By Denis Jjuuko

In the year 2015/16, Robert Waggwa Nsibirwa as District Governor of Rotary District 9211 (Uganda and Tanzania) launched a program he dubbed Rotary Vijana Poa. Vijana Poa is Swahili for Youth are Cool. The program aims at getting young people off the street by training them into entrepreneurs and/or giving them the skills necessary to find jobs. As a Rotarian, I was involved in the program and partly served as editor of Upclose — its news magazine.

Rotary Vijana Poa has had tremendous success since it encourages the youth to set realistic goals. There is a lawyer who enrolled in the program and started a shoe-shinning business on the street. He started with less than UGX30,000 (shoe polish, a brush, a bucket, and towel and promised to pay the landlord on a weekly basis). Instead of being at home doing nothing and walking the streets for the elusive employment, all of a sudden this young man started earning UGX10,000 a day and then UGX30,000. Today, he may be earning well over UGX100,000 a day. He employs other youth and is on the way to becoming a real millionaire. There are many stories like that. Young people teaching themselves to make crafts from freely available materials such as banana fibre. Others started cottage industries in baking, soap making while some got employment.

You see, a lot of our youth especially the educated ones have left schools and universities without any real skills. Some can’t even read or write (just check their social media timelines). I recently visited a certain university and eavesdropped on what some students were being taught — Cain and Abel of all things. They were doing a course I think in religious studies or something like that. This wasn’t a seminary or bible school so I wondered how they will compete with priests and those well grounded in theology. The lecturer sounded like an inspired catechist. So why would university students learn catechism? And it is a private university, so students pay for such stuff! And these students will graduate with hopes of finding well paying jobs. Their parents will throw graduation parties and brag yet these young people have just wasted their three years studying stuff they already knew.

At the same university, I saw a room full of typewriters and students were busy learning to use them. How can a university in 2017 be teaching people how to use a typewriter? The only place I have heard where typewriters are being used today for fear of hackers is the Kremlin. And it could actually be a rumour. Spying existed well before computers, as we know them today existed. And if the US real wanted to get info from the Russians, it will whether they use typewriters or not.

And it is the lack of jobs and outdated skills our youth are acquiring that see them walk the Sahara desert to Libya in hope of crossing into Europe for better jobs. That is how slavery has been reintroduced in Africa. Millions of young people have no jobs and have not been helped in any significant way to find them. The politicians just pontificate about it and roll out figures at each national day celebrations. The efforts in creating employment have been largely left to voluntary organisations like Rotary and some donors.

Unless young people find jobs that pay, crime including terrorism will not stop. Today, on Kampala streets, the youth break into cars in broad day light during traffic jams. They are stealing anything they can get their hands on. Some of these youth that are terrorizing the city are university graduates who have been recruited into crime because they are frustrated. They have looked for jobs and failed to find them. The politicians simply tell them to be job creators without sufficient and relevant training.

So as we change our profile pictures on social media to indicate that we oppose the slave market in Libya and as some sports personalities send planes to get their countrymen out of Tripoli, many other youth are in the desert trying to reach Europe.

Others are lining up at the offices of recruitment agencies to go and become maids or security guards in the Middle East. The agencies have been licensed by the government and one politician who was standing for president promised to escalate the Maids in the Middle East program. His employment strategy was to send the youth out to do odd jobs in developed countries!

The main reason there is a slave and maid market today is because of rampant unemployment, worsening living conditions across the continent, and lack of hope. The youth now know having a degree means nothing. The GDP growth rates and other statistics our politicians are so proud of mean nothing to a hungry youth who is lying on the street without any prospects for a job. Like the campaign slogan that ushered Bill Clinton into the White House said “it is the economy, stupid.”