Yesterday we saw protests breaking out across the country over the arrest of some opposition presidential candidates in Uganda. It’s hard to imagine but these events were precipitated several decades ago. Uganda was colonized by Britain and became a British protectorate in 1894. In 1962 it gained independence and self governance. Like many new independent countries the first years of independence were filled with a lot of turmoil and tribal divisions. Uganda has over 50 different tribes. The country has seen seven different presidents since independence. The current president has been in power for 35 years now and is now seeking another 5 year term in the current elections. Over the years the country’s economy has grown and Uganda has been one of the fastest growing economies in the world in the last decade.
Uganda’s GDP was about USD 450 million in 1962 and it has since grown to about USD 30 billion in 2020. Despite the growth in the economy and the prevailing general security there has been a population bulge. Uganda’s population was about 7.2 million people in 1962. The population has now ballooned to about 45 million people in 2020. Uganda has the youngest population in the world with over 70% of the population below 30 years. According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) the Literacy rate for persons aged 10 years and above stands at 74%. The unemployment rate for youths aged 18-30 years stands at 13.3%. The young wage earners and salaried workers earn a median of UGX 150,000/= per month and an average of 213,000/= per month. Most of the youth are engaged in agriculture (35.8%); followed by services (29%); then trade – 22.7%, and finally construction – 12.5%.
So we have a fairly young population which is literate. They have exposure to what is happening around the world through the internet. They have low wages and are struggling to earn a living. Many are unemployed. They didn’t see the troubles of early post independence. To make things worse a random virus from China creates a global pandemic which shuts down the economy leading to massive job losses and business failure. They attribute their current economic circumstances to the government in power. And then comes a presidential election which raises peoples hopes to see change in their circumstances. There is a lot of political rhetoric driven by euphoria among the masses. The state actors respond by dispersing crowds leading to arrests of some presidential candidates. Out of sheer desperation some youth take to the streets in bursts of anger. Cars are burnt, roads are blocked and unfortunately some lives were lost in the chaos. Our small business also lost money as we were unable to make sales during the chaos.
These series of events is similar to a chemical chain reaction. A chain reaction is a series of events so related to each other that each one initiates the next. When chain reactions are uncontrolled they cause a lot of damage like in the case of nuclear weapons. When we are able to control a nuclear chain reaction we can harness the energy released to produce electricity.
The young population of Uganda can be viewed as a potential fuel for a prolonged political chain reaction. Uncontrolled we can end up with chaos. However we can choose to be more deliberate about creating an enabling environment for them to thrive. All they need is opportunity. Opportunity to lead decent lives. Opportunities to start businesses. Opportunities to have good quality jobs. Opportunity to express themselves freely.
The youth on the streets maybe crying for political change but in fact all they want is economic change. So let’s all work towards giving it to them.