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The Young Leaders Think Tank organised its first event in the conference hall of the Imperial Royale Hotel in Kampala. The dialogue was opened with welcoming words by the moderator, Mr.Gawaya Tegulle, as well as representatives of KAS and the Young Leaders Think Tank. Mathias Kamp, KAS Programme Officer and Coordinator of the Think Tank, emphasised that the reason for founding the Think Tank was the fact that the youth represents a big swath of the Ugandan society while their voice was often not heard clearly enough in political debates. The Think Tank was created to give a voice to the youth through political debates which are issue oriented and go beyond pure rhetoric. As the government representative at the event, Commissioner Mondo Kyateka offered his opening remarks on behalf of the Minister of State for Children and Youth Affairs. The Commissioner started his address by stating that the government cherishes and encourages dialogue with the youth as a way to amicably resolve issues. He emphasised that he would not talk at length about the government policy as the Minister of State had sent him to listen to the ideas of the young people.
The Think Tank members Jasper Oketa and Sharon Nakandha analysed the challenge of youth unemployment in Uganda and presented the policy recommendations brought forward by the Think Tank. Mr. Oketa commenced his presentation by requesting the Commissioner to present the proposed policy alternatives at the next cabinet meeting. He highlighted that there were structural, frictional, and cyclical reasons for youth unemployment in Uganda and stated that Uganda’s economy was currently only able to absorb about 20 per-cent of Uganda’s youth. He criticised that government policies had not yet been able to tackle this major problem as the National Youth Policy has a purely urban focus instead of following a comprehensive national policy. He also criticised the government failure to introduce a minimum wage.
The policy alternatives introduced by Ms. Nakandha called for tax incentives for companies who provide job opportunities for young people. They also recommended the creation of national job centres, tailoring Uganda’s education system to the needs of Uganda’s economy, providing young people with access to financial resources to encourage entrepreneurship, and establishing transparent recruitment policies for young people. Finally, the Think Tank called for an annual manpower survey for better labour policies, the establishment of global labour exchange partnerships, as well as the furthering of national youth development groups that would support young people in developing saving schemes and encourage them to take up a more active attitude in looking for opportunities on the labour market.
The discussion was now opened to the panel consisting of Gerald Karuhanga, the Youth MP for Western region, Charles Ocici, the founding Executive Director of Enterprise Uganda, and Associate Professor Yassin Olum of the Department of Political Science of the Makerere University.
Honourable Gerald Karuhanga stated that one of the main reasons of youth unemployment was that all the money meant to carry out youth programmes and policies had been stolen by corrupt government officials. He cited as examples that 40 billion UGX had disappeared from dealings with the Government of Burundi and another 200 billion UGX had been stolen in the scope of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2007.
Commissioner Mondo Kyateka pointed out that the National Youth Policy of 2001 is currently being reviewed, with a new policy expected at the end of 2011. He emphasised that he would like to hear about alternative education courses that enable people to fill positions needed in the Ugandan economy, citing both the need for lawyers specialised on energy issues as well as plumbers as examples. Additionally, the Commissioner pointed out that the opportunities in the cultural and creative industry were being neglected.
Charles Ocici held a passionate speech for more initiative on part of the young people in Uganda and emphasised the need of the right mindset to be successful. He cited several examples of people who became successful by grasping their opportunities despite a low formal education; in particular a businessman who dropped out of school at primary three and now earns 300 million UGX annually. In his opinion degrees and education were less important than training people to grasp the opportunities of entrepreneurship
Prof. Yassin Olum was critical of Mr. Ocici’s remarks. He emphasised that all types of knowledge are important and that a society needs different talents. He reminded the audience that not everyone could be an entrepreneur. He added that there were some important issues that he found missing in the Think Tank recommendations, including the question of the East African Community, the consequences of the global financial crisis, the government strategy on poverty reduction, employment opportunities for people with disabilities, as well as questions of social security. He called for an integrated approached to solve the issue of unemployment that takes all these problems into consideration.
After these remarks the floor was opened to the public, among them the honourable MPs Bernabas Tinkasimire and Stephen Mukitale. Issues raised included the prevalent corruption in Uganda, the lack of a minimum wage, the need for tax incentives for young people, as well as the necessity for new values and more initiative among the youth. Problems raised by the youth included the high costs connected with education opportunities, the risk of Ugandan interns being exploited abroad, and the sexual exploitation of female job applicants.
The event was then closed with the final remarks of the panellists. Commissioner Mondo Kyateka pointed out that the government was currently discussing measures to create more internship opportunities for young people as well as ways to provide young entrepreneurs with easier access to credits. He added that the vocational training system in Uganda is a government concept that aims to make work training more practical. He concluded by listing a number of government budgets that were accessible for young people, including 200 million UGX for small scale agricultural projects and 58.8 billion UGX for vocational training. The Think Tank members emphasised the need to tackle government officials directly with their recommendations and again called on Commissioner Kyateka to keep an open ear for their recommendations in the future. The Commissioner in turn applied for being an associate member of the Think Tank.
The draft paper by the Young Leaders Think Tank for Policy Alternatives can be downloaded here.