence.
In countries like Rwanda, platforms, like meet the president, have been established to give young people a chance to hold their leaders accountable and foster the realization of their priorities. At Meet The President, the president is on the spotlight-a hot seat, attending to inquisitive concerns of young people. He further pledges better delivery of services depending on the youth manifesto. This establishment and many more instituted by the government have helped in building the capacity of young people, improved their confidence to tackle the root causes of their non-participation in politics and national development. Young people have been supported to develop sustainable and joint mechanisms that offer opportunities for participating in dialogues on rights, principles and democratic issues (USAID, 2019, 11). Undoubtedly, the Rwandan government has put the needs of the youth first, and notably, the levels of unemployment have reduced from 17.8 per cent in August 2017 to 13.1 per cent in February 2020 (Statistica, 2020).
Additionally, there should be deliberate efforts vested in opening careers to talent. Instead of having renown paths to career success, more investment should be directed towards helping the youth find their voices, magnify their talents and passions and as well create opportunities for themselves and their peers. Once the youth are empowered to realize their bits of intelligence, the magnitude of their productivity will trickle down to the community and improve their well-being. There is an urgent redress of the education system so that it focuses on the priorities of magnifying potential by helping instill the traits of radical and innovative thinking- the education that builds them to question received pearls of wisdom and deliberately disrupt the job markets with more far-reaching and user-friendly services.
In a nutshell, the quality of successfully implemented policies defines a thriving nation. The young people, who are predominantly the stakeholders of the future, should have their voices added to the significant conversations. The governance system should adapt to include young people as critical partners and stakeholders in decision-making processes other than being viewed as mere beneficiaries. If coherently adopted, Uganda will be on a trajectory of an economic and political miracle. The effects of this adaption will trickle down to indelibly impact the social and economic growth of Uganda, improve the livelihoods of young people and the general well-being of Ugandans. This has to happen not only to ensure that there is respect of social and democratic rights of young people today but also to safeguard the well-being of the Ugandan society, both for today and tomorrow.
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (2018). The Goalkeepers. The Stories Behind the Data 2018.
Daily Monitor. (2019). Aged Cabinet Ministers of a young Uganda. https://www.monitor.co.ug/uganda/news/national/aged-government-in-charge-of-a-young-uganda-1859354
Kemp, S. (2020). Digital 2020: Uganda. https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2020-uganda
Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development. (2001). A vision for the youth in the 21st century. 11.
Plecher, H. (2020). Age structure in Uganda in 2019. Statistica. https://www.statista.com/statistics/447698/age-structure-in-uganda/
Statistica. (2020). Covid 19 and its impact on Labour force in Rwanda. https://www.statistics.gov.rw/publication/title-covid-19-and-its-impact-labour-force-rwanda
United Nations. (2020). Uganda Population. https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/uganda-population/
United Social Ventures. (2020). About United Social Ventures. Charity Jobs. https://www.charityjob.co.uk/recruiter/united-social-ventures/22505
USAID. (2019). Engaging youth in building an equal and inclusive society in Rwanda. 7.
World Bank. (2019). Uganda Economic Update: Higher Investment in Education is Key to Developing Human Capital, Sustaining Strong Economic Growth. https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2019/06/07/uganda-economic-update-higher-investment-in-education-is-key-to-developing-human-capital-sustaining-strong-economic-growth