Affirmative action to the youth was misunderstood- can we do better?
For purpose of this text, affirmative action is defined as an action or policy favouring those who tend to suffer from discrimination, especially in relation to economic welfare like employment or education- this type of positive discrimination is what deserved the youth in Uganda.
Makerere University law don, Silvia Tamale defines affirmative action as, ‘attempts to make progress toward substantive, rather than merely formal equality of opportunity for those groups, such as women or racial minorities, which are currently under-represented in significant positions in society, by explicitly taking into account the defining characteristic- sex or race—which has been the basis for discrimination.’
According to the Uganda National Youth Policy of 2001, Youth is defined as all young persons; female and male aged 12 to 30 years. During the debate in the Constituent Assembly of 1993-95 that adopted the 1995 Constitution Uganda’s current Constitution, amendments notwithstanding. Inclusion of youth representation in parliament and on all local councils was premised on the argument that major groups in our society have long been marginalized and excluded from the mainstream political and social life.
For the youths specifically, it was argued that they comprise of 60% of the population and also play vital roles in our communities, but are rarely given a platform to express their needs and problems. The proposal was eventually adopted and the Youths have since been represented in parliament with 5 Members since the 6th parliament and on all local councils.
This treatment is more political than economic, appeasing a few while leaving a majority unattended to. According to the provisional results of the National Population and Housing Census of 2014, Uganda has a population of 34.9 million people. Of this 21.3% are aged between 18 and 30 years and are facing a big problem of unemployment. It is no wonder, research by the African Youth Initiative Network- Uganda indicates that 70% of Uganda prisons are comprised of youth. This is attributed to; lack of guidance and counselling; redundancy; and poverty.
Youth unemployment in Uganda is the highest in Africa. A study published by Action Aid, put youth unemployment at 62%, although the African Development Bank says it could be as high as 83%. This has been attributed to the colonial education system that trains graduates in humanities and law instead of vocational studies and also government’s failure to plan accordingly. Yet no motion has been moved on the floor of parliament by a youth Member of Parliament in regard to reviewing current education system in the country.
Therefore, giving youth representation in politics and allocating Ugx 54 billion to the Youth fund annually is a mere drop in the ocean. Since the youth comprise of the biggest percentage in all constituencies and representatives of these areas are elected by the universal adult suffrage and the fact that the constitution allows 18-year-old registered voter to stand for any position save for Presidency, Chairperson LC V and III. The youth can freely contest for the other positions without necessarily being accorded affirmative action.
Therefore, the best affirmative action policy for Ugandan youth should be putting in place an enabling environment towards improving their welfare and livelihoods. An economically empowered youth can ably participate in Politics.
In light of this, government can adopt the following mechanisms; it is my opinion that Parliament erred in creating positions of youth representatives in the legislature. As it is, each Member of Parliament at the end of the month bags a minimum payment of Ugx 20m in emoluments. Multiplying this amount by 5 (number representing youths), it totals to Ugx 100m per month and Ugx 1.2bn per year. Which can be put to other uses like establishing a small scale diary industry employing 40 to 50 workers.
It can be complimented by further increasing the allocation to the youth fund by establishing small enterprise finance agencies and adopting employment tax incentives among others.
Secondly, government can adopt the policy of allocating a certain percentage of its procurement programs to youth as is done in Kenya. In 2012, the Kenyan government adopted the Access to Government Procurement Opportunities initiative to enable Youth, Women and Persons with Disabilities access 30% of government tenders. The same would suffice for these special interest groups in Uganda.
Lastly, government should invest a reasonable amount of money in the sports, recreation, arts and culture initiatives and programs. This sector is capable of employing a reasonable number of youth in the country. A number of primary, secondary and tertiary institutions have previously been licenced by the Ministry of Education and are operating without space for sports and recreations activities for the students. Government can reconsider a number of unfunded priorities in the sub-sector like the rehabilitation of the regional stadia in Kabale, Jinja, Mbarara, and Masaka, Mbale, Gulu and Fortportal that requires Ugx 150 bn to harness this talent
Truth of the matter is The only way of resolving youth problems in this country is by creating of potential avenues by which they can empower themselves and not special political representation because a majority running for these positions are just opportunity seekers looking to better themselves not the entire youth populace.