It is Friday 21st and am excited as time for my 4pm appointment with Mr. Awel Uwihanganye approaches.
Time check, 3:45pm and am still stuck in traffic jam around the Spear Motors junction in Nakawa. With this jam, i can tell that i might be late for the chat. I quickly jump out and get on a bike instructing the boda boda man to drop me at Drew and Jack’s café at Forest Mall in less than ten minutes if he wants to make some extra bucks.
Of course boda bodas do not disappoint. At 3:59pm, am already at Forest Mall and I get a sigh of relief for being there in time and the fact that I have arrived before him, gives me a sense of responsibility and seriousness.
I feel relaxed and begin making myself busy as I wait for Awel. As am about to pull out Eckhard Breitinger’s book Uganda: The Cultural Landscape out of my bag, I notice a familiar face walking into the café.
Suddenly, fireworks and signs of victory invade my mind for finally meeting one of the inspiring men in Uganda. Mr. Awel Uwihanganye, the social entrepreneur with a passion for championing positive change projects which include the Young Achievers Awards, the Concordia volunteer Abroad Program, currently the CEO of LeO Africa Forum and one of the unsung young heroes, was standing right there in front of me offering a handshake.
I quickly introduce myself to him and we sit down and begin engaging in an hour conversation which will later turn out to be one of my most life changing chats so far. It is from this that we talk about many things ranging from social media, politics, youth unemployment(including solutions) and governance.
Awel Uwihanganye (A.U): Hi man how are you and school? You actually look different in real life. I thought you are an old guy.
Ibrahim W.Batambuze (W.B): Am really fine and so excited to meet you which is indeed a great honor. Blame it on the Internet (social media) for my change in looks because actually people look different in real life than who they are in virtual life.
A.U: Am really quite shocked because from your tweets, I thought you were some big guy out there but here you are, young but intelligent. Am impressed.
W.B: Oh that’s good to hear from you. Most of my friends actually think am boring and too old for what I say and do. They think everything I say, is beyond my age bracket and I worry myself about politics and good governance.
A.U: Actually that is good. You see, these days online marketing is important because it is when you get noticed by someone who develops an interest by following and observing what you say online. You as a law student, engaging lawyers like David Mpanga can get you networked. I mean, the reason why am actually meeting you, is because I enjoy reading your tweets and ever since I followed you, I have no regrets. I met one brilliant boy called Edgar yesterday(Thursday) because of Twitter.
It is from this point that we go deep into our conversation and the chat officially kicks off.
W.B: Which Edgar? Are you talking about Mwine Edgar the chap who wrote An Open Letter to Mr. Simon Kaheru (herein referred to as SK) earlier this week?
A.U: Yes that is the boy! Am telling you when I read his blog post, I said I must meet this guy and discuss with him and I can assure you I was not disappointed. I found him to be intelligent and always using facts to back up his case.
W.B: I do actually like him too. He is one person who seems determined and knows what he is doing. I interact with him a lot and I would love to meet him too. My best from him was The real life of an Unemployed Graduate in Kampala. He seems to be a very great chap.
A.U: I think Edgar has a point. There is a very big problem happening now and it seems there is not much concern, a sense of urgency. Edgar is talking on behalf of these unemployed young people who feel they are not being helped and yet they deserve better. I think its unfair to bash them off and stereo-type them as attention seekers without first listening to their concerns.
W.B: But Awel, let us be objective here. I think we are missing a point. SK is being used as a scapegoat by Edgar and friends. The man is now being handled like he is the Minister of Unemployment Affairs. What he said was his opinion to which everyone is entitled to.
A.U: I think Simon Kaheru and Edgar got lost in translation first of all.They mis understood each other and am sure Simon is not insensitive to their situation. He (SK) was not rubbishing them off like most old people do thinking its a bunch of desperate rowdy boys. The problem now comes in when most old guys see youth belonging to Youth Leagues of different political parties fighting for money, they presume all the youth are the same which is wrong. Edgar and friends are different, or i hope they are. These young people need solutions to their situations though their might not be easy answers.
W.B: By the way, I remember some other youth am not sure if all were also unemployed or not, polished their writing skills and begun writing very good pieces directly pointing at SK like Kevin and Muhamya. Did you follow them up?
A.U: Yes I did. They were actually more than five. They all express their grievances rather well. Even with their anger,they have valid reasons as to why they are doing this but it needs to be challenged in the right direction. Because of their situation, they need acknowledgment that something is or will be done, basically hope.The situation seems to be very bad which is sadly we may all not are not aware to what extent. Edgar told me that in his class of 200 students which graduated two years ago, only four of them are employed. To make it worse,the person who topped their class with a first class degree, today in 2015, remains unemployed.
Someone needs to listen to them, attempt to address their concerns, and at the very least assure them that something is being done instead of dismissing them. More so, even where you can’t help them, do not paint a bleak future for them. After i read their blogs, I wrote an email to a senior government officer known to be concerned about young people, and attached all these blogs. Am sure it an issue he will raise with his colleagues in government.
It is at this point that my heart freezes and the espresso am taking suddenly turns sour and sugarless. Did I just hear Awel say that someone with a first class is still unemployed after two years? I quickly begin saying a silent prayer wishing the Law Reform Committee changes the Law degree from four years to seven years so as I keep on masquerading in law school to avoid the wrath of this unemployment cancer already spreading like wildfire. Am now lost of words but I have to pretend am not affected and am strong.
