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Dr. Ben Jones on the need for a new vocabulary to describe Ugandan youth

There is a particular way in which people talk about young people in Uganda. There is a way they talk about people who don’t have work; and who might not have a salaried job. There is a very standard way, I think, in which often policy-makers, government officials, but also people in civil society, the NGO Sector, churches, talk about young people. The way they talk about youth in Uganda, there are certain categories that emerge.

So, you find that it is often described that, well if people don’t have salaried work, they are idle, or they are unemployed. If you ask somebody in the place that I work in Eastern Uganda about youth schemes, they will say: “the thing just collapsed and the youth run away with the money,” and so on and so forth.

There are these categories that people use to describe young people in Uganda which I think doesn’t do a good job of reflecting all the things that young people are doing in their lives. I know lots of people where I work in Eastern Uganda, where people might not have a salaried job, but they are doing something. They are doing something in their church. And they are doing something in local politics. And they are doing something in the market place. And they are doing something in their clan.

Dr. Ben Jones, Mr. Rama Omonya, and Ms. Norah Owaraga during the official launch of the Challenging Categories project at the CPAR Uganda Lira Learning Centre. In the back are young innovators under the mentorship of Ms. Norah Owaraga, CPAR Uganda Managing Director and who are directly participating in the Challenging Categories project.

It is capturing that and putting a language onto that – putting a language on how young people themselves, who are a large category in Uganda, those aged 20 to 25 years, talk about what they are doing. And in that sense, develop some new language, some new categories for thinking about, you know, people in Uganda who are often labelled “unemployed”, who are often labelled as “not doing much”, having “wasted their education.”

So, one of the things I have observed, you know, is that there are lots of ways in which people are actually actively using their education. They may not have the perfect job, on a government seat, or an NGO office, but they use their education. They use their education in the courts. They use their education to help their family. They use their education to help think about business.

It is those types of things that we want to put on the table. And hopefully, we will see if there is an audience. And hopefully, help policy makers, civil society, young people, of course, think about putting a new type of vocabulary on the categories that we use when we are talking about, you know, the majority of Uganda’s population.

Dr. Ben Jones is the Principal Investigator for our research and advocacy project: “Challenging Categories: Educated Unemployed Youth as Institutional Innovators in Uganda,” which CPAR Uganda is implementing in partnership with Lira University and the University of East Anglia, UK; with funding from The British Academy, under the British Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund.


Featured photo: Ms. Gladys Awino, a young innovator under the mentorship of Ms. Norah Owaraga, and who, as of April 2021, is the CPAR Uganda Publicity Assistant.

Photos credit: All photos featured in this post were taken by Mr. Emmanuel George Owaraga, who is on the team of Mr. Philip Luswata, our Media Consultant for our Challenging Categories Project.

6 responses to “Dr. Ben Jones on the need for a new vocabulary to describe Ugandan youth”

  1. Most people even our parents inclusive only think having a salaried job is relevant after finishing school, I give myself as an example, after school I used to help my dad with legal advice for making decisions in his company but I wasn’t even appreciated, he could ask me several times if I was even busy applying for jobs, even when I decided to open my beauty saloon and he realised I was the one working in it myself he was not happy about it, instead he was worried that I would stray away from path of career he once asked me, ” but adorah dont you think working in that saloon will make you change your mind and make you refuse to look for a job.” I replied to him “daddy I know what am doing, am tired of sitting home here and eating food only, at least you should be happy that am making myself useful,” he wasnt happy but he got used to me doing my saloon work instead of sitting home, he even told me to train my young sister after she finishes her form four papers so that she won’t just be sitting at home to watch television, so you see a lot of youth out there try to do some work to keep themselves busy but because they are not appreciated they shy away from innovation and tell themselves to wait for white colla jobs, have seen many examples for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with Dr. Jones because me I am a secretary General for my choir and during my free time I participate in Choir practice and some people look at it as time wasting but we have people who come and say, look you people the way you sing has changed me a lot. I also want to be part of the choir and sing so that more can join


  3. Very many of us, including we the young people have a mindset that if you are not exercising your professional qualification you are not working. we even start blaming the government for our “unemployment”. For instance, a friend told me, ” I blame the government for the state of Unemployment” she studied Public administration but she is a CEO of a bakery and earning lots of money.


  4. Many people have their own description about youth, for example when I was in ‘Boke Agali Cell’ in Lira city, doing my field interviews, one of the youth present said, some courses when u study at University leaves you ‘floating’ and I asked him about ‘floating’ then he said ‘floating’ to him and other young people means ‘having no job’! And to him courses that you don’t ‘float’ are medicine, law, engineering! With my ICT course that I did at UTC Lira and Gulu University, I’m not ‘floating’ and I don’t want to even ‘float’! The question is, how will I or you NOT ‘float’? Credits to Dr Ben Jones.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lira2021, we are suspicious of you. Please make it clear who you are. Otherwise, we may have to remove your comments for fear that someone is inappropriately using the the name of “LIRA CITY COUNCIL”


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