Uganda: Talent Is Golden but How It Is Nurtured Also Matters

10 October 2019

Had Whitney Houston been alive and watched Esther and Ezekiel Muteesasira do a rendition of her When You Believe song on Sunday, she would have been impressed.

Mariah Carey, who features in this hit, if she ever watches that video which is now available on YouTube, she will be proud. Who knows, she could even request for a meeting. Esther and Ezekiel are that good!

Esther (14) and Ezekiel (11) are children of gospel singer Juliet Muteesasira. They captured everyone's imagination with their performances at the inaugural East Africa's Got Talent competition. On Sunday, they walked away with a whopping $50, 000 (Shs 184m) -- more money than the majority of Ugandans will ever make in a lifetime.

As Esther and Ezekiel were wowing all of us with their high notes and stage presence, Joshua Cheptegei was beating Kenyans and Ethiopians in Doha, Qatar where he won gold and $60,000 in the 10,000 metre category at the IAAF World Athletics Championship.

Before Cheptegei walked away with gold, Halima Nakaayi had made us all happy with her 800 metre win at the same competition. In a few weeks, four Ugandan made $170,000 (Shs 626m). Talent pays!

All these four winners are super talented but I don't think any of them got where they are because of sheer talent. I believe there are many people who can run faster than Nakaayi and Cheptegei in their respective categories and certainly there are other people with golden voices probably better than Esther and Ezekiel.

What makes these winners unique is talent development. I will be honest; though I had heard about Esther and Ezekiel, I only watched them for the very first time on Sunday.

After their win, I went to YouTube and watched their other performances. They aren't just talented, there are very mature in their approach and professional in their performances.

What culminated into their win on Sunday must be years of hard work and belief that they can do it. At one stage, each was asked to sing on their own and you could see that each believed in the other and really rooted for the other same way Winnie Nanyondo celebrated Nakaayi's win with unseen-before gusto!

I believe Esther and Ezekiel's parents have spent an incredible amount of time training them and, most importantly, letting them develop their talents. Chepetgei once broke Ugandan hearts after slumping while at the World Cross Country championships at Kololo but he never gave up. He has mastered the art of winning. Nakaayi must have gone through similar hurdles.

When I saw Esther and Ezekiel perform beyond their age, I thought of the other children in schools where they aren't even allowed to play. If you go to most of our schools, pupils behave as if they are monks in a monastery. Teachers are great at instilling fear! Then there is homework -- homework after homework after homework to paraphrase Big Trill's Party after Party song. Schools hardly allow pupils to develop their talents because they must bring in as many first grades as possible.

Green areas and sports fields have been replaced with storied structures -- apparently a good Ugandan school is determined by storied administration blocks and how much fees it charges. It is the wrong yardstick! I know a lot of schools have drama, dance and swimming classes but a lot of children simply flap their legs at the swimming pools. In some schools where dance and drama exist, they aren't considered a core activity.

Parents worried about the schools their children will go to neglect everything that is not pure academic excellence. If we are to learn anything from Esther and Ezekiel's parents, it is the fact that talent can be gold and we should do whatever we can to develop children's talents. Esther and Ezekiel's parents are pastors but they didn't stop their childen from participating in a secular competition. They understood that this is a platform their kids needed for their development.

Talent is great but how it is developed matters. The best footballers in the world have talent but they also spend much more time on the field practicing beyond what clubs require of them. They are very disciplined too.

And now that Esther and Ezekiel are famous, their parents need more than ever to keep them grounded and disciplined as fame can easily get into their head.

The writer is a communication and visibility consultant.

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