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In his welcome remarks, Michael Mugisha, the Technical Director at UNIFOG and Lecturer at Makerere University highlighted the events and issues that influenced this year’s choice of theme which included the unprecedented participation rate of the youth in the recently concluded elections which saw the youth constituting about 44 percent of registered voters, the issues related to the youth bulge, as well as questions around leveraging youth participation in political processes.
The Country Representative of Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Mathias Kamp gave a riveting presentation providing a comprehensive overview of the place of the youth in Uganda in terms of demographics and the interconnectedness of themes like Education, Entrepreneurship, and Employment. He also posed critical questions that became central in the discussions that ensued like: How do we make agriculture more attractable to the youth? How do we develop entrepreneurs that can create jobs? How can we create synergies among youth organizations and pressure groups? His presentation formed the relevant foundation for the discussions that followed.
One of the key highlights of the conference was the panel discussion that followed the opening remarks by the organizers. An acclaimed five-person panel was up to the challenge of addressing the critical topics of the day and responding to questions and concerns from the youthful audience. Daphine Arinda, a member of the Young Leaders Think Tank for Policy Alternatives cited Harold Lasswell’s definition of politics “who gets what, when and how” as the basis for her call for inclusive participation and involvement of youth in politics beyond elective offices. She also reminded us that young peoples’ full potential will not be realized if young leaders are not mentored and nurtured to take on leadership positions.
The Commissioner for Youth in the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Mondo Kyateka in his remarks cited high childbirth rate among the youth as a key challenge to youth economic empowerment.
Isabella Akiteng, a youth advocate and lobbyist gave eye-opening accounts of her advocacy journey which were a true reflection of her passion and enthusiasm for youth leadership in civil society. In her spirited remarks, Akiteng highlighted her dissatisfaction with the cancer of individualism that is eating up youth focused civil society organizations. She stated that many initiatives are gradually becoming “more of a money making venture for founders.”
Fellow panelists Ivan Rugambwa, a freelance journalist and Lillian Aber, the Chairperson of the National Youth Council seemed to agree that there is a need for the youth to revolutionize civil society by taking charge of organizations created in their names and shifting strategies from only engaging the youth in cities and leadership but also those at the grassroots level and in rural areas.
On the final day of the conference, participants took some time to reflect on the previous day’s deliberations which were followed by an insightful analysis of the challenges and prospects for youth participation and development by UNIFOG’s co-founder Yusuf Kiranda. Yusuf implored young people to be strategic in finding ways to constructively engage with the ruling NRM in his critique of the defiance campaign. This however didn't go without recieving critical remarks from FDC youth wing who are part of the Interparty Youth Platform (IYOP). They argued that, all avenues to constructive youth engagement had been blocked (especially to the opposition) and the best way was to defy.
The conference was also graced by the newly appointed Minister of State for Youth and Children Affairs Florence Nakiwala Kiyingi who gave the closing remarks. The conference was in fact the first youth event she was officiating in her new capacity as Minister for Youth. She commended UNIFOG and KAS for being at the forefront of promoting youth political engagement and emphasized her commitment to working with the youth to make fundamental difference in the lives of Ugandans. Keeping true to her commitment, she invited a few of the participants to meet with her at her office in order to continue the discussions around how to enhance youth programs like the youth livelihood fund to better serve the youth.