*MY LETTER TO YOUNG UGANDANS*
Dear young women and men of Uganda, today our country marks its 55th independence anniversary!
I feel the urgency to communicate to you on this day, and through this letter on three things; the state of our country, the prospects for the future, and what each one of us must do TODAY to better our destiny.
I know this letter is a bit long, but I beg all of us to read it. We should disapprove those who say that in order to hide something from an African you should put it in writing!
“…..We are that generation. The grandchildren of the independence generation and the grandparents of the future generations….. We must within ourselves find solutions, since our leaders don’t seem to care for the next generation but instead care for the next general-election…… We are the country, we are the future, we are the change we badly need. We are the youngest population in the world, we stand a chance. We are the leaders of the future and the future is today. If we only come together we can change our destiny.”
These are some of the lyrics from my song called ‘Uganda’ (ft. Nubian Li).
Firstly, I commend all of you for the zeal you show each day for a better country. Every day, wherever I go, whenever I read your social media engagements, whenever I tune into the radio and TV- I see a generation which is passionate about their country!
I see young men and women who are tired and fed up of a country which does not work for them and a system which is disconnected from their daily realties.
The reason why I am writing to you today is because on an almost daily basis, these same young people, who unanimously agree that there is a problem, also ask me the question- “WHAT CAN WE DO?” The state giving up is real. Many have resigned to fate.
Now, in 1962, exactly 55 years ago, the colonialists handed over this country to our grandparents. As we all know, as they left, they handed over a country which worked. Infrastructure was in place, having been built by the British- Mulago Hospital, Makerere University, roads, schools, power generating plants etc.
Institutions of government functioned- the public service, the police force, public transport, agriculture, etc. Merit was rewarded, mediocrity was shunned – if you worked hard you were rewarded.
The ‘colonial’ government gave scholarships to intelligent young people to study here or sent them abroad to further their education and help build the nation upon return, without need to pay any bribe or to go through a ‘big father.’
Many of us have watched the short video titled ‘Africa’s largest Airport Opened’ in reference to Entebbe Airport when it was first opened. Professor Oloka-Onyango best describes what our country was like at the time in his book ‘Ghosts and the Law’- “The country was thus still in an age of innocence”.
Newspapers of the time paint a picture of some kind of tropical paradise, of course with the nickname ‘Pearl of Africa’…… One could travel from Jinja to Kampala in one hour straight without meeting a pothole, and all traffic lights in Kampala- which were many more than they are today- worked.
The railway network could take you virtually around the whole country. Cinemas existed not only in the capital but in major regional towns.
Although education had not been universalized via UPE, a student from a rural school in Uganda could favorably compete with a student from the city.
It seemed like a time of order and tranquil governance; a time of social stability and economic prosperity.”
Those who got a copy of the Uganda Argus of October 9th 1962 (reproduced by the New Vision last week) must have read that Education took 27% of the national budget because the government at the time understood that quality education was a precursor to national development and improving the living standards of the people. They did all this, operating with a meagre budget, nothing compared to our present even when the value adjusted to the present.
Therefore, when our forefathers agitated for independence before and in 1962, their problem was not poor service delivery or a failed system. They were simply agitating for self-governance. They wanted to free themselves and their children from the indignity of being ruled over by the ‘white man.’
They understood that having good infrastructure, excellent service delivery and a functioning healthcare without political freedom meant nothing. To them, it was important to have both economic development while at the same time exercising their God-given right to self-determination! They wanted a black man or woman on the steering wheel of the country because they thought ‘Our own shall not betray us. Our own shall not enslave us. Our own shall be accountable to us.” Therefore, Independence Day was celebrated with pomp and flair.
For the new Uganda, some lyrics of the national anthem went like this; “United, free for liberty together we’ll always stand. Oh Uganda, the land of freedom, Our love and labor we give….In peace and friendship we’ll live.”
These lyrics echoed the kind of hope our forefathers had for this country. As they watched the Union Jack (British flag) go down and our Ugandan flag rise up- their hearts were filled with joy and anxiety. They visioned a better future for their children and their grandchildren- which is our generation.
They could never imagine that anyone- let alone their own black-man would ever step on and undermine the sweat, labor and in some cases blood, which they expended to create the nation of Uganda!
We all know what has happened to our country for the past 55 years. We have all witnessed the crushed promise- captured very well in the preamble to the 1995 Constitution, a history characterized by political and constitutional instability, tyranny, oppression and exploitation. The shattered hope!
