OPINION: We Need an Honest Conversation about Employment

By: Ronald Bills Agaba

Last week, sildenafil at our monthly peer to peer conversations organised by Leadership Square Africa – a start-up leadership organisation run by friends and I, a debate emerged about our generation’s arguably gravest challenge – employment. Specifically, the debate focused on the prospects of self-employment – the now much hyped counter to the limited formal sector jobs. The conversation was in particular provoked by two stories of Rusia and Tony.

Rusia, 28, employs 30 workers in her business. She shared a story of how on her first business trip to India, she was picked up by a 17 year old whom she mistook for just a son of her business partner, only to be embarrassed on learning that he was actually her host – the main business partner. In her words, she was embarrassment because like any average Ugandan, she didn’t expect a 17 year-old to know much about business, much less run one.

Then there was Tony’s. Returning from his studies abroad, and high on the ‘be job creators’ mantra, Tony had headed straight to Lira to try his hand at commercial farming. But his enthusiasm was short lived. At the end of the season, his Shs.6million maize field had been overwhelmed by heavy rains fetching him a paltry Sh.2million at harvest time.

The two stories were the kind of challenging experiences that made me reflect deeply on the feasibility of the now hackneyed ‘be job creators, not job seekers’ advice kit for every job seeking Ugandan, and whether we’re armed with the right mind set to make good of the challenge.

A typical 17 year-old Ugandan is one in senior six vacation, solely concerned with making it to University. Money making is not their concern at that stage, since they are still under the benefaction of their parent/guardian who is all too often eager to patronise them.  Contrast that with their Indian counterpart –an already hands on business manager attracting clients from far corners of the world, and determined to make an impression on them.  As Rusia shared, the boy personally picked her from the airport, drove her to the hotel and personally handled the business trip up to its climax.

Then there’s the culture of half-truths about self-employment, religiously handed down to unsuspecting youths by patronising guests of honour at graduation. Always absent in these rosy wealth creation platitudes by government officials is the honesty about the risks involved, that should paint a complete picture to inform the young graduates’ decisions as they venture into the murky working world. As a result, you have the all too common stories of young people like Tony, naively venturing into the business world in Agriculture or otherwise, with catastrophic consequences.

As we continue to grapple with shrinking formal sector jobs amidst a growing number of young people leaving universities and other tertiary institutions therefore, we must start complete truth telling about the world of work. Universities must allow honest conversations to take place about the future of employment.


We must supplement the job creating rhetoric with deliberate technical training and business orientation of young people to arm them with the requisite knowledge and skills necessary to see them through this journey.

At the lower levels, parents must rethink the schooling of their kids, and demand a reduction in school assignments for their kids to avail them time to get involved in the backyard cottage industries at home, running of their shops during the weekend, and taking them on business trips during holidays. Schools need to refocus effort to producing, all round skilled citizens with the right attitude about life, and not just good grades.

At the macro level, the regulatory framework should be made enabling, and not stifling of industry. In particular, the incentives structure for the agriculture and small scale cottage Industries, like the tax regime and power tariffs should be revised downwards to encourage more start- ups, while particular procurement quotas should be deliberately reserved for youth start- ups to facilitate their quest to break even.

These interventions should be as urgent as the crisis on our hands. By 2050, half Africa’s population will be below 25 years old, with particularly the continent’s youth population doubling from the current 230m to 452million, according to Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s 2017 report. Finding work for this ballooning population therefore could determine the stability of the continent, and work on that front must start in earnest.

The options for the next half a century are clear. We can make a conscious decision to get our young people to work, harness their dynamism to power our continent’s ascent into the first world, or procrastinate and get imperilled. The choice is ours.

The writer is the Team leader – Leadership Square Africa

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