If I Turned 23 Again, Here’s What I Would Do

If I Turned 23 Again, Here’s What I Would Do

By Arinaitwe Rugyendo

Last week’s ‘In Defence of ‘The Rolex’ piece got the Archbishop of Mbarara, His Grace Paul K. Bakyenga calling me.

He liked the idea that the much-downgraded ‘Rolex Recipe,’ if well packaged and promoted, would become a potential job creator for the hordes of young and lowly educated people spread across the country.

He said: “I have enjoyed this article. It speaks well for our poor young people. I want more people talking about how to help our young people change their mindsets and move on the right trajectory to progress,” he requested me.

Of course, His Grace’s call was an honour as well as an assignment. It came at the right moment when we should start talking about how to role model the next generation of African entrepreneurs and leaders of men and women.

But His Grace was mostly bothered by this wretched crop of poor youths who form the bulk of the youth unemployment circuit in Uganda. “How do you change the lives of such unskilled but very energetic poor souls spread in the villages and the slums?” he asked me.

I told him, with a proper role modeling, it has to start with them. I shall return to this later!

In 2012, I was privileged to have been nominated for a prestigious leadership fellowship on the African continent-The Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Programme.

The programme is a multifaceted learning experience and run in partnership with Oxford University, awarded annually to 20-25 carefully chosen candidates, nominated from across Africa, the Alumni of the African Leadership Institute that runs the fellowship, form a dynamic network of Fellows passionately committed to the continent’s transformation, bridging the divide between nations and ensuring that Africa is set centre-stage in global affairs.

In Uganda, very few individuals have made it to the programme. They include the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize nominee-Victor Ochen, the Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly- Rt. Hon. Dan Kidega, the Managing Editor of the Independent Magazine-Andrew Mwenda, the 2015 winner of the Global Female Leadership Impact Award by the Centre for Economic and Leadership Development, the Uganda Country Manager GlaxoSmithKline- Nathan Wasolo, Hon. Vincent Bagiire and myself

“I look to you to be the generation that drives the transformation of Africa, and I particularly look to the Archbishop Tutu Fellows to be at the forefront of change,” Archbishop Tutu told us in 2012. He says the same to every nominee each passing year.

When His Grace called and we chatted, these words rung a huge bell in my ears. I felt it was important to address myself to the known challenge facing the country (and the continent)- Youth Unemployment.

During the time at the fellowship, we observed through various prominent speakers, that African youths lack role models within their communities. Because of this, they are consequently forced to look to people like Bill Gates who are completely plucked out of their contexts because the ones they would emulate have no locus standi to guide them.

Therefore, in keeping with the promise to my Archbishop, I will use today’s space to answer a critical but very relevant question a student of Makerere asked me during a gathering I had been invited to address at the university in 2014.

The Writer at 20, working as a waiter at Calender Hotel in Makindye Kampala
The Writer at 20, working as a waiter at Calender Hotel in Makindye Kampala


This student, whose name I think was Ayo Bitangaaza, asked me a very intriguing question that took me ten minutes to answer.

‘If you turned 23 today, what are the ten things that would do to propel you forward?’ he asked.

This question was very difficult for me because, first, I am not an extremely perfect role model. Secondly, I was very radical, stubborn and carefree at the age of 23, daring to start a newspaper with almost no coin in my pocket. Would this be a good starting point to answer this question? I wondered.

After a moment of silence, I picked the microphone and offered the following ten things that I now feel any 23 year old should start thinking about, and NOW!

One: Start saving at least 20% of every little money that you receive from say relatives, friends, family and causal gigs.

Two: Learn a new skill- even if it’s a driving, a musical instrument, gardening, trade, farming etc.

Three: Learn a new language, preferably French, Kiswahili, Chinese and etc.

Four:  If your father has some land, ask him to ‘lend’ you one acre and plant a perennial cash crop like coffee and tea.

Five: If your parent has more than an acre, plant a second one with fruit trees or tree for timber and electric poles.

Six: Avoid alcohol and smoking. You must stay sober

Seven: Read a new book every month. Any book on any subject.

Eight: Eat, sleep and drink healthy

Nine: Plan to get married at 25, start simple and gradual exercises every other day for the rest of your life.

Ten: Love your God. Attend church every Sunday. And if you are Moslem, do not forget to pray five times a day and attend the mosque every Friday. Your relationship with God completes the triumvirate process of the human construction, which is; mind, body and soul!

How would such an undertaking at an early stage manifest up till you are say, 70 years old?

I chanced on an intriguing video on social media recently that aptly answers it well. I could not get the motivational speaker’s identity but he looked Japanese.

And he says the following:

One: Before 20 years old, is a good student. Wait to entrepreneur. Just learn some experience about it.

Two: Before 30 years old, follow somebody (a role model). Work for a small, not, a big company. In a big company, you are part of a big machine. When you go to a small company, you learn the passion. You learn the dreams. You learn how to do a lot of things at one time. Before 30 years old, it is not which company you go to. It is which boss you follow.  A good boss teaches you differently.

Three: Between 30- 40 years old (and this is my category), you have to think very clearly. You are working for yourself.

Four: Between 40 – 50 years old, you have to do all the things that you are good at. Don’t try to jump into a new area. It is too late. You may be successful but the rate of dying is too big. Think about how you can focus on the things you are good at.

Five: Between 50- 60 years, work for the young people. This is because young people can do better than you. Rely on them. Invest in them, making sure they are good.

Six: Over 60 years old, spend time for yourself. On the beach and enjoy the sunshine because it is too late for you to change.

According to this gentleman, all young people must not forget is this:

“At 25 years old, make enough mistakes. Do not worry. When you fall, you stand up. When you fall again, please stand up. Enjoy it.  Just enjoy the show.”

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