Young men and women at the lower ends of the economic scale are just as unlikely to head to the polls as their wealthier counterparts.
The campaigns are in full swing with just over a month to go until the election. While different candidates go around tirelessly conversing for votes and making promises, many youths have exhibited interest in participating in the elections, some for the first time, others for probably their second or third time, depending on their age.
The youth 18-30 make up about 55 percent of the country’s total population, which is estimated at about 32 million. While for many it is an exciting time to cast their vote, for some youths they are at sea as to what the whole exercise is all about, a sentiment that is especially predominant among the illiterate and unemployed youth.
Some youths admit to only attending political rallies in order to enjoy the musicians hired by some candidates to entertain the crowds before the candidate address them. When the music ends, they go home rather than hear the candidate speak.
“I only enjoyed the music played at the rally held in Katwe near the market,” confessed 23 year old Meddi Kyagulanyi who collects scrap for sale.
“I do not understand what the candidates are up to. They only promise how they are going to alleviate us from poverty, build hospitals and improve agriculture,” wondered Kyagulanyi.
When asked whether he is going to vote, Kyagulanyi, a father of two, was not committed, saying it would depend on whether he would have money in his pocket on that day.
“I am not sure whether I will vote because I live from hand to mouth. I will most likely be looking for money to feed my children otherwise going out to vote will be a waste of time,” Kyagulanyi explained.
Kyagulanyi and several other poor youths do not see any possible changes in their life whether they vote or not, despite the Electoral Commission’s adverts encouraging all registered Ugandans of age to go out and vote.
For Dan Nyombi, another youth surviving on brickmaking in Kinawataka near Nambole, it is the right time to flush out all politicians that have not delivered their previous promises and are now asking for more political time.
“I went to school up to S.4 but could not continue with my studies after my father died in a motor accident. As we are many in the family, I decided to find my own survival and I am now making bricks for a living,” said Nyombi.
Nyombi said he can attend rallies around Bweyogere or Nambole as long as he does not have to spend any money on transport to go to a rally.
On what he expects to hear from a candidate, Nyombi said he preferred to listen to realistic speeches on issues affecting him and other residents in the area where the rally is held rather than the “abusive or mud slinging speeches” by some candidates against their opponents.
“I cannot waste time at a rally of a candidate, who instead of telling us issues that will uplift my community and country at large, attacks his opponents instead,” added Nyombi.
Asked what he expected the new government after elections to do to improve his life, “I would expect better roads for easy movement of both people and goods, more medicine in the government health centres and short term loans for guys like us in this kind of sector.”
He declined to mention who he would vote for but complemented Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) president Jaberi Bidandi Ssali for using decent language during his campaign, unlike other candidates that indulge in character assassination and mud slinging.
UYONET, an umbrella group of non-religious and non partisan, non-governmental organizations, drew up a national youth manifesto for 2011-2016, calling upon the state to fulfil the fundamental rights of young Ugandans to social justice and economic development.
“The youth have a place and a role in deepening electoral democracy in Uganda. We must put it in context of where the country is at the moment and how the youth and younger people may best play their role to make this country a better place for them and for future generations” said Arthur LAROK Director of Programmes, Uganda National NGO Forum, a member organization of UYONET.
Among their demands was that government, political parties and civil society MUST deliberately develop comprehensive Youth leadership mentoring programmes that usher in a generation of leaders with values of integrity, patriotism and self reliance.
The manifesto also called for government to waive taxes on health products, streamline and strengthen by funding the delivery of youth friendly basic health services like mobile clinics, health booths/posts, and friendly means of distributing contraceptives in order to provide at least 70% of the youths with easy access to reproductive health services by the year 2016.
From a professional standpoint, having dealt with unemployed and undereducated youths with the Uganda Youth Development Link, Rogers Kasirye has a different opinion on youth decision making especially when it comes to political opinion.
“While majority of the candidates are promising heaven on earth to the electorates, the youths are a special group that need more time to explain one’s plans before they can make mature decisions. There should be a strategy to focus in detail on the youth during these campaign programs because many are fresh voters unlike the old people who have participated before,” said Kasirye.
Kasirye added that the youths need tactical explanations on issues that relate to them directly like health, employment, transport and personal welfare.
“That is why one will go to the ballot box without a particular candidate in mind. On reaching there, he or she will tick the one that appeals to him there and then irrespective of whether he attended any of his rallies. Others will cast votes based on the influence of what his colleagues said or showed him on a particular candidate,” said Kasirye.
Kyagulanyi and Nyombi are two of the different youths out there doing odd jobs to survive. While they undertake such jobs, there are many more idle youths without jobs who are not even interested in listening to any candidate or attending any rally. They have basically left politics to their parents or betters whom they think understand better and benefit more from the political scenes than the youths themselves can. They have forsaken government as government has forsaken them.
By Savio Kyambadde