The aim of the WFD’s ‘Strengthening National Youth Representation and Engagement in Politics in Uganda’ programme was to ensure better representation for the needs and interests of young people in policy and decision-making in the Parliament of Uganda. The programme supported the Uganda Parliamentary Forum on Youth Affairs (UPFYA) – an internal parliamentary body – in engaging with stakeholders both inside and outside the Parliament. The aim was to champion the youth agenda and help promote and address the concerns of young people over national policy issues. As a result of the programme, UPFYA members were able to build consensus on priority issues, mobilise support within Parliament and among community leaders and youth-led organisations. They were able to advance policy and legislation on a topic of strategic importance, specifically the prevailing, rampant unemployment in the country, particularly amongst university graduates. This culminated in the drafting of the ‘National Graduate Scheme Bill 2018’ which – through co-creation, coordination and lobbying by UPFYA members and partners – was subsequently adopted by government. Once adopted, the law will create a framework for providing young graduates with employment training, information and career guidance as well as mentoring to enhance their employability and self-employment.
The success of the ‘Jeunesse-Espoir’ project is due to several factors:
A receptive and energetic partner, in the form of the UPFYA, at both leadership and membership level, through which non-member MPs could also be reached and influenced.
A strong membership base within the UPFYA, which proved an effective force for generating consensus, coordinating efforts and working collectively to shape the government’s policy response to issues affecting young people. The presence of a caucus doesn’t always mean the presence of consensus; the UPFYA were willing to work together internally to agree a shared goal.
Effective relationships with relevant Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), through which the programme could engage, expand and garner support on issues outside of Parliament. This included regular, sustained dialogue between parliamentarians and youth leaders, allowing for more-meaningful engagement and preventing the relationship becoming extractive or opportunistic.
According to data, Uganda’s population growth is among the highest in the world. Projections state that “Youth in the age group 15-34 years will increase from 22.7 million in 2015 to 48 million by 2065”. These trends are reflected in the Parliament of Uganda; in 2019, 187 of the elected 459 Members of Parliament (MPs) – approximately 40.7% – were members of its Youth Forum. There is a clear recognition of the significant role that young people can and must play in Uganda’s development, but the concerns of young people in policy and legislation in the country have been largely overlooked. National policy is failing to include, address or respond to the needs of a significant proportion of its citizenry. In so doing, it is undermining its ability to benefit from its youth population and reap the demographic dividend.
Although the UPFYA provides an established network within the Parliament of Uganda for young MPs, many of its members were early in their political careers. They had not fully developed the knowledge, skills, confidence and relationships within Parliament – as well as with youth leaders, youth groups and CSOs – to be able to identify issues, coordinate responses, lobby and advocate to secure meaningful progress on priority youth issues within national policy and legislation.
Between 2018-2020, the WFD’s Commonwealth Partnership for Democracy (CP4D) pilot programme, entitled ‘Strengthening National Youth Representation and Engagement in Politics in Uganda’, equipped the UPFYA with the capacity to hold sustained engagements with youth representatives. The aim was to advance the youth agenda and promote youth inclusion and the meaningful participation of young people in national policy issues.
The WFD supported the UPFYA in conducting bimonthly board meetings with the Office of the Speaker, selected parliamentary secretariat staff and the UPFYA Board. The goal was to strengthen the internal mechanisms of the forum and identify youth priority issues for discussion in Parliament. These engagements were further reinforced by the WFD’s support to the UPFYA in undertaking reflection and consensus-building meetings with civic youth leaders, in order to advance agreed issues.
Building momentum around the youth agenda in Parliament also required enhancing the professional skills of the young MPs themselves. The WFD worked with the UPFYA leadership and membership to leverage their individual profiles and networks and to hone their networking, negotiating and outreach skills.
As a result, UPFYA members were able to identify a number of issues of strategic importance. One of these was the rampant unemployment among young people, including university graduates. Members unanimously agreed to define a legislative framework to support and better position graduates for employability and to increase productivity and competitiveness, resulting in the drafting of the National Graduate Scheme Bill 2018. This was a Private Member’s Bill (PMB), drafted with support from WFD by Hon Waira Kyewalabye Majegere, MP for Bunya East County Constituency and a Member of the UPFYA.
In March 2020, WFD held focus group discussions with UPFYA members, youth leaders and the MPs who had participated in WFD activities under the programme. This was to understand how the legislation was conceived and how a PMB – which normally struggles to make it through the legislative process – ended up as policy adopted by the government.
According to Hon Majegere, the mover of the bill, said there was no policy framework to provide young graduates with employment training, career guidance or mentoring to enhance their employability or to support self-employment. These were identified as contributing factors to the rampant unemployment that disproportionately affects university graduates. Emma Wabwire (young University graduate who is a social entrepreneur but graduated as a social scientist) spoke of her own experiences, “I wanted a placement during my studies to apply my knowledge gained through my degree into ‘real life’ organisational situations to prepare me for my career after graduating and deepen my understanding of my chosen career path before finalising my degree but all was in vain. I am now doing something totally different from what I studied.’
These factors improved both Ugandan youths’ access to employment and their ability to access platforms to participate in politics. A focus group participant commented, “Without a source of income completely impedes you from participating in politics”. Supporting more young people to enter employment can have the potential benefit of encouraging more young people to enter formal politics.The WFD provided technical support in developing the bill, and convened key actors – including the Legal Department of Parliament and interested civil society actors with UPFYA – to ensure inclusiveness in their provisions. By coordinating and working with CSOs to inform the contents of the bill, the programme ensured the bill was read, which in turn generated interest and support for the bill outside of Parliament and put pressure on the government. In addition – and importantly – it also minimised the likelihood of the bill being challenged. As Hon Majegere notes; “Supporting the bill process as well as coordinating the civil society organisations to have an input in the bill has really helped in advancing it to the committee level without any queries”. Hon Adeke Anna Ebaju, the UPFYA Chairperson and seconder of the bill similarly notes; “If we had not mounted pressure on government, I don’t think it would have responded by adopting this bill”.
Meetings focused on building consensus and defining strategies to advance the bill; these played a significant role in garnering support from other MPs. This ensured that the bill received overwhelming support when it was presented on the floor of Parliament. This was complemented and reinforced by the efforts of those individual Members engaged though the project in publicising and mobilising support for the bill. By building MPs’ confidence and understanding of the legislation, the programme encouraged them to engage independently with the committees in Parliament on the National Graduate Scheme Bill, 2018 and other pro-youth bills. MPs also engaged independently with the media at grassroot levels on the Forum’s priority bills to popularise their content among their constituencies and garner support for their passage.
The programme not only achieved policy change but also increased MPs’ knowledge on a host of issues affecting youth in the country. This has enabled them to represent and respond to the interests of citizens more effectively.
- Establishing good rapport between Parliament and project stakeholders is essential for successful programme implementation and ensuring the latter’s commitment to achieving programme outcomes.
- Investing in building cross-sectorial consensus for and on policy and legislative issues both strengthens buy-in and support improving the contents of policy and minimises the likelihood of the issues being challenged at a later stage.