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Uganda Looks Toward Private Sector, Women’s Empowerment to Drive Growth and Create Jobs

KAMPALA, September 21, 2011—In an interview with the World Bank, the Hon. Syda Bbumba, Minister of Gender, Labor and Social Development in the Government of Uganda, and the country’s first woman Minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, discusses Uganda’s progress on gender and on youth employment. She argues that a lot has been done, but more support is needed, to boost women entrepreneurs and vocational skills training for youth.

Q: How has Uganda performed on gender parity and what challenges remain?

I am really happy to say that we have made some progress on gender parity, starting with education. With the introduction of UPE [Universal Primary Education], we were able to achieve 50/50 percent enrollment of both boys and girls. But where we’ve got the challenge in UPE is the high school drop-out [rates] of girls due to poverty at home and due to some social problems. And the same extends to education in upper primary where the girls drop out for early marriages and to assist their mothers and aunties with household work and other things.

At the university and the higher levels, I think we are doing much better because the enrolment of girls is 60 percent compared to boys at 40 percent. The Law School [at Makerere University] is a case in point. This has been achieved because of the affirmative action the Government of Uganda has put in place to uplift the girl child.

On women in decision making and government, we have made some progress. Five years ago the women were only 23 percent of the cabinet and today the number has gone up to 28 percent. Among the senior ministers, and I am happy I have been a member of that category for the last 13 or 14 years, we have gone up to 33 percent from 29 percent. But we still have a long way to go because we have not even attained the commonwealth quota of 30 percent in the Executive [branch].

Our women here [in Uganda] are quite enterprising but they lack the appropriate capital, they lack access to markets, and they lack access to collateral. This is because in Africa all property belongs to men so it’s very difficult for male spouses to allow them to use family collateral to borrow money [that can] help them to expand their businesses. So, here we need funding, which does not require the traditional collateral, for women to be able to grow their businesses.

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Q. Uganda has got one of the youngest populations in the world, which comes with the challenge of youth unemployment. What is the state of youth unemployment in Uganda and what is being done to create jobs for young people?

Youth unemployment is one of the most biting problems for our government today with a population of 57 percent of youths below the age of 20, and the number goes even slightly higher if you go up to the age of 30.

We have to look at the genesis of the problem: One, education. Secondly is the slow growth of private sector because the civil service does not provide a lot of jobs. The jobs come from the private sector. But the private sector has not been growing as fast as we would have wanted. There is a mismatch in our education between what the market requires and what the education system provides. What we have been providing is managers all this time but we don’t have hands-on people. That’s why we have had challenges. When the few investors come to our country, they want to come with their hands-on people and yet we have unemployment.

Another example is lack of electricity. If you have no electricity you cannot talk of having an economy which can employ people. Without a cost-effective operating environment you cannot attract the private sector to be able to provide jobs. Those who come are hedged, and because of the high costs they will not employ many [local] people.

On streets of Kampala alone we have over two million literate youths without jobs and another two million illiterate youths without jobs. We have about 392,000 youths who join the labor market every year and out of those about 30 percent are employed. So the growth and accumulation is quite high –over 260,000 every year joining unemployment. We need to really address those problems which have constrained the growth of employment: First, the skills training. We need to invest in vocational skills and BTVET [Business Technical Vocational Education Training] so that we can match the skills required by the market and the skills provided by the schools.

We also have the problem of the mindset. When these young people come from universities or colleges they are all looking for white collar jobs and yet the white collar jobs for administrators are always very few. They don’t want to look into the blue collar jobs. They don’t want to look at the green collar jobs. We have got a job as a government to change the mindset and put up incentives such that people get to go into these kinds of jobs. But that requires changing the mindset both of the young people and parents because now everybody wants his child to have a degree whether he is going to remain on the street or whether he is going to remain in the house doing nothing. All they want is a degree.

Government is changing the education mode to provide what they call comprehensive training so that the child from upper primary, when he drops out, already has some skills. They are trained on entrepreneurship; trained on the basics of business like book-keeping so that even if they dropped out and they went out on their own, they will be able to employ themselves because they have those kinds of skills.

In Kampala, which is hub for unemployment, Government is going to set up special markets which will be treated like incubation centers where somebody occupies a stall for not more than three years. They will be on leases of three years, not permanent holding, not for sale, and they get out to give them a start up at least to incubate their ideas and go out and work.

What messages would you give other African leaders on how to tackle the issues of gender and youth unemployment?

What I would say on the gender, many of them have started gender affirmative action, so they should to enhance it. Without women’s participation, there is no success in Africa and that’s the reason Africa keeps lagging behind. Because the women who were the main producers were always locked out of decision making; were always locked out of key participation in the economy. That’s why Africa has lagged behind. And of course the women constitute the biggest percentage of the people in Africa. So it’s no longer really a request but a high command that African leaders should pay special attention to women’s issues regarding development. That’s the way Africa is going to succeed.

Uganda is not exceptional in having a young generation in Africa. This is a common phenomenon in the whole of Africa. And we are all sitting on this time bomb if we don’t address it. Let’s promote the private sector. Let’s all be strong and invest in those areas which attract the private sector. Let’s all provide the skills which will make these young people job makers and also employable.