Uganda’s educated youth are restless. They want to inherit power and responsibility now. Many see anyone above 60 years of age (some say 50 years) to be too old and too tired to be entrusted with what they consider to be “their” future.

One understands their restlessness. In a society where being employed by the state and by the few companies in the land is considered a right of citizenship, the young university and college graduates are frustrated when they fail to get jobs.

In a land where political power confers wealth and prestige on the individual and her relatives, there is an understandable impatience that underpins the claim that the youth want to set the agenda for a future that belongs to them, not to their elders.

One who suggests that an unemployed holder of a basic university degree should seek a manual labour job or return to the village and work the family land promptly earns a severe fatwa.

To suggest that political power should be earned through fair competition is to invite a retort that the youth do not have the financial means to compete with their seniors.

To recommend apprenticeship and growth through the ranks of a political party and government is to invite accusations of obstructionist tendencies. Many have taken the urgency of now to mean dispensing with experience and on the job training.

On the other hand, many elders do not listen to the concerns and opinions of the youth. They view them as a bunch of inexperienced people who should patiently wait for their turn at the national trough.

The elders, hanging on to the vanishing tradition of mandatory reverence by the youth, are shocked by the language of impatience and agitation that is a normal communication style of the Twitter and Facebook generation.

It is a clash of civilizations, amplified by the dire economic challenges of overpopulation, unemployment, unplanned urbanization and absence of sufficient old age security and pension plans.

Old and young hardly listen to each other. If they did so, they would realize that the present and the future belong to all who are living. To suggest otherwise is to deny the youth their rights of citizenship and to kill the senior citizens before their time.

Life is an unending relay between organized communities. The children, the youth, the middle aged and the senior citizens constitute the four relay race runners. Each play a critical role in the race.

The teams that succeed are those that make smooth baton transfers between the generations. Each generation recognises the indispensability of the others. They all work together to ensure group success and continuity of the relay.

The children are fresh, eager to learn new ideas and are not afraid to say it as it is. The youth have vitality, boundless ambition and plenty of new knowledge and skills.

The middle-aged, sharpened by years of practice, are at the peak of their professional power. They anchor the relay, with a strong grip on the baton, until they release it into the safe hands of the senior citizens.

Like Usain Bolt, the Jamaican rocket with human legs, the senior citizens sprint towards their generation’s finish line, propelled by decades of wisdom and experience. Without them, the race is lost.

But their part is only possible when the others run their portions in this endless relay of life. The senior citizens pass the baton to the children, renewing the cyclical relay.

Societies that have recognised this have dispensed with age limits at both ends of life. Nobody is too young to be a useful and influential member of the community. Nobody is too old to matter in the life of the society. All listen to each other. They are a team.

Age alone is not a determinant of one’s ability to contribute in one’s area of expertise. With very few exceptions, there is no profession in which there is evidence of an age-based limitation to ability and excellence.

That is why the business of retiring Ugandan civil servants at an early age robs the country of a very valuable resource.

There is a false assumption that senior citizens are less able and cannot be trained and adapt to newer methods and technologies. It is also assumed that they are more costly to the organization due to high salary expectations and presumed fragile health.

These are myths that are not supported by available evidence. Economic and human resource studies have repeatedly shown that older workers are highly-productive and do as well or better than younger workers on various performance scores. One study concluded that older workers “do not fear change but rather fear discrimination.”

The common practice of age-limits on who can apply for jobs in public and private sectors is wrong and discriminatory. It should be disallowed through an Act of Parliament.

One’s competence, regardless of age, should be assessed and periodically reviewed using standardized tools that examine one’s physical and cognitive abilities. Such an approach will identify and help the strugglers, and empower those who are able to continue to participate in the country’s unending relay.

We need a reset of our mindset. When we lift the age limit on both ends of life, we discover the abundant energy and wisdom that propel societies forward.





2 Responses to “Lift the age limit”

  1. I think the issue is culture. By culture I mean a way of doing things which is free enough to be strong, and strong enough to be free. During the major financial crisis of 2008, I was prevailed upon by a friend to take over and restructure a failing charitable art gallery in a town outside London, England. The gallery, sadly, closed down for good in 2016, but I will tell of my experience as I think it is instructive and relevant to the above post.

    I found the charity in dire financial straights, with debts in the hundreds of thousands of pounds. The gallery also had major commitments with artists and galleries it could not fulfil. I had about 6 months to turn things round, with a handful of volunteers as staff. The volunteers in question were mainly elderly – things looked hopeless. But upon a brief audit, I was surprised to find that my volunteers were exceedingly experienced in the art business; two of whom having ran the London Portrait Gallery, the Victoria Gallery and Museum in Liverpool respectively. In short order I relied on their experience to help me completely restructure the gallery, including recruiting new volunteers. The core team of volunteers numbered 60, out of whom I had an executive team of 7; their ages ranged from 18 years to 89 years old; the majority of whom were educated to university degree and above, but there were some who had no education at all.

    The long and short of the story is that in 6 months or thereabouts, all the gallery’s debts were settled in some form or other, and I continued to run the gallery until I relocated to East Asia in 2013. We changed exhibitions every month and the list of our artists grew to represent artists in the Southeast of England including London. I put down my success to cultivating a culture at the gallery that was strong enough to be free, and free enough to be strong; it focused on making the best of volunteers’ talents irrespective of age.

    With regard to Uganda, if we were to somehow change the mindset in Uganda respecting age, it is impossible to tell how much may be achieved; for a population of 34 million people, I’m sure Uganda has sufficient talents to equal the challenges now before her. All ages in Uganda have the potential to be effectively employed in some capacity or other without the need to disadvantaging one against the other.

  2. David Henry

    Both stories are masterpieces.
    Having worked for United Nations I returned to Uganda to find thinking of retirement, abandoning jobs to the youth while as one with rare unique skills goes off to starve, calls for returning to the farm ….that is if you have any………………..listening to stories such as sorry no promotion you are about to retire etc ..etc and therefore felt all these were achaic. I have a nephew who celebrated every time an elder some where retires but of late he has realized how difficult it is to replace them.. For instance which youth can replace a Neuro Surgeon, when at one time the whole country had only two ( one was a Kiraybwire).

    When I told this to my fellow professionals many used to wonder what I was talking about as all felt there was no liffe after sixty. On the contrary I mentioned that it was wrong for institutions to reject well qualified professionals on account of age as I was aware that inthe states people could comfortably work up tp 75. Also it was wrong for individuals to think that they employment life ended at 60 or 55. But oflate they are picking up by sheer observation.E.g the wish for the Chief Justice Odoki to be eready to serve, Prog Kaneihamba etc etc. Surggeons and consultants in many places get paid more highly after 60 .
    So I was so happy to see your article, Please keepit up. That action in itself willincrease employment as people will be valued om purre merit. thx again. David


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