Ugandan leaders and the public continue to shock by their lack of shock. Even developments that threaten the very stability of the state and the nation don’t shock us. Or are we so strong we just don’t panic. But then how bravely do we handle the threats?
As we emerge from, or get deeper into the Covid-19 pandemic, a danger signal has been flashed at us regarding the coming population explosion. And most have reacted by laughing at the signal.
In the first three months of the lockdown, a sharp rise in teenage pregnancies was reported. A couple of districts reported more than 100 pregnancies in the first three months. And public laughed. One story they really loved was of a young man who had put 13 girls in the family way, and gone into hiding.
The 100 pregnancies in three months may as well be the district average, in a country of 135 districts. If this goes on to the end of the year and the first one or two months of next year, then we are talking of 500,000 extra babies, added to our annual 1.3 million plus new babies and still growing.
With teenagers not under institutional control, this was bound to happen. But what is being done about it? Also horrifying is the moral angle that some of these pregnancies resulted from incest. Who has most access to the girls under lockdown conditions but close relatives? We can pretend all we want that incest is for primitive beings, but police and councillors say otherwise.
Anyway, bad as teenage pregnancies maybe, the current wave confirms our failure to engage the teenagers during lockdown. As the lockdown began, prominent Ugandan educationist Fagil Mandy went on TV to implore everyone to use the time to learn a skill, not only to beat the evils of idleness, but to also emerge a better person from the crisis. We should have listened to Mandy, given his credentials as a former schools’ inspector and former head of the national examinations board. For had the children been busy under structured programmes, we wouldn’t be having so many children having children.
Already, the population people have warning us of the youth bulge. In this country of vast natural resources, minerals and great agricultural potential, we should be focusing on industrialisation using the inputs God has showered us with.
If the youth were skilled, they would be employed in different industrial activities instead of getting aimlessly pregnant, some under stigma of incestual conception. And we know the danger of increasing numbers of jobless youth.
Just before the lockdown, we had got an outlet for our unemployed youth who join the unemployed army every year — let them go to the Middle East where girls do domestic jobs and boys become watchmen and manual workers.
Horrifying stories of mistreatment and some deaths would not deter them and at one time up to 5,000 were leaving the country every day, about the same number born daily in the country. Did UBOS (Uganda Bureau of statistics) note that coincidence and figure out an explanation?
You just needed to pay a visit to Kampala’s Interpol bureau on Kololo hill where the ‘Certificates of Good Conduct’ are issued to get a feel of this. I was there last year seeking the certificate for a different reason and the clerks were looking at me suspiciously. Who will employ this mzee at a construction site or as a night watchman in the desert, they must have wondered.
The ‘externalisation’ of our youth was interrupted by the global Covid-19 situation. The pressure cooker in heating but the vent is closed. This would be wake-up time to address the matter – the election season we are caught up in. Every candidate should be talking of how jobs for the youth are going to be created. That should be the main issue of the general election due in five months. But is it?
We know for example that the last American president was elected over the economy and health care access, and the current one over manufacturing jobs.
“Bring back our jobs from China; restore those three little words ‘Made in America”.
I am afraid I don’t yet feel the issue over which Ugandans want to elect or retain the next president.
To his credit, President Yoweri Museveni has been extolling leaders of his ruling NRM party to go and explain the relationship between the resources of the country and the strategy to use them for industrialisation to create jobs. But do you want to bet if this is what millions of candidates will prioritise as they go out to seek the over one million positions in the coming elections? Or are they more likely to dwell on abusing opponents by day and preach tribalism at night?