21 June 2018

Uganda's Youth Can Trigger Economic, Political Change

opinion

The theme for this year's Nordic National Day is 'youth'. This is in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which recognises that '... young women and men are critical agents of change' in society.

Young people represent the future and are critical in building social cohesion, economic prosperity and political stability of the country.

They can play this role if there is a conducive policy environment that promotes collective engagement in democratic processes. Therefore, they need support and encouragement by government, as well as non-State actors in order to meaningfully contribute to national development.

As you may recall from history, 50 years ago during the spring of 1968, Europe experienced a social and political change led by university students, who demanded for political participation. The innovative ideas from the youth resulted into a major progress in as far as political, economic and cultural rights are concerned.

One concrete outcome of this youth revolution was that the students obtained half of the seats in the study boards of the education institutions. This inspired the rest of society, especially other marginalised groups, who saw an opportunity to enhance their rights to political and economic inclusion. The main outcome was broadly accepted throughout Europe.

Thousands of women became part of the labour market for the first time and started demanding for equal opportunities for women and men.

The innovative ideas from the youth resulted into a major progress in as far as political, economic and cultural rights are concerned. In Europe, the year 1968 is, therefore, a reminder of how the power of youth can potentially herald change.

In Uganda, 78 per cent of the people are below the age of 30. This means that Uganda has one of the youngest population in the world. We also know that Uganda has experienced a decline in growth over the last couple of years with the national poverty rate increasing from 20 per cent in 2013 to 27 per cent last year. Low growth combined with a fast growing population and lack of access to quality education and meaningful jobs, makes the youth by far the most vulnerable group. At the same time, the young population has immense potential as agents of change to propel economic development, if provided with the right set of skills.

As Nordic development partners in Uganda, we are committed to investing in the youth. We want young people to believe in themselves and to know that they can individually and collectively contribute positively to national development.

We have observed in Uganda that youth are often invited to discussions with the elders - including according them special seats in Parliament. However, their views and voices are often not sufficiently taken into account when making decisions that affect them.

We, therefore, encourage Ugandans to promote a culture of broad participation of all persons regardless of age and gender instead of merely providing exclusive space, which does not necessarily translate into inclusive dialogue.

We recognise that Uganda has made significant progress in increasing the number of girls completing primary school. However, we remain concerned that only about 33 per cent of them progress to secondary or higher education.

Furthermore, statistics indicate that at present, more than a third of girls in Uganda get married before the age of 18 and almost three in 10 have a child before that age.

This is worrying and that is why as Nordic development partners, we have made it a priority to focus on the sexual and reproductive health and rights for young people in Uganda. Together with the Government of Uganda, we are particularly interested in reversing the high rates of early child marriages and early pregnancy among young girls.

We believe that by enhancing access to both knowledge and basic health services, young girls will be empowered to make informed choices thus giving them a chance to create meaningful lives for themselves. This will contribute to building a productive work force for the benefit of everyone.

On the social-economic front, we all acknowledge and believe that freedom of expression is essential for building sustainable development, political stability and democracy. In this regard, we recognise the constitutional provisions to protect and promote freedom of expression in Uganda. However, we have witnessed some reversals in the recent past.

In particular, we are concerned that the new tax that recently levied on social media could potentially limit freedom of expression of the youth and curtail their opportunity to participate in political dialogue.

The youth are the most regular users of these social media platforms for communication. We recognise that Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp are popular and widely used in Uganda as means of quickly getting information and people's voices on a variety of issues from across the country.

We, therefore, encourage government, in the effort to increase domestic revenues, to reconsider other options for taxation that do not reduce participation of the youth and other vulnerable groups in development of this country.

My fellow Nordic ambassadors and I would like to encourage the political leadership of this country as well as institutions working with the youth to recognise their great potential and responsibility to contribute to the development as prescribed under the SDG framework.

This is an edited version of Mr Pedersen, the Danish Ambassador's speech at the 2018 Nordic Day yesterday.

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