Case Study 2: Gulu, Northern Uganda

We will look at a very different set of initiatives in Northern Uganda, in a post-conflict setting infamous for the use of child soldiers (Angucia, Zeelen, De Jong 2010). The region faces extremely high youth unemployment, low economic development and weak institutions (Tukundane, Zeelen 2015). In response, a coalition of organisations have come together to try to rebuild communities and develop economies, drawing on notions of an entrepreneurship ecosystem (Isenberg 2011), skills for sustainable livelihoods and youth entrepreneurship around agriculture and agri-processing (Blaak, Openjuru, Zeelen 2013; cf. De Jaeghere 2017). This case will focus on youth-entrepreneurship, community development and skills for development in a post-conflict setting.

Gulu town aerial view

Signature Tv Filmz (YouTube, 2017)

Gulu case update, January 2020

Our research has identified a number of key partners and advisors to work with as we seek out viable pathways for decent work and sustainable livelihoods in vocational education and training.  Thus far we have held several informal site visits and consultations, conducted 10 interviews, and a focus group. In October we also hosted an international week-long workshop in Participatory Action Research to hone our research skills and engage a broader community to think about VET in Gulu.  The goals of the initial round of data collection have been centred on mapping key stakeholders with a focus on power, influence and relationships.  

The stories we are hearing through this process paint a picture of considerable complexity. In the midst of a rapidly changing and unpredictable world, VET must be flexible and adaptable to meet current needs while adjusting to and predicting the future needs of the community. There are many developmental initiatives planned by the world bank, the Chinese and Japanese governments, and multinational companies that have built infrastructures like roads, schools, bridges, the new Gulu airport, an inland port and an industrial town as Gulu prepares to be declared a city in a few months time. There are skilling programs sponsored by the government, NGOs and private companies but still, the unemployment level of youth is high and the success rate of trained youth translating their skills to decent livelihoods is low.  On another note most of the interviewees when asked jobs for the future, most said agricultural modernisation and mechanisation need to be explored more because most of the factors of production like land, labour are in abundance but the skills set to harness and capital is the major issue and if agriculture is fully exploited then inequality will be highly reduced.

To meet these challenges VET can develop capable and caring community leaders by encouraging soft skills like critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity.  Successful VET needs to also take into account the transitional difficulties of youth, many of whom grew up in internally displaced people’s camps, have been pushed out of school and have difficult life circumstances, especially women. Students need to learn to believe in themselves and take pride in what they do and who they are.

We will explore these paradoxes together with the community in our research.

Gulu: Ecosystem Narrative (Spring 2020)


The Gulu case study looks at reducing inequality and enhancing sustainability through skills for development in BTVET and covers Gulu and the surrounding districts of Omoro and Nwoya. The case will majorly explore BTVET in the themes of Post conflict, youth employment, agriculture and the Gulu city status and equality, equity and environmental sustainability will be explored in BTVET.

In the vertical axis the major players are, the Ministry of Education and Sports through the Department of Industrial Training and Uganda Business and Technical Examinations Board.  These bodies provide policies and guidelines in the running of BTVET in Uganda but majorly they are the chief examiners of both theory and practice in BTVET. Parliament helps in the enactment of laws and Acts for example the BTVET Act of 2008 which seeks to strengthen BTVET.  Ideally the local government also provides oversight and avenues for BTVET in the local districts especially when it comes to implementation, but their involvement can sometimes be limited due to several factors like limited funds, priority alignment and human resources.  In the middle of the case map we have various BTVET institutions (formal, non-formal and informal), and parents, students, teachers, and employers as primary stakeholders.  In addition, we are focusing on agriculture so we believe that extension officers need to be included in some central way.  We are not sure of their role yet but in theory it should be substantial for knowledge mobilization between research and practice.  NGOs both local and national also play major roles in the facilitation of vocational skills for development. They function across various categories with a predominant focus on youth and women.  Note that we have placed them higher on the vertical axis because of their influence through funding. Multinationals and international institutions such as the World Bank and Enabel are also high on the vertical axis because of their influence on policy and curriculum. Our study seeks to ascertain the level of success of these approaches in meeting the needs of the students. We have placed Gulu University and the Ker Kwaro Acholi at the centre along with community-based resource centres because they connect networks in VET and livelihood opportunities.

Further along the Horizontal axis we have workers/employees, youth groups, local communities, the traditional institutions, women groups, SACCOS (cooperatives), and hotels and garages that provide employment for the skills learnt in the BTVET institutions. One of the absences here are TVET researchers, like our VET Africa 4.0 research team. Some initial research with stakeholders revealed that there are lots of NGO’s and international masters and PhD students that come and do research in Gulu, and it will be valuable to learn from their research, and also to make sure that we are not falling into the trap of only speaking with the same people who have a popular story. We want to dig deeper and move beyond the mainstream narrative.

We are also players in this scene in multiple ways. We have now engaged in some of these networks through our round tables and interviews. It is important that we recognize our positionality within these networks. As engaged researchers we have a role to play in developing a regional inter network dialogue We need to be clear about our research objectives our subjectivities and seek out accountability through our developing relationships and by checking in with stakeholders.  We place ourselves towards the centre of our map and a little further along the horizontal access. As we look at this complex skills ecosystem, we need to remember that central to our case is the impact of the recent civil war and the very specific needs this gives for curriculum development and the capability of youth to feel valued and see pathways to the realization of decent and sustainable futures.

By: David Ocan and David Monk