As the scorching sun blares down the dust-ridden trading centre of Masafu in the eastern district of Busia, David Ouma is busy shredding metals into pieces to make various products for sale.
As I enter his workshop, he switches off the grinder producing a stinging sound that would have otherwise thwarted our conversation. Removing his protective mask, beads of sweat drip down his cheeks as he narrates his determination to work and repay the loan acquired through the Youth Livelihood Programme (YLP) in November 2016.
With Shs 8.4 million, a group of ten youths started Bulongi Welding and Metal Fabrications aiming to open various branches within the district.
“At the moment, however, we are only three members operating the workshop,” says Ouma. “After a few months into the project, members started leaving – one after the other. I think they thought this venture would not meet their expectations.”
And this group is not alone. According to Sylvester Ofiti, the community development officer for Masafu and Masinya sub-counties, of the 10 groups that were given the YLP money, only four are still operational. Ofiti says most groups failed due to mismanagement of funds by the respective members.
For those whose projects never took off despite being given the funds, Ofiti says government will recover the money, “by all means”.
Launched on January 24, 2014, YLP was designed by the government to curb unemployment and poverty among youths. Cabinet and parliament then approved Shs 265 billion for the first five years of implementation.
Among the objectives was to provide the youths with marketable vocational skills and toolkits for self-employment and job creation. However, some Busia district leaders believe the programme will not yield much.
Addressing journalists during a pre-World Population day workshop by the National Population Council on July 10 in Busia, area MP Geoffrey Macho said YLP should be redesigned if it must benefit youths.
“It [YLP] was [so] poorly designed that monitoring and supervision is left strictly to ministers and the senior minister, not even the minister of state for youths and children affairs..,” said Macho. “People in lower governments have not been given any role ...”
Macho added that the “poor design” of the programme is the reason some of the youths who received but failed to utilise the money are being arrested.
He advised that unless YLP is remodeled, the funds should be put into the presidential youth skilling initiative. More critical of the project is the district LC-V chairperson, Boniface Paul Oguttu. He told The Observer that Busia is one of the districts with the lowest recovery rate of the YLP funds due to mismanagement by beneficiaries.
“Most youths took the funds to be kind of a handout from the president,” said Oguttu.
Oguttu added that most groups were given less than half the money they were meant to receive due to bribes demanded by some programme officials.
“Most of the times, we have found challenges with youths who ventured in projects they do not have any skills about,” he said, adding that the youths were not given adequate training before getting the funds.
Speaking during the commemoration of World Population day at Madibiria primary school in Busia on July 11, UNFPA representative to Uganda, Alain Sibenaler, highlighted the strategic need to invest in youths.
“The Uganda Vision 2040 of becoming an upper middle-income country cannot be achieved if the right investments in the young people are not made to exploit the youthful population, and to harness the demographic dividend by turning the young population into productive human and social capital that will contribute to inclusive and sustainable economic growth of the country,” Sibenaler said.
This year’s WPD was commemorated under the theme: ‘Strengthening Youth Competitiveness for Sustainable Development.’
Meanwhile, the ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Uganda, Henk Jan Bakker, expressed concerns about Uganda’s growing population amidst rampant unemployment. Uganda’s population is estimated at about 38 million.
“If the current trend of population growth rate doesn’t go down quickly and significantly, Uganda will have to deal with an ever larger part of the population that is undereducated, unhealthy, unemployed and very young,” said Bakker.
To this, President Yoweri Museveni said nobody should be worried of the increasing population since such a dividend can be beneficial.
“My worry is the civil servants and some of the political leaders because they are delaying the implementation of our programme,” said Museveni. “With good programmes like quality education, vocational and skills training, good healthcare and job creation, this growing population and the youths are the engine of economic growth for Uganda.”
Going by the president’s idea of job creation, youths like Ouma would greatly contribute towards Uganda’s economic growth after effectively utilizing and paying back the acquired funds.
Ouma and the other two colleagues have so far paid back Shs 700,000 and they are determined to grow and pay off the entire loan within the stipulated three-year period.