Youth unemployment: is the thing in #UgandaDecides 2016!

The Effectiveness Lab’s last two blogs discussed NEETs – ‘Not in Employment, Education, or Training’ for both youth and post-youth, and the strategies for addressing the challenge head-on. Watching the Uganda Presidential debate last night from a quiet Nairobi suburb (Tweeter: #UgandaDecides), it is clear the NEETs challenge awaits whoever of the eight Ugandan presidential aspirants, that will occupy the master bedroom at State-House Entebbe.

Pic credit: snoogy's

Pic credit: snoogy’s

Some of the eight presidential candidates brought to the fore the NEETs challenge in Uganda, albeit, from different perspectives:

  1. John Patrick Amama Mbabazi (JPAM) a former Museveni ally turned nemesis, talked to the subject of NEETs in the most straightforward manner. JPAM with incredible candour shared his concern that 84% of the youth in Uganda are unemployed. JPAM plans to use a ‘sub-county cluster economic hub’ to address the skills challenge that the NEETs face – read Vocational Training Institutions and Village Banks to provide business financing
  2. Maureen Kyalya (Ph.D.) and a former presidential advisor to Museveni on poverty matters talked to the slavery of women in Northern Uganda; women young and old, work long days in cotton ginneries only to be paid peanuts by Uganda’s emerging foreign investor-tycoons. While this may sound like a non-NEETs issue, it is a manifestation of Ugandan’s trying to escape their NEETs status and in the process getting exposed to what Kyalya called modern slavery. She believes that introducing a minimum wage for workers may help address the problem; perhaps Kyalya needs to ask herself what has got such women in NEETs status, and whether paying them a minimum wage is a sustainable solution. Laissez-faire economics brings with it a systems-side, which renders ‘silo-solutions’ unsustainable. As neutrals, we have to believe that Kyalya has done her homework on this
  3. Dr. Abedi Bwanika is always armed with metrics about Uganda’s economy, and we believe ranks second to Yoweri Museveni’s command of metrics and facts on Uganda, has all through his campaign articulated the NEETs challenge.  He has sought answers in a more scientifically oriented agriculture sector. He gave a simple but good example of cage fish farming in Lake Victoria and how thousands of tonnes of fish have been harvested recently – what does it take to run successful commercial fish farming? We at the Effectiveness Lab believe that Dr. Abed Bwanika’s package is the most holistic on the NEETs subject, and we may need to hear him out a little more than we have on this one
  4. Finally, the incumbent candidate Yoweri Kaguta Museveni – Museveni understands very well that if there is a subject likely to bring his regime down, it is that of youth and post-youth NEETs. Museveni and in a stealthy manner, juxtaposed the NEETs challenge with the East-Africa integration discourse. In the eyes of the wise, it makes a lot of sense for Uganda to embrace ‘East-Africanisation’ as that is a sure means to expand Uganda’s markets as well as guarantee labour mobility, especially for its NEETs youth. Museveni aptly called this ‘strategic-economic’ interest and momentarily managed to turn the NEETs discourse into a poisoned chalice for his opponents that missed connecting the obvious potential of ‘East Africanisation’ to the NEETs challenge; only for a wise JPAM to ask how a country like Uganda can export youth to the East African labour market, that are not employable at home
The Debate, The Thing! Pic Credit: Snoogy's

The Debate, The Thing! We did come after-all
Pic Credit: Snoogy’s

The Effectiveness-Lab is an apolitical blog, and even when the subject at hand is political like today, the focus is on ’things Effective’. This blog juxtaposes the Effectiveness Lab’s last two blogs on NEETs against the strategies of Uganda’s presidential aspirants on the subject of NEETs. We have to ask the question:

How Effective are the offers from #UgandaDecides 2016 in regards to the youth and post-youth NEETs?

Last week, the Effectiveness Lab presented a three-pronged strategy to address both the Youth and Post-Youth NEETs dilemma:

  • In the long-term, fundamental changes should be made to Uganda’s education system – emphasis on STEM and entrepreneurialism should be taken more seriously
  • In the medium-term, we need to stop the graduation of the youth NEETs to post-youth NEETs – and there are promising efforts by different nation-states in Africa. We need to learn from one another
  • In the short-term, we need to retrain the post-youth NEETs and moreover in Agriculture Science and entrepreneurialism; the reality is that currently, Uganda is still an agrarian society, and that is where Uganda’s immediate potential for productivity lies. A program to re-orient the post-youth NEETs towards Uganda’s natural potential needs to be designed urgently. The sustainability of a such a program depends on the extent to which its designers acknowledge agrarian society education, employment, and training realities

Without delving deep into presidential candidate manifestos, it is Dr. Abedi Bwanika’s narrative that aligns most to the Effectiveness lab’s recommendations above. He has focused and talked about commercialising and mechanising agriculture; he has talked about the unique challenges of Uganda’s NEETs during his very poorly attended campaign rallies. We hope that for their ‘effectiveness’, someone shall pick up on Dr. Abedi Bwanika’s good ideas.

Politicians will always talk policy – they are ‘coded’ to talk as such. Is it not Uganda’s civil service rank, armed with the right policy, that will change the status quo on NEETs? Beyond the prose and poetry of the political elite in Uganda, there are technocrats within Uganda’s civil service, like the Education Ministry’s Dr. Yusuf Nsubuga, that may have some right answers to the NEETs challenge.

Uganda’s Advanced Level Certificate exams have recently been released by the Ministry of Education and sports. As per custom, Ugandan’s focus on students that have attained required grades to join the mushrooming Universities in Uganda and get sorrowful about those that can’t join University; Sadly, those joining universities mostly read Arts degrees only to graduate after three years, into a generation of NEETs

It is quite pleasing that within the at times squeaky Uganda civil service machinery, there are gems that align with our thinking at the Effectiveness Lab on how to solve the NEETs challenge – specifically taking care of the manner in which Uganda’s agrarian society learns.  In line with the conclusion of the Effectiveness Labs’ NEETs blog series two above, Dr. Yusuf Nsubuga had this to say about Advanced level Certificate candidates that can’t make it to University:

Even if you did History, you can join a technical institution and do very well and I am encouraging them to do so,” he added. Dr Nsubuga also hinted that under a new programme at the Ministry of Education called the Non-formal education and training, students can learn non-formal skills like baking and knitting. “Today, we have the vocational qualification framework, where one can acquire a few moderate certificates and later upgrade to a diploma and can later be admitted even to university for a degree award,” he added.

No one won, but only mother Uganda

No one won, but mother Uganda

Takeaway: In the heat of political debate like #UgandaDecides 2016, small details get lost in the ‘big’ talk – ‘big’ talk brings votes. But it may be time to go back to the outside the box and seemingly ‘small’ entrepreneurial thinking of individuals like Dr. Abedi Bwanika and the Dr. Nsubuga; In them, we may have not only the answer but an effective answer to the NEETs challenge. We hope that whoever becomes President in Uganda this coming Thursday, shall not only deal with the NEETs challenge as per their political manifestos but will also borrow a leaf from the likes of Dr. Abedi Bwanika. Uganda needs viable and multi-pronged approaches to the NEETs problem and not political egos



Categories: Strategy

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