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Youth interventions ought to be mainstreamed

Most conversations on youth have only focussed on what needs to be done and what is missing. It is commonplace for example, to find young people demanding for new policies, new programmes, new departments, to mention a few. What has been missing however, is a nuanced reflection of what is there in terms of policies and programmes, and what these have achieved. Or where they have failed and why. The fourth annual national youth conference organised in partnership with the University Forum on Governance endeavoured to address this.

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The conference was organised under the theme “Mobilising youth, creating impact: In search for a better way for facilitating effective youth participation in development”. The conference aimed at critically interrogating the youth policies, the intervention approach and accountability in the youth sector. Thus, contributing to the exploration of alternative approaches to impactful development interventions, while placing much emphasis on fostering real results, real solutions to real problems.

Youth in Uganda are a significant majority. According to the UN, Uganda’s population has now surpassed 40 million, however,77 percent of these are under 30 years. So, while the youth population today according to UBOS estimates is around 7 million, this number will continue to rise because more than half of the population are children. Specifically, 55.1 percent of the population are children an indication that the number of youth will continue to grow. The youth in Uganda continues to face a number of challenges ranging from unemployment and underemployment, limited access to youth tailored health services and the low quality of education. Like the rest of the population, the quandary of youth struggles have been partly an outcome of the slow economic activities in the country and the question of leadership. But most interventions have focused on youth as a group that face unique challenges and requires special programmes.

Consequently, youth, like women and people with disabilities have been treated as special groups and as such, special programmes have been designed for them. Their inability to find gainful employment for example, has been blamed on the lack of necessary skills to take up the available opportunities yet studies have revealed limited opportunities as the binding constraint to youth employment. The wrong diagnosis of the cause of the “youth problems” has in turn informed interventions that have created limited impact in the lives of the youth.

In his key note address, the president of the Uganda Law Society and a co-founder of the youth analysis board, one of the first youth movements in Uganda, Mr. Gimara Francis noted that, youth interventions have been defined as an approach of enrolling young people as program beneficiaries. Yet, on the other hand, for effective and accountable youth engagement in development, youth intervention approaches should involve youth in more meaningful ways, such as through decision-making, program design, policy making and advocacy efforts.

Youth intervention approaches must be based on the premise that youth have the right to express themselves, be involved in decisions that affect their lives, and be active participants, rather than just beneficiaries. Pertinent to this is the idea of “youth choice” or the notion that for young people to be truly engaged, they must be active and informed participants. They must be aware of what they are doing, what is expected of them, and why they are doing it. Without this, the danger is that youth can be used merely as tokens of youth participation and included only in a mechanical manner. Tokenism and half-hearted initiatives are not only unsuccessful, but can be detrimental to the youth involved. He as well questioned the relevance of youth representation in parliament

He also echoed the need for youth intervention to consider the needs of various youth populations. Policies and programmes should appreciate the heterogeneity of the youth in the country and attempt to address the challenges of the different sub-groups among the youth. At the same time, noted the dare need to build the leadership capacity of the youth to rebuild their ethical leadership and values.

Participants, like other panellists resounded the tendency of treating young people as a problem to be one of the major challenges to meaningful youth participation. They noted that the youth continue to be looked at as marginalised or considered as requiring special silos for discussing their issues even though youth issues are national issues that need to be mainstreamed. It should be noted that, Uganda as a country faces many challenges. Unemployment and underemployment, poverty, inequality and economic exclusion, poor provision of essential services particularly education and health, to mention a few. These problems affect young people as much as older people. It should not appear that someone is doing a favour to youth by solving these challenges. In fact, youth can contribute significantly to the country’s economic development in addressing these constraints. Therefore, if the state of youth has to change, they (the youth) have to participation in cross-cutting issues and to be recognized as important voices in all matters. The isolation of the youth from the mainstream society has greatly constrained their participation and contributions to national governance and development.

The youth livelihood programme has until today failed to significantly create gainful employment, and youth engaged in agriculture find it even harder to access these funds. Littler has been done to ensure that these funds work for the beneficiaries. It was noted that some of the youth have been arrested due to failure to repay loans from the youth livelihood programmes. Yet this was not the first loan scheme to experience the same challenge. The “entandikwa” scheme and the youth venture capital experienced the same challenges but this did not inform the design of the youth livelihood programme. This to many seemed as if there is no commitment from the government to effectively address youth challenges, rather to keep controlling and containing the youth.

Whilst Uganda has put in place the policy and legislative framework to ensure youth participation, the actual implementation of these policies is weak. Equally, it was observed that the youth leadership structures are not serving the youth adequately. The National Youth Council which is mandated to mobilise the youth, serves only in the election of the youth members of parliament. Thus, mobilisation of the youth is only being done by the civil society organisations which also have their share of challenges. Both the state and non-state actors have accountability gaps when it comes to the youth.

It was therefore, argued that young people must be equipped not only to actively participate but to add value to the on-going governance and development processes to ensure good governance and sustainable peace and development. In addition, responding to these challenges demands the ability of existing youth organisations to strengthen their organisations internally and externally as well as develop strong networks, empower youth formations, collaborations and partnerships that will result into a strong youth movement for a common cause of youth in Uganda.

Report compiled by Ayub Kiranda

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Rebecca Kukundakwe
Gimara Francis


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