An untapped potential

Around half of Uganda’s population are below the age of 16 and it is a demographic trend that is set to continue for the next 15 years. In our new report, Youth, peace and security in Uganda, International Alert argues that greater attention needs to be paid to the needs, challenges and fears of this younger generation.

The youth of Uganda represent an enormous untapped potential. Unlocking the potential of these young people could help to unlock the economic potential of the country. After all, not only do they constitute an untapped labour market, but also a pool of future leaders.

Neglecting the issues faced by the country’s youth therefore risks compounding governance challenges and constraining the realisation of young people’s potential, and thus provoking violent conflict. Engaging large numbers of economically and politically marginalised youth people in a meaningful way is no easy task, but it is a crucial one.

The high rate of school dropout, unemployment (or underemployment), and exclusion from accessing political and economic opportunities doesn’t just pose an economic burden to the government, but could also lead to political instability. These challenges have already driven frustrated young people into criminal violence and even armed movements and gang activities. And a lack of requisite skills is further constraining their opportunities for securing gainful employment.

Several studies, including our own, reveal that young people still face enormous challenges with employment. These challenges concern access to financial and social capital for self-help projects, appropriate education and skills for employment, and participation in government programmes and political processes. These studies also underline youth perspectives on identity and nationhood, as well as their engagement in conflict, peacebuilding and post-reconstruction programmes. Such challenges have both covert and overt bearings on peace and security in Uganda, and thus affect prospects for economic growth.

A snapshot of Uganda’s history points to marginalisation, lack of a serious and definite agenda for youth, exploitation of young people for selfish ends, and a tendency among young people to join criminal gangs or to become conscripted into fighting groups.

While interventions by the Ugandan government and other development agencies have admittedly had a positive impact on young people, particularly in post-war northern Uganda, gaps remain and many expectations of young people remain unfulfilled.

This study seeks to highlight both the challenges young people continue to face as well as the impact they have on peace and security in the country – both positively and negatively, with a special focus on economic, social and physical security.

You can read the report here.