By Eva Wakabi, Guest Writer
This week marks the start of the real challenge for Makerere University’s 11,022 fresh graduates. After investing their money and their finest years in getting an education, the graduates have to go out to the real world – and make their investment pay.
The unbelievable atmosphere of pessimism which is gaining a stranglehold in this country is going to make many of those graduates give up without even trying. “There are no jobs out there for me, so why should I even try?”, one of the graduates told me yesterday, an admittedly good looking girl. “The only hope for me is to find a rich man who will take care of me. That is what I will concentrate my efforts on”. The Daily Monitor’s Tuesday headline (Abdu Kiyaga, “11,000 graduate to 83% joblessness”) reflects this pessimism.
But the truth is not so simple. Youth unemployment is unbearably high, but other statistics reveal why Uganda is considered an economic success story in many countries. In the 2012 Index of Economic Freedom, published last week by the Heritage Foundation in Washington, Uganda ranks first in East Africa in all economic parameters. The index, which ranks countries according to their financial, legal and regulatory environments, gave Uganda a grade of 61, four points above Kenya’s grade of 57. Uganda also ranked as the 8th best country in Africa in terms of doing business.
These are not the only numbers which reveal a different picture than the one we are used to reading about in the newspapers. Foreign Direct Investment in Uganda, it turns out, has reached a staggering $847.6 million in 2011, compared to only $133 million in Kenya.
And yet, when you open an average Ugandan newspaper (even the government owned “New Vision”), you don’t get these numbers. Ugandans generally don’t know that their country is the preferred investment destination in East Africa. They mostly get the impression that theirs is a country in severe crisis, with no hope in sight. Faced with such a presentation of reality, many of them give up and don’t even try.
Ugandans frown upon gradual, hard work, the kind that has built innumerable other countries, such as China, Singapore and (just next door) Rwanda. They don’t see the need for discipline in achieving their goals. Bad Black, the goddess of easy money, is an object of love and admiration – but when the President chooses to give the KIIRA EV project his unlimited backing and support, he becomes an object of scorn. And yet it is exactly those projects which have made Uganda a target of international investment. Building a country, those investors know, is slow, hard work. That is something we have yet to learn.
So to those graduates who have become discouraged at the headline which placed their odds of finding a job at only 17% (since a full 83% of all youths are allegedly unemployed – although this statistic has only an indirect connection to the much smaller segment of university graduates) – to those graduates who have given up, mentally, on making it in the real world without even trying, I say this: you live in a country with sound economic fundamentals. The rest is up to you. Don’t let anybody discourage you until you have made your fullest, most passionate efforts at success.
A lot have been said about our education system: the way it focuses on books and not real technology, and doesn’t give graduates hand on experience. This is gradually changing, and major global newspapers such as the New York Times have already reported that Makerere University has become a regional centre of excellence for IT. Possibly the solution is found in the direction already implemented by Kenya: more professional colleges and technical schools, less university enrollment.
Above all, we must remember: in this age of global competition, in which lifelong learning is mandatory and is no longer an option, and in which all the world’s information is at your fingertips via the Internet, success for those who really want to get it is more an option than ever before.
Worldwide, Uganda is considered a good place to do business. The fact that our most educated people are afraid of going into business, and instead seek the so-called safety of regular employment, is one of the reasons why so many foreigners control businesses here. Rather than scaring people off with gloomy reports and suggestive headlines, the media should try to reverse this trend. The fact that Uganda regularly gets top ratings as far as business friendliness is concerned means that you have more of a chance to succeed in business here than you realise. It’s all in your head.
Ms. Eva Wakabi is a Student of Law, living in Kampala.