The world has seen some major changes in the last year, as uprisings and violent upheavals in the Arab world have completely changed the landscape in the Middle East. Major discontent took down the authoritarian governments of Tunisia and Egypt and created ongoing unrest in Yemen and Syria, among other places.
At the core of this Arab Spring is a large and growing population of youth, unemployed and angry with the status quo. Their success in drastically shifting conditions in their countries shows both their huge potential for grassroots driven change, and the inherent ticking time bomb of potential violence and instability in countries with very young and highly unemployed populations.
While most powerful uprisings have taken place in the Middle East, the region does not represent the only area where this issue is most pressing. The demographics in Sub-Saharan Africa are much worse than Egypt or Syria and pose a tremendous risk to the stability and development of the continent. Nowhere is this more acute than in Uganda.
Uganda has the youngest population in the world – 50 percent of the population is under the age of 15. Yes, that’s not a typo – half the population is 14 or under (CIA World Fact Book 2010). One quarter of the population – 8 million out of roughly 33 million – is in primary school. To make matters worse, 83 percent of youth aged 15-24 are unemployed (Africa Development Indicators).
Unfortunately, present indicators do not show promise for improvements. According to the U.N., the population is expected to grow from 33 million today to 94 million in 2050 and 170 million by the turn of the century. This is driven primarliy by a fertility rate of over 7 children per person, due to a variety of factors including local traditions and lack of access to contraception.
These numbers point to the tinderbox that is developing in Uganda, and in much of Sub-Saharan Africa, where demographics are similar. This represents what I truly believe will be, along with global warming, the major issue of my generation, Gen Y.
While the toppling of authoritarian regimes in Egypt and Tunisia were a positive political development, much of the Middle East struggles with instability, violence, famine, and pockets territories that serve as breeding grounds for terrorism. In this sense, the Arab Spring is the first major sign of the risk very young and highly unemployed populations pose to a nation’s stability and a forecast of what the world likely has in store in the years to come.
Educate! firmly believes that in a country like Uganda with a population so young, this problem must be addressed through the education system by transforming it to prepare a generation of entrepreneurs and leaders who can drive solutions to the problems around them, foremost that of unemployment.
Even in a developed nation like the United States, 60-80 percent of jobs are created by small businesses, and that should be no different in a place like Uganda or Yemen. History shows it is the most effective way to promote the development of a healthy democratic system and stable, strong economy. Only by equipping youth with the skills, experience, mentorship and confidence necessary to create businesses that drive job creation can the worst side effects of this ticking time bomb be contained.