16 January 2013

Uganda's Rebellious Young Adults - What Is Going On?


SURFACE reading of the 'on line' comments by our newspapers - especially New Vision and Monitor, one gets the impression there can be nothing good in the country: Neither now, nor in the immediate future.

To an outsider - whether Ugandan or not - reading those works, Uganda is a hopeless case, and you would be callous to think of investing there. For one, almost everything is negative - and expressed with such ferocity and anger that sometimes the intelligence and humility of the writers and their editors is called to question.

Even an overenthusiastic investor is forced to ask the question: Surely whom can I work with in this country - if even the 'complainants' seem to lack both the ability to do better and the decency to respect authority?

For example: At one Engineering and Business Education conference, late 2011, a Scottish Water Engineer I had wanted to interest into irrigation related businesses in the country told me off: "Ours - as you know - is a disciplined profession; how would one maintain employee discipline in your anarchical country?"

Yet, Uganda is a much better place to live - and for foreigners - to work in. None of the other countries I have lived and worked in on the continent: (Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe), beats Uganda in welcoming foreign labour.

But it hurts also to know that it is the one country which could most easily degenerate the Somalia way, if we are to go by these writings.

Part of the problem may rest with the top political leadership, but more rests with other 'adult' leaders as well. The professionals, the religious leaders, the parents etc. - all have a share of the blame, and hence, have their roles to play in solving the problem.

Since the Amin days, we have been growing a rebellious culture among our youth. Towards his fall, school strikes for example, became rather fashionable.

For example, I regrettably recall how our 1975 Nyakasura School strike started a series that ultimately decimated the school. Some of today's admired leaders: The Otunnus, Mutebiles, Kivenjinjas and Museveni were rebellious in their youth. While objective conditions for rebellions may have been different, we have continued to let our young adults admire the act of rebellion - as if - for its sake.

To the extent that in Journalism over time, it took on a new name: 'Independence'. The Obbos and Mwendas; Cheye (in his hey days) and others - all earned admirers and prestige as 'independent' through rebellion and sometimes disrespect of authority. Little wonder then, that one reads misleading but purportedly edited material on the net!

The problem now is that this practice of youthful disrespect of authority has entered politics full throttle. When I read that there is no 'freedom' in Uganda, I shudder.

I have listed six different countries on the continent I have lived in for extended periods. I have had shorter stints in Ghana, India and the UK, but nowhere in any of these nine countries do you have the broadcasting liberalism we have in Uganda.

Nowhere do you have people openly and persistently calling for their president's or prime minister's demise - and they walk away scot-free. No wonder my Scottish friend called this anarchy. Moreover, in relative terms, none of these (except perhaps India) has progressed as much socioeconomically as Uganda has over the last 27 years.

Any youth doubting this should, at least, look at the chart below. It shows that for all those born after 1985, and still living today - some 26.5 million, - very nearly 4% or 1 in 25 could not have lived to age five, if there hadn't been intervention in the child immunisation programme by government.

If the older generation can recall, there was a lot of resistance from some 'traditionalists' and some religious sects against the universal immunisation programme.

It had to be forced unto them by the head of state. For example, as of 1989, only 20% of Uganda's mothers knew about the six child killer diseases. I chose only that statistic because it touches the most of fundamentals of existence: to live.

The rebellious youths might well be taking life for granted now but it is our duty as parents to discuss these issues with them - and convince them that their very existence was never guaranteed (and can still be threatened!).

Someone had to sweat it out. I personally explain that constantly to two of my argumentative and impatient post graduate sons down here in Cape Town.

This is not to say our youth should be shut down. It is good they are vibrant. However, it would be infinitely better if they had a guiding hand. It is there that we, the older generation are letting down our country.

Writer is a pan Africanist Engineer researching and practicing in Solar Engineering in Cape Town.

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