With the current Uganda’s population estimated to be over 42 million, 57% of the population is below 18 years of age, while 21% is between 18 to 30 years, highlighting Uganda’s young population. These young women and men are an asset to be nurtured, cherished and listened to. They represent hope and promise, and have a huge amount to offer to the country.
However, young people are at risk of disempowerment and alienation, and susceptible to extremist narratives and recruitment.
To prevent negative extremism, the country needs to be serious about engaging with young people to tackle the most serious challenges of terrorism facing the country.
Youth need to be seen not as a threat, but as an enormous potential for our country, especially in our search for peace, development, justice and respect for human rights.
It is also true that violent extremist groups target and invest in young people because they are aware of their potential and their strong desire for change.
Recruiters and peer networks engage personally and individually with young people, tapping into their discontents, listening and offering alternative views and analyses. They exploit grievances and use manipulative messages, conspiracy theories and lies, offering a twisted sense of purpose to disaffected young men and women. Extremist groups may also use digital technology to increase their reach across cultures.
The tragic irony is that at the same time, young people often lose most from terrorist ideologies. They are targeted for attack at public events, in schools and at gatherings. If we are to counter terrorists’ manipulative messages, we must engage with young people.
Due to digital emancipation, youth are at the forefront of efforts to prevent and counter violent extremism and promote peace. They are skilled communicators with networks that may extend around the world and almost unlimited access to information.
Given the fact that terrorist groups are increasingly recruiting young, disenfranchised people into their ranks, youth must instead be at the heart of efforts to counter violent extremism and promote peace. “Young people drive change, but they are not in the driver’s seat”.
Swift measures should be taken to stop feeding the fires of terrorism with the blood of youth, who are the primary target of recruitment, both voluntary and forced.
It is clear that poverty, ignorance and weak family ties create fertile ground for the “dismal ideas”. Youth, could have the strongest positive impact on the present and future, but when they faced a dead end, their ambition turned into frustration used by violent groups to fuel their own agendas.
On the other hand, persuasive messages must be developed and disseminated to convince young people that the ideologies promoted by extremist propagandists were false and empty promises.
What young people need today is what they have always needed: Education, jobs, and Investment. These goals must be an absolute priority in national development plans.
Let us build on the idealism, energy and innovative power of youth. Let us honor the positive resilience and resourcefulness of young people. And let us offer young women and men options, and inspire them with the hope and opportunity they deserve.