Gerald Karuhanga, a Youth Member of Parliament representing the Western Region of Uganda, has been a strong voice for the young people of his country. Here he takes on the issue of youth unemployment, and urges all sectors of society to work together to address this ongoing crisis.  

 

With over 78 percent of our population below the age of 30, Uganda has the world’s youngest population. Unfortunately this young population suffers from one of the highest unemployment rates in Sub-Saharan Africa, low school completion rates, and feelings of being marginalized and manipulated by our leaders. The challenges we face as a country of young people are many, but for every challenge we can find an opportunity.

I have always been passionate about the plight of my people, especially my fellow young people, and have worked all my life—whether as a student leader at Makerere University or as a Member of Parliament—to ensure that we all have the opportunities we deserve, live the kinds of lives we aspire to, and have our voices heard. As a nation, Uganda has been making positive changes, improving access to education and introducing new strategies to boost youth employment, but there is still so much to be done. I truly believe that every young person has the potential to make a difference. However, I am also all too aware of the fact that so many young people in Uganda do not have the opportunities, resources, and networks needed to realize their full potential—especially those who have come from underprivileged backgrounds – however talented they may be. Every day in the labor market, they are exposed to corruption, nepotism, and exploitation as they try to get an internship or job without connections.

Many of us remember that one chance we had in our lives that put us on the path to where we are today. Yes, there is that one chance these talented young people need to get ahead and dare to dream that they too can succeed and contribute to their communities and to Uganda as a whole.

This is the very reason why I am thrilled to support a new initiative being managed by the International Youth Foundation and Restless Development Uganda, with guidance from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID/Uganda). Launched in December 2012, the YouthMap Uganda internship program helps young people from disadvantaged backgrounds with practical skills and work experience through a combination of training, much needed mentoring, internship and job placement, and enterprise development support. It’s just the kind of comprehensive support our young people need to realize their potential not only in the workforce, but also as citizens and future leaders of Uganda. I am thrilled to be supporting the program as an advisory committee member and a mentor for these young, emerging leaders.

I have been very pleased that many leaders from across sectors—business, government, and civil society—have come together to do their part to support this program as mentors, as advisory committee members, and as employers contributing to stipends for young participants. To me, this is the true public-private partnership at its best. But we can’t do it alone.

The more involved today’s leaders of Uganda are—whether as intern hosts, mentors, or technical advisors for skills training—the stronger and better tomorrow’s leaders will be. I hope that more organizations will join me in partnership to support this innovative program, because together we can meet all of Uganda’s great challenges and turn them into great opportunities.