W.B: But my friend, feeding these unemployed youth on only hope will not get them jobs or change the status quo. Hope is one thing and getting them employed is another. You might actually be postponing the inevitable and might just turn against you.
A.U: But again you see, giving someone hope is important because sometimes a lot can happen just because someone was able to hang in there. Someone who is without hope is literally dead. You need to remind him or her that a better day will come, and there honest efforts at addressing their situation. That is the beginning of dialogue. Am thinking of organizing a meeting with all of them and invite some people who have been concerned about this like my friend Morrison Rwakakamba and especially Simon Kaheru because his back and forth with Edgar has started an important conversation.
W.B: This issue of unemployment, you seem to be giving it a minute or rather an exaggerating view thinking Uganda is the only country going through this. No government in the world is Utopian to be believed that no youth unemployment is going on. Kenya’s Unemployment rate is over 40% and Nigeria as at 21st September 2014, had over 11.1 M unemployed youth. Uganda is not bad i presume.
A.U: True, but the situation of Uganda is unique. We are said to have the youngest population in the world and the fastest growing. Yes unemployment exists everywhere in the world, but it does not excuse the fact that if not addressed it can lead to societal conflict and even chaos. The government needs and the private sector also needs to be fully engaged on the issue and to see how it can be improved.
W.B: But Awel let us be realistic here. There is what they call political ideology and political reality. Sitting down with these boys is one thing and following up the resolutions made during the meeting is another. The 2016 elections are just around the corner and getting jobs for the unemployed youth is not going to find its way on the NRM government’s priority list in this election time— even if it is by mistake. Still if such arrangements were to happen, I can assure you that these youth will be played left, right and back to the center up to around 2017 when nothing has been done.
A.U: Then the government will be just postponing the inevitable- stiff resistance (and to the extreme, conflict on the streets) from these young people in the long run. Your generation is blessed compared to our times. There are a lot of educated youth today. This simply means you can easily change Uganda because of this literacy boast. Edgar in fact told me that they are around 200 unemployed youth who engage in debates on issues of governance, policy and matters that affect them on Facebook and Twitter. This is something very serious and cannot be underestimated. You know how countries like Egypt have broken up because of issues such as what we are talking about.
W.B: An Arab Spring in Uganda? You have got to be kidding me! Trust me that can never happen. You see there is a very big difference between your generation and ours. Let me first begin from the start. If we are before history to judge us, it will say that the Obote, Musaazi and Ibingira’s generation led Uganda to her independence. Then came the generation of the young Museveni, Olara Otunnu, Dr. Opiyo Oloya and Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda which liberated Uganda from Idi Amin’s dictatorship. Enter now our generation (beginning from 1986) which is only interested in betting, watching European soccer/soaps and lack interest in governance. The question is does our generation have a role or duty to play? Am sure history will (or already has) judge us as the generation which betrayed their country. We seem not to be having a common voice and interest as far as making resolutions for our country is concerned.
A.U: And who tells you that it is your generation to blame? It is the old folks who should take the big share of the blame. Most leaders today, were active during their times at universities and today they have not mentored your generation to take up power when they have left. The Uganda National Students Association (UNSA), the National Youth Council and the Youth Leagues of the political parties are not playing the role they were established to do. Today, they do not groom young leaders in large numbers and most of the mentoring is isolated by few individuals. It is the reason why you see today’s youth leaders on TV fighting for money instead of fighting for ideas and you expect such youth to be thinking intellectually upright?
W.B: Well, on that point I agree entirely. I do believe that it is also the reason why we have MPs fighting for beds in Kyankwazi instead of fighting for thoughts, visions and dreams on how to change the status quo of this country.
A.U: The problem is in fact, not only on youth but us as a country. Like any government in the developing world, today the government is faced with a lot of challenges today in relation to effective service delivery. I mean look at the health sector today. In my village (Kanungu), i almost lost a relative who was in labour when she was taken to the village hospital late in the night and there was no doctor. She had to be taken to another hospital which is almost an hour and half journey to give birth and remember the roads are hilly. But thank God she survived. I did lose a nephew in a similar circumstance which still hurts me today.
So really, we need leaders that produce results which are concerned about the plight of everyday citizens. Those government officials who do not live up to the expectations of the people,should resign. We cannot allow or accept this as they are and think that’s how it should be. Something needs to be done early enough and well all have a role to play.
It is at this time that Mr. Awel remembers he had another appointment (and later an evening jog) and the time we had allocated for the chat, had passed long time. We quickly finish up our drinks and offers me a ride to Capital Shoppers in Ntinda as the conversation continues. We continue talking about what went wrong with the movement system of governance which seemed promising and perhaps we should have given it an opportunity to work and why the size of the cabinet should be reduced to lessen public expenditure.
I reach my destination and say bye to my new mentor as he continues to his residence in Ntinda. We promise to keep ourselves in touch and continue discussing issues and matters affecting us and our country. It was a chat to remember!
*Note: Please note that, words in the conversation with Mr. Awel Uwihanganye do not necessarily reflect the exact words he said during the chat. If you read any reply from him resulting from this writing, please do take his words as final and i will take responsibility if i happen to have misquoted him anywhere.
Follow him on twitter here: Uwihanganye_A