Af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion to the youth was mis­un­der­stood- can we do bet­ter?

By: MUSA MU­GOYA

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.