By Agaba Ronald Bills
I read an article titled ‘Jobs: Give Youth Hope’, by Moses Byaruhanga, a career presidential advisor in the New Vision of Thursday, March 29, 2018. He tells a story about a group of unemployed youth who visited him as a leader to get hope about jobs.
To their credit, the youth articulated their problem and its cause. To arrest fears and restore their hope, Mr Byaruhanga chose the easy rather than the right way. He regurgitates the narrative of explaining away the problem of rampant youthunemployment instead of proposing new solutions.
According to his hope message, government has no ability to create jobs -true, and it will be the private sector also true, which his government will support with roads, power and a market with effective demand, herein lies the genesis of my counter argument.
On roads, he talks about the kilometers tarmacked and conveniently avoids the big elephant in our infrastructure story. When you visit any construction site of these mega projects, the only sign of Uganda is found on the project boards that lists Uganda as Client.
The rest, talk of contractors, consultants and supervisors are foreign firms. These employ their people to do jobs that can easily be done by Ugandans, and even civil works such as stone pitching which can be done by our local technical school’s graduates are done by these multinationals. Everywhere in the world, it’s okay to outsource, and my point is not to fault these foreign companies, but to look at our government which has no regulation on skills transfer and subcontracting local firms to cater for local content.
I challenge Moses Byaruhanga to tell the youth of Uganda how many local firms through a deliberate public private partnership or local content strategy his government has empowered since the creation of Uganda National Roads Authority as a strategy to develop local capacity to maintain these 4,000 kms that he boasts about.
Roads just like human appetite keep demanding for attention. When a road is constructed the story doesn’t end, it requires maintaince and in the end rehabilitation.
Dear youth, since UNRA was created in 2008 it has acted as a midwife of thousands of contracts to foreign firms paying a whopping Shs 6 trillion on 4,000 kms as mentioned by Mr Byaruhanga using the conservative estimate by the ministry of works which puts a Kilometer of road cost at USD 850,000 (about Shs 1.5 billion in at the exchange).
On power, the construction and generation is the easy part. Government sources for money, in most cases credit then procures the best firm and boom, a dam is constructed. The real deal lies in wide distribution and effective use of this power. In my small trading center of Kazo, Kiruhura district we received electricity 4 years ago. By mere observation and in a place where you would ordinarily expect good household incomes few homes can afford to be connected. And the situation is even worse when you look at the number of small scale businesses that can use this electricity for production.
The government spokesman, Mr Ofwono Opondo likes a phrase about people who shoot and aim later. The exact vocation of Mr Byaruhanga. In his article, he writes and I quote, “… on the cost of power, the government is soon finalizing negotiations with the owners and the funders of Bujagali to bring down the cost…”
Now, Mr Byaruhanga, how do you take credit for a power dam that you neither own nor funded? Was this dam constructed under former leaders that now your government has woken up to rectify this mess. If it was your technocrats that caused this mess, what should the youth leaders that you implore to tell their peers say on the whereabouts of your government officials responsible for this mess?
Lastly, Mr Byaruhanga talks about the market with effective demand. One of the fundamentals of a human to be productive is his health. Government has done a commendable job on immunization and our infant mortality rate has improved. On the other side of the coin, in the same newspaper where his article was published, we have two scandals about the Minister of Health lying about the Nodding disease crisis in the north and the fake vaccines for Hepatitis B.
Unless Mr Byaruhanga has other scientific means of creating effective market but the known foundations are quality education (you know our quantity UPE), a robust health sector, an effectively employed middle class, a thriving agriculture sector – ours is struggling with limited extension services and lack of water for production, and access to cheap and affordable credit for private sector to expand and employ more people.
In the absence of these, he is deliberately commissioning the already low morale and underemployed youth leaders to make a fool of themselves by explaining what NRM has done and what is in store for them.
The youth who visited the administrative and purely political office of Mr Byaruhanga speaks volumes about the strategy that we have perpetuated as a country. The strategy that for anybody to make it in life, politics is not only a way but the only way to get hope. And I’m not saying that infrastrure has no potential to solve youth unemployment challenge, but my point is that politicians like Byaruhanga use it to make empty promises they have no intentions of honoring , they do not deserve the public’s largesse.
The writer is the team leader at Leadership Square Africa.