The Parliament of Uganda recently advertised for 27 jobs but received almost 10,000 applications. Out of these, only 4,000 were shortlisted.
It is from these that the lucky 27 will be chosen. This story underlines the gigantic unemployment problem that Uganda has to contend with. Every year, universities and other tertiary institutions churn out hundreds of thousands of youths but only a few can be absorbed in the small job market.
Thus the majority of post-school youths are languishing in the city, towns and villages of Uganda. Many parents are beginning to wonder why it’s even necessary to pay fees in universities when there is no certainty that their children will get employment thereafter.
This state of affairs is not only an economic problem, but also a political landmine waiting to explode. Meanwhile, the youths are being advised to look to agriculture for employment. This is quite misleading.
Not everyone can be a farmer; in fact, in advanced economies, the proportion of people involved in the agricultural sector pales in comparison to those in manufacturing and services.
In addition, commercial farming has high start-up costs and is a very risky undertaking, making it inappropriate for youths. Besides, no country has ever developed on the basis of agriculture. It should simply be a vehicle to guarantee food security and raw materials for agro-industries.
That leaves industrialisation as the only tried and tested way through which Uganda and other African countries can create millions of jobs for their people and transform their economies.
Unfortunately, we are not aware of the government’s industrialisation strategy or master plan. Yes, some efforts are worth acknowledging – like the massive investment in dams and other infrastructure, and the slow move to build industrial parks. But these efforts seem to be isolated and uncoordinated.
Has government indentified the industries that give Uganda a comparative advantage so as to focus on those? For instance, Ethiopia has gone all out with leather and textiles; what is Uganda’s strategy?
Building industrial parks without spelling out who should occupy them on the basis of considerations such as job creation, value addition and technology transfer might prove counterproductive.