By Lukanga Samuel
For young people (Bazzukulu as called by the president) transitioning out of the child welfare system at 18, adulthood is even more precarious. Entering adulthood seems harder than ever these days. The journey to independence and autonomy just takes longer, and the faltering economy has made the way forward even more difficult.
It is commonly known that Africa has the youngest population in the world, with 70% of sub-Saharan Africa under the age of 30. Such a high number of young people is an opportunity for the continent’s growth – but only if these new generations are fully empowered to realise their best potential. Young people must be included in decision-making and given appropriate work opportunities to innovate.
Involving young people in politics and society is not merely a question of inclusion, but one that is vital for economic growth, innovation, peace and security.
Unless Jajja Museveni and the NRM fix the country’s structural conditions, failures of public goods and insecurity that contribute to their opponent’s popularity, any stopgap acts of political expediency won’t fully eradicate the charge for change, and their next loss may well be larger than Buganda.
It is important that the *Bazzukulu* are not only stated in tweets but also involved in decision-making. We as young people must be recognised as equal partners and as rights holders – Not only as victims.
Just like they (The NRM and Museveni) had perhaps misjudged their opponent’s popularity as a politician, so much so that they tried to counter his rise by hiring fellow musicians and celebrities to campaign against him. The outcome of this youthful underutilized force is catastrophic, even humiliating for Museveni as a grandfather in this case.
The Bazzukulu as commonly stated by the president are an indispensable yet underutilized force in tackling our country’s poverty and inequality. Their energy, passion, and courage to challenge the status quo are needed to identify and address complex national problems, and their insights are worthy of attention and investment.
Young people are currently utilizing technology advancement, taking advantage of social media to calmly raise their plights. TikTok, Twitter and WhatsApp are all social media platforms setting political trends in the country.
Social media facilitates the maximisation of user engagement – the ability to make sensational and attention-grabbing content more visible – but Museveni’s political strategists and the talking heads around him have on several fronts advised ignoring young people’s online popularity. To them, social media isn’t real life, after all, they organized a guerilla warfare and successfully captured power.
Young people are contributing daily to the benefit of their communities. From providing support to the elderly to advocating for justice and equality, young people have proven their centrality in building and sustaining healthy communities.
While Museveni securing another term may have been expected, he will have an enormous challenge governing Uganda, especially with this increasing number of young radicalized social media players. For a leader who works through a complex network steeped in patronage and patrimonialism, he has long ruled by redistributing rent to create solidarity among different social groups and facilitate political stability.
Young people are so strong and if they decide to do something, they will act immediately. Having a young population brings many opportunities for economic growth and innovation if these opportunities can be recognised and utilised.
Uganda’s 2021 presidential election exhibited digital restrictions becoming a routine part of the country’s electoral cycle. Not coincidentally, social media is increasingly used by political challengers such as NUP’s principal to mobilise popular support.
Uganda blocked access to the internet and social media on the eve of presidential elections held on 14 January 2021. Access to the internet was restored on 18 January, but social media currently remains off limits in the face of increasingly underutilized young people.
In recent years, social media has become increasingly relevant in democratic decision-making processes. The Bazzukulu may currently pretend to be soft but their growing expertise deserves extraordinary recognition.
While NRM’s Museveni had suggested that he lost in Buganda because people there voted along tribal lines, it is vital to note that the region is Uganda’s most cosmopolitan, ethnically diverse, developed, populous, educated and wealthiest, drawing people seeking jobs and a better life from across the country.
It was therefore no surprise that a month before the 2021 polls, the government tried to clip NUP’s wings by asking Google to block up to 14 Ugandan YouTube channels that streamed his campaign rallies, alleging the channels imperilled Uganda’s security. The channels cited jointly boasted 59 million views and 300,000 followers. This was an attempt to further narrow NUP’s campaigning space after the government had successfully threatened radio and TV operators against hosting him.
Hypocritically, the government had banned political rallies in favour of media-facilitated campaigning to stem the spread of COVID-19. Ultimately, Google declined the request, asking the government to provide a court order. After failing to remove the channels, the messenger became the target. On 27 December 2020, Ashraf Kasirye, the cameraman for one of the YouTube channels, was shot in the head while covering NUP’s principal.
It may be his own making to make the young people against himself but the roots of self-sabotaging behaviours can run deep, but there are many ways to catch your enemy in its tracks and learn to stop beating yourself up.
Having a young population brings many opportunities for economic growth and innovation only if these opportunities can be recognised and utilised.
President Museveni should engage young people beyond occasional visits, create a space for them and give them a seat at the table of discussion on matters related to their plights.
Jajja Museveni shouldn’t just offer this seat passively, but empower young people to use it. Young people have potential and young people have collective power, with the guidance of the government they can use that power.
For God and My Country, Uganda!
The writer is a social development enthusiast and an Ambassador of Humanity.