An unsolicited letter to the jobless Ugandans aged 23 or thereabouts

I recently had coffee with four of your colleagues and was left dumbfounded by what I heard. The three young men and lady have been out of university for two years.

They’ve spent that time walking the dusty streets of Kampala looking for jobs, degree certificates by their side, as useful as drinking straws without soda.

Not too long ago, they heard government was looking to hire 112 immigration officers. They applied but, according to them, so did about 350,000 (yes, three hundred and fifty thousand) other prospective employees!

Despite ‘shortlisting’, there were so many people left to interview, the process took more than three days at Namboole Stadium, and they introduced physical examinations, probably to throw out the geeks and the fatsos.

I know about the unemployment crisis in our country. I have written about it many times but this was the first time I was having coffee with it, and seeing its other side.

You see, like many, I am critical of you young people. Many of you are generally unserious and uncouth.

You can’t spell, r 2 lzy 2 ryt wl, don’t invest enough on networking and self-improvement, think the world owes you a quick and luxurious living, and are not willing to put in the long, honest hours required for success.

Your colleagues challenged many of my preconceived generalisations. They read widely. They have gone from applying for jobs to studying unemployment and how to create jobs.

They have approached myriad government agencies to offer their thoughts and propose initiatives.

These aren’t lazy and unserious waragi-chugging, sports-betting bags of lazy bones. Yes, three of them support Arsenal, sadly, but as an occasional past time, not as their solace.

Yet everywhere they have gone, they have had doors slammed in their faces, condescendingly patted over the head like pets, or told to come up with some project – any project – and access some of the ‘free’ campaign money swirling around.

They know many of the young people who, frustrated by the lack of opportunity, have turned to civil unrest and political activism. They are contemporaries.

I listened to their stories in uncomfortable silence. It is more than a decade since I was your age, and in your shoes, and I was shocked at how distant and surprising the stories sounded. I realised I can no longer describe how you feel.

When I see the vacant spaces in your eyes, I feel a bit of empathy, yes, but often followed by my hands subconsciously feeling for my wallet or double-checking that the car doors are locked.

I felt ashamed listening to your colleagues, and angry that such brilliant brains are going to waste.

But I also realised, with alarm, that neither my generation (35-45) nor the ones above it will save you.

We are busy accumulating whatever we can, while we can. We will grab schools and public parks. We will ‘eat’ roads and steal vaccines. We will spend money on districts, a bigger Parliament and the like, even if they add no value.

If you are lucky, we will give you some cash and T-shirts at rallies – if you promise to keep up at the feeding trough.

You know why? Because we can. You are not organised and lack leadership. You vote blind, ageing candidates to Parliament because you don’t have your own.

You beg for jobs from corrupt dinosaurs older than your retired parents because you have no voice.

No generation has had as much information at its fingertips as yours, yet you use it for gaming tips, not to track how your taxes are being spent.

You don’t have to go to the Bush to be listened to but you have to find ways to get your voices heard.

You will have to stop agonising about jobs and start organising to run the country.

We will, of course, try to resist you so you must make the opportunity cost of bribing you to keep quiet and go away higher than listening to your grievances and addressing them.

If you want to start a revolution you’d better start turning the wheel.

Mr Kalinaki is a Ugandan journalist based in Nairobi. andTwitter: @Kalinaki


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