A recent report released by the National Planning Authority (NPA) has sounded a distressing alarm in Uganda. It reveals that a staggering 4.2 million young Ugandans, categorized as ‘Neither in Employment, Education, nor Training’ (NEETs), represent a concerning 41 percent of the country’s youth population. This revelation underscores a profound disengagement of young people aged 18 to 29 from vital aspects of life, including the labor market, education, training, and broader societal activities.
Despite Uganda’s economy generating 1.6 million jobs between 2016 and 2021, a significant portion of its youth struggles to secure employment or create opportunities for themselves. This has caused the unemployment rate to rise from 13 percent to 16.5 percent. Over the past decade, the NEETs population has surged at a rate of 8.4 percent, soaring from 2.5 million to the current alarming figure of 4.2 million. Projections indicate it could surge to 5.8 million by 2031/32 if remedial action is not taken.
The report underscores regional disparities in NEETs, with higher concentrations found in Bukedi (61.4 percent), Lango (49.3 percent), Elgon (44.1 percent), Busoga (43.5 percent), Bunyoro (42.5 percent), and Kigezi (42.1 percent). The majority of NEETs are unskilled (58 percent) and hail from impoverished rural households. This group is also more likely to face disabilities, substance abuse issues, and falls predominantly within the 25 to 27 age bracket.
Dr. Hamis Mugendawala, the NPA manager for policy research, identified several factors contributing to the NEET crisis. Many youths discontinue their education early, primarily due to financial constraints. Gender roles continue to play a significant role, with females more likely to leave school or work due to societal expectations. Family socioeconomic status is also a determining factor, with individuals from poorer backgrounds at a higher risk of becoming NEETs.
The report highlights that NEETs represent a significant economic loss to Uganda, affecting personal incomes, households, communities, and even the nation’s GDP. Despite Uganda’s efforts in youth empowerment, agriculture remains the primary source of employment. However, NEETs are often reluctant to engage in agriculture due to uncertainties regarding financial returns. Instead, they turn to activities like sand mining and stone quarrying, which offer more immediate income.
Mugendawala emphasized that NEETs face financial and structural barriers to reskilling, which could help them enter the labor market. One notable success story is the Presidential Industrial Zonal Skilling Hubs, although these also have limitations.
Martin Wandera, the director for labor, employment, and occupational safety and health at the Ministry of Gender, Labour, and Social Development, expressed skepticism about the report’s numbers. He suggests the report should be revised to align with updated statistics from the Ministry of Gender. Wandera argues that when considering all factors and categorizations, the NEETs’ numbers are closer to 2.5 million, reducing the concern to 24 percent instead of the reported 41 percent.
The report serves as a crucial wake-up call for Uganda, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive solutions to address the plight of NEETs and create opportunities for its young population.