Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni has admitted that growing youth unemployment in the country is a daunting task that must be prioritised.
Museveni, while speaking during the country's Golden Jubilee independence anniversary at Kololo airstrip on Tuesday in Kampala, said the steadfast rise in the number of university graduates has continually fallen short of the readily available jobs in Uganda.
In apparent show of the enormous achievement his National Resistance Movement party (NRM) gained in the field of education since he clinched power in 1986, Museveni enumerated that enrolment in primary schools rose from 2 203 824 in 1986 to the present 8 317 420 pupils, while secondary school enrolment shot up to 1 225 326 from 123 479. The country's universities, Museveni said, enrolled more than 150 000 students compared to 5 390 in 1986.
"Increase in education has been phenomenal. The problem is now jobs for the schools and university graduates. This is a problem but a good one," Museveni said. Whereas Uganda's population stood at 15-million in 1986, it has more than doubled to 35-million people at present. According to the 2008 World Bank report, Uganda currently holds the youngest population in the world, just behind Niger.
Each year, Uganda's universities and tertiary institutions churn out 400 000 graduates to compete for 90 000 jobs, creating a deficit of 310 000 jobs. Youth unemployment in the country is estimated at 83%.
In a bid to step literacy rates, Uganda's government introduced universal primary education (UPE) in 1997, and later universal secondary education (USE). Under the UPE and USE policies, the government provides free education for pupils and students at public schools.
Though Museveni's NRM Government has continuously boasted that the free education has increased literacy and enrolment in schools, critics, such as outspoken retired Anglican bishop Zac Niringiye, contest this claim.
Niringiye argued that because government has failed to march the increased enrolment in schools with adequate teachers, the graduates from the free education programme are substandard and incapable of creating jobs.
"None of the high profile politicians and civil servants in Uganda enrol their children for free primary or secondary education because they know it's decayed. They take their children to private schools where they pay [fees]. After seven years at primary, pupils under UPE can't even write their names. We have a crisis at hand. If a country doesn't have a better education system, then we are going nowhere," Niringiye stressed.
Museveni, with his characteristic bout of theatrical imagery, has always managed to toss the rag on the face of his critics on matters concerning the poor quality of the government's free education programme.
"When a person is roasting meat and another gets the spicy aroma without tasting the actual meat, you feel a little better," Museveni once asserted when asked on the matter, indirectly stating the comparative benefit of having free education that's substandard than not having any education at all.
To address rampant youth unemployment, Museveni stressed government would continue to emphasise teaching of science subjects and build infrastructure such as factories to create more jobs.
The jubilee celebrations were not without their ugly dramatic side as opposition heads of lead political parties in the country boycotted the celebrations, protesting what they described as government oppression against citizens.
Nobert Mao, the president of the Democratic Party and Olara Otunu of the Uganda People's Congress party, whose former leader, Milton Obote, received the country's instruments of power during independence in 1962, shunned the Kololo ceremony.
"We need to establish in our country a sense of common belonging. I was very shocked to hear Museveni cite the massive enrolment in primary schools as one of the achievements of Uganda in the last 50 years. UPE in Uganda actually represents the collapse of quality education," Otunu stated.
To avert impending protests, plenty police officers and military members were deployed on the streets of Kampala, who held Dr Kizza Besigye, the Forum for Democratic Change party leader, under house arrest at his residence in Kasangati, Wakiso district. Neither journalists nor guests were allowed inside the home of the opposition leader throughout the day.
Besigye, who has frequently been brutalised for mobilising the masses to protest against government policies, had earlier threatened to call on over three-million Ugandans to march on the streets of Kampala during the independence anniversary.
Wafula Ogutu, the Forum for Democratic Change spokesperson, explained police had barred them access to Besigye despite the fact that he was ill. "They [police] seem to be determined to harm Dr Besigye. He has been feeling unwell since yesterday [Monday] but they will not let him go and see his doctor. The police tell us that he will only be allowed to do so after the Kololo function is over. We had to smuggle in some medicine for him last night," Oguttu posted on his Facebook wall.
In the west Uganda town of Mbarara, the police fought running battles with the party's supporters who marched through the town with black flags to "mourn" 50 years of Uganda's independence, according to the Daily Monitor.