Whether I’m in Canada or in Uganda, the youth are all talking about the same things: the worrying costs of post-secondary education, the impossibility of finding decent employment and a general unease about the future. The youth of today had the great misfortune of finishing school during one of the worst economic crises since the Great Depression. And it doesn’t look like it’ll get better until 2016, according to the ILO. So what are the youth of today to do?
That’s exactly what the Uganda Youth Network asked during its 10th anniversary conference. The conference had delegates from all five members of the East African Community (Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania). Take Kenya, for instance. 40% of the overall population is unemployed but 64% of those are youth- a highly disproportionate rate. Even in Canada, a country that remains relatively unscathed by the recession in comparison to many, the youth unemployment rate is twice that of the general population.
The Conference had speakers from each country who explored youth unemployment and strategies used both by the government and CSOs to address this. What struck me, however, was the universal agreement that nothing would change unless youth forced change; that unless youth demanded change, through political participation, through starting their own businesses, through perseverance, then nothing would change. The attitude was almost fatalistic in its lack of faith in the governments, the market and local businesses.
One conference speaker, Elisante Gabriel of Tanzania, spoke of the need for youth to change their mindset, to become more self-sufficient and entrepreneurial. This was a common refrain yet everyone acknowledged the difficulty of starting a business without a proper education or access to capital. The Youth Representative of Rwanda argued that the poorest youth, the one who most need the jobs and support, often face the most difficulty in accessing government-funded capital due to an inability to meet the stringent requirements. The representative from Kenya pointed out that the country cannot meet its Millennium Development Goals if the government continues to neglect the needs of the youth and unemployed; indeed, the biggest challenge for Kenyan youth is access to decent and honest living.
So much of the media narrative around youth unemployment criticizes youth for being ‘lazy’ or ‘entitled’; indeed, the term ‘Millennial’ has taken on a distinctly negative tone. But the youth I met at the conference were anything but lazy or entitled. From the lady with a university degree and working on her third or fourth internship to youth who have started their own NGOs, the youth were hard-working, determined and genuinely believe that they can change not only their own future, but the future of East Africa as a whole, for the better.
– Mariah Griffin-Angus, Governance Project Officer, CIDA International Youth Internship Program, Uganda 2012