New York Times | Uganda’s Ticking Bomb – Growing Unemployment By James K. Arinaitwe

Posted May 2, 2014 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Opinion ~ 6,673 views


time bomb

KAMPALA, Uganda — In March, the United States sent 150 Air Force Special Operations forces along with military aircraft to Uganda to help capture Joseph Kony, whose Lord’s Resistance Army has terrorized the country for decades. This was the first time American military planes were sent for use in the years-long search for him, though 100 American troops were deployed as advisers to central Africa in 2011 in the fight against the L.R.A.

America is eager for a stable East African partner, particularly following the outbreak in December of sectarian violence in the Central African Republic. After the “Kony 2012” video calling for the fugitive leader’s arrest went viral in the United States, many Americans were convinced that Mr. Kony was the greatest problem facing Ugandans. But he is no longer a serious threat.

The country’s real time bomb is a lack of educational opportunities that have over decades facilitated corruption and the recruitment of young people into terrorism and rebel movements. If the United States wants to neutralize the threat of radicalism in Uganda, it should invest in education, not a misguided manhunt.

And unpalatable as it may seem to some, funds should be sent through the country’s Ministry of Education and nongovernmental organizations that partner with Kampala. Uganda has one of the world’s fastest-growing populations. In 2012, 78 percent of Ugandans were under 30 years old; 52 percent were 15 or under. But the country counts few quality schools. Low salaries result in high rates of teacher absenteeism: The World Bank reported in 2013 that 40 percent of public classrooms had no teacher. And dropout rates are high. Without an adequate education, many Ugandans have no path to dignified work, and youth unemployment is pervasive. In these conditions, rebel groups become appealing.

And though the L.R.A. is fading, the risk of recruitment remains real. A group called the Allied Democratic Forces has attracted young people in the country’s west and east; reports have surfaced of a network in the Democratic Republic of Congo that recruits unemployed Ugandan youth on the false promise of high-paying jobs. Terrorist organizations like the Shabab are also on the rise in East Africa.

I myself nearly ended up in a rebel group in rural western Uganda, where I grew up. By age 10, I had lost my parents to AIDS and cancer, and four siblings to preventable diseases. Seeking a fraternity similar to the one Mr. Kony had crafted, I fell in with orphaned boys who skipped class to smoke and drink; I tattooed the initials of a rebel group on my left arm. My grandmother encouraged me to stay in school, and I graduated with top marks. But when I headed to Kampala to look for work, the only job I could find was hauling boxes for a juice factory for $1.20 a day. Worn down after months of hard labor and emotional abuse, I contemplated joining a rebel group, which seemed to offer power, structure and cash. Fortunately I was spared the decision: An American couple I met through a missionary organization helped me attend college in the United States.

But emigration can’t be the only path to a viable future for Uganda’s young people. The Ministry of Education must rethink its recruitment policies and payment structures to reduce teacher absenteeism. Most important, the national curriculum must be modified to prepare Ugandan youth for available jobs. Most schools do not teach agricultural skills, for example, though many opportunities exist in the agriculture sector.

Some worthwhile programs are already in place at the national level, like the Ugandan Ministry of Education’s “Skilling Uganda” and the government-affiliated National Curriculum Development Center, both of which emphasize vocational training. America already provides substantial annual aid to Uganda, including hundreds of millions of dollars for AIDS prevention.

But the United States Agency for International Development spent only $2.4 million in 2012 on education in Uganda. In contrast, the United States set aside over $40 million for anti-L.R.A. efforts between 2008 and 2011 alone. This military aid strengthened the regime of President Yoweri Museveni and the armed forces, which have become more involved in politics. It’s true that during Mr. Museveni’s 28-year reign, Uganda has witnessed an upswing in corruption, the stifling of political opposition, and, most recently, the passage of a law imposing harsh sentences, including life imprisonment, for homosexual acts. Thus, many international aid workers see the disbursement of education funds through private nongovernmental organizations as an attractive alternative to supporting the Ugandan government. But bypassing the state entirely is no solution, nor is it necessary.

According to the United Nations, less than 1 percent of international donor aid (including U.S. donations) is lost to fraud, whether the money moves through the public or private sector. Systemic change in Uganda will require investment in central institutions and NGOs that work closely with Kampala, and in advocacy to keep the government accountable.

If Washington wants a strong ally in Uganda, allocating millions of dollars to find Mr. Kony and fight the L.R.A. is a misuse of resources. Quality education that provides Uganda’s youth with critical thinking skills and a path to stable jobs is the best way to curb corruption and neutralize the attraction of rebel and terrorist groups.

Careful, monitored investment in education through official channels may be less glamorous than short-term military interventions, but it is the most effective long-term solution. James K. Arinaitwe, a 2014 New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute, is the school partnerships manager at Educate! Uganda.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on May 2, 2014, in The International New York Times.

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Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.

One Comment


    Thanks diasporanews team i love your journal it’s fascinating and interesting reading. Job well done

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