Depending on how they use their numbers, it is becoming increasingly likely that young people will play a decisive role in the forthcoming 2016 polls given that they are Uganda’s largest in terms of demographics.
To appeal to the youth and win their vote will be every politician’s dream. President Museveni has already released a song titled Yengoma, five years after his rendition of Mpenkoni in the build up to the 2011 general election. His opponent Amama Mbabazi continues to make use of social media for most of his communications.
Like former Makerere University vice chancellor, Venansius Baryamureeba, Mbabazi also made his presidential bid announcement on Youtube. The President responded to Mbabazi’s ambitions in a recording, played online. All this would look like an affirmation of the fact that young people, who are more plugged in than most, cannot be ignored.
But how have the youth positioned themselves for 2016?
The provisional National Population and Housing Census 2014 results show that 6:4 Ugandans can be classified as aged 18 to 30. This is a representation of 18.4 per cent of the estimated 34.9 million Ugandans, according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS).
The Electoral Commission puts the number of registered voters at 15.2 million people. The electoral body is currently cleaning up the voters register and this could come down, though not significantly, which suggests that in a truly transparent contest, the young peoples’ vote will count for a lot.
Going by these numbers, it means that nearly 42 per cent of the young people will command almost half of the voting age population in 2016, making them a critical mass and significant voting bloc. By law, a citizen is eligible to vote when they are 18 years and above. The census report showed that the bulk of the population is below 18 years of age (56.7 per cent).
However, Ms Irene Ikomu, the coordinator- Parliament Watch Uganda, is sceptical as to whether the youth have realised their potential in influencing the country’s political agenda.
She cites issues like disease, unemployment, lack of access to good health services and education, which have hindered their success and wants the youth to use this opportunity to determine the direction of the national conversation towards elections.
“The young people are the most hit by most ills in society. It is the young who are sexually active, unemployed, affected by disease and a poor education system. But these are not issues that candidates are discussing right now.
“The engagement of the youth right now is that they are either celebrating or chasing away someone. They have not yet realised how much potential they have to be able to change the discussion around the elections.”
Her other disappointment is that although young people are increasingly becoming politically active, not many of them actually vote. Their staying away affects the elections, especially when you consider that only 59 per cent of registered voters turned out in 2011, compared to 70 per cent in 2006.
“The challenge with the young people is that many of them are very apathetic and not interested in elections and voting. Increasingly, you have more young people interested in politics in general, but you have very few of them who registered for national identity cards,” she said.
Mr Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a political historian at Makerere University, warns that while the political scene is catching on, the youth should take care not to be taken advantage of.
Already, there are several groups like NRM Poor Youth the No More Campaign the Jobless Youth and Inter-Party Youth Platform, among others, that have so far emerged. They, according to Mwambutsya, should be used to advance the youth agenda instead of playing puppet to the older political elite.
“It will be risky for a presidential candidate to ignore the youth,” Mr Mwambutsya said.
“Youth in Uganda are not principled. They are not civically competent. What they have been doing is just to present themselves for rent. You find some youth going to Mbabazi today and when Museveni calls them the next day, they go there. After election, they then wait for another five years. You can’t demand for better services with such an attitude,” Mr Mwambutsya said.
Mr David Pulkol, a member of the Uganda Peoples Congress, agrees, observing that looking at the ongoing campaign, there are already signs of frustrated youth groups trying to show dissatisfaction with the existing political structures. If they are not harnessed, they could wreak havoc, he warns.
“I am worried there is going to be more violence. At the moment, the youth are being used to fight against each other. I forecast violence in 2016 general election,” Mr Pulkol said.
Speaking at a two-day youth national conference in June, Mr Muruli Mukasa, the minister of Gender, Labour and Social Affairs, asked young people to use their votes in the 2016 elections so that those undeserving of political office are pushed out.
“We shall quit when we shall quit and what will make us quit is the system. The system of voting is what will make the desired people stay in power and the undesirable go. If I am voted out in my constituency, I will leave and if I am voted in, then I will work because I will have been endorsed by the majority,” the 63-year-old former security minister said at a symposium.
It was organised by the University Forum on Governance and Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung under the theme “2016 and beyond young people for a credible and peaceful election experience”.
Youth Member of Parliament Gerald Karuhanga fears that as usual, young people will continue being to manipulated.
“The seniors are smarter at their game. The youth are lured with t-shirts and get excited at composing songs. The youth need to discern and stop being prey to the old cadres. We (youth) are just waiting for their time to run out and we will definitely take charge,” Mr Karuhanga said.
Mr Sam Muyizi, the Uganda Young Democrats secretary general, wants parties to begin trusting the youth for leadership positions.
His colleague Doreen Nyanjura, a national assistant coordinator for the unemployed, insists that as long as peaceful transition of power to the youth is not guaranteed, it will continue to create uncertainty among people.
“Majority of these networks being formed are demanding employment and regime change. Our Constitution is clear. We demand that people who don’t want to leave office give way to the young. If elections are not free and fair, youth should not take part in the electoral process,” she explained.
Abbas Wetaaka, Mbale UPC district chairman, warns the government against training the youth under the guise of crime preventers, saying “it is a dangerous scenario we are developing. Why should government train a youth without a job on how to use a gun? Anytime it will blow up and everybody will run for security. The young generation should (instead) be at the forefront, preparing a future where they aspire to be.”
The youth agenda
The candidates should show how they will control youth unemployment when they are voted into power
Stabilise the economy because most emerging entrepreneurs are young people.
Give tax holidays to youth who have started small businesses
Provide health services that are better and affordable to young people