In 2017, it is not yet Uhuru! True independence still eludes us. The good which the colonialists left has long been destroyed and the freedom which our forefathers struggled to give us only remains in song. It is shameful- a serious indictment on our leaders that many Africans, many Ugandans would rather have the colonialist rule over them than have one of their own who disrespects them in every way.
Yes, some progress has been made- but as if we live under a spell, there have always been people in these 55 years who are enemies of progress. They work so hard to destroy the little we have achieved and throughout our history, we have often times had to start afresh!
Mothers die in child birth, unemployment is everyone’s, the healthcare system is sick, corruption is the headline, the national debt has already placed a charge on our unborn children and grandchildren. The economic models are just irrelevant for the present times.
I watch with misery thousands of young Ugandans who struggle to get onto that plane to go and give their labor abroad- many times in great suffering. We have seen stories of young girls who go to find a job only to be turned into sex slaves and sometimes tortured to death.
We all know that doctor or nurse who had to leave Uganda for greener pastures; even in other African countries! Although they would love to remain here and serve their people who are in great need, the system doesn’t appreciate their services. Poverty is appalling. Only last month, Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), a government agency, announced that 10 million Ugandans now live in poverty, and the numbers have not been reducing but increasing. 3.4 million of our people have slipped into poverty since 2012! Our GDP growth stands at a mere 3.9%!
As the gun reigns supreme, those who hold it- our brothers and sisters in the forces are equally hit hard (and sometimes harder) by these same unfortunate conditions.
30 has become the new 18. Previously, young people were able to stand on their own at 18 years of age, today, majority can hardly find their feet until about 30 or more.
Even then, most are glad to be underemployed, and only very few are able to find befitting employment.
The education system is dead. The curriculum is not relevant to the needs of this generation. Only last week, a World Bank development report (Published in the Daily Monitor) revealed that at least 80% of pupils in Primary Two in Uganda cannot perform a two-digit subtraction, and 61% cannot read a single word of a short sentence!
Uganda, according to the report, is the second country in the whole world with pupils who cannot count. Yet these children everyday sing – “We young women and men of Uganda, are marching along the path of education singing and dancing with joy together uniting for a better Uganda. We are the pillars of tomorrow’s Uganda…. Let us rise now embrace true knowledge yielding disciplined resourcefulness to rebuild a great, great Pearl!”…Empty words!
Many studying on a hungry stomach, under trees and in most cases being taught by equally hungry teachers! This is the country in which our children are born in! Apart from very few, many of us understand the struggles our parents or guardians have gone through to raise us in this country. And indeed, we each understand the struggles we go through every day to afford a decent life in mother Uganda. Individuals and families are working so hard but the returns are too low. The phrase ‘times are hard’ used to be seasonal but it is now a daily for most of our people- January to December, times are hard!
Constitutionalism and the rule of law remains an aspiration. We are constantly reminded that power originates from and is sustained through the gun! We, the people cannot express ourselves freely. We cannot assemble freely. Political leaders who oppose the status quo cannot move freely in their country. This is not yet Uhuru. This is not the freedom our fathers bestowed upon us.
I can go on and on but we must not just lament. I have delved into the history and the present to try and put things into context. But I know that we all understand what is at stake. I just want each one of us to ask the one fundamental question – “What went wrong?” We well know that many African countries started with Uganda, some starting on an even worse footing than us- but now more than double us in terms of GDP growth and their people live in tranquility, dignity and freedom. The answer and indeed the only difference between countries which have seen the fruits of independence and those which have not lies in only one word- LEADERSHIP.
How a country is governed determines if it will succeed. Patriotic, selfless, courageous and competent leaders who put their country first, made progress for their people. And the opposite is true. As Proverbs 29:2 says, “When the righteous reign, people rejoice. But when the wicked rule, people groan.”
My message to you young Ugandans is this, the responsibility to build or fail your country lies completely with you!
As Frantz Fanon says, “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.”
John F. Kennedy also said, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
Can we therefore stop lamenting only and think about what we can individually and collectively do to redeem this country and set it on a path to true independence? Can each one of us ask this noble question- “What kind of country do I want my child to grow in? What can I do to create that country?” As a generation, what shall we be remembered for? For looking on while our country went to the dogs or for standing up for what we believed was right?
Some of us continue to support a system and politicians who we know are not working for us. We align ourselves with leaders who only use us to get into positions of leadership only to forget us and return to us in the next election! All over the continent of Africa, we have seen wars and conflict spearheaded by young people. Who are they working for? Some greedy, power-hungry maniacs who are not bothered at all about them but about themselves and their own children!
Like the proverbial grasshoppers which fight amongst themselves in a bottle, we often forget what the real problem is and turn against each other for petty reasons. Even from debates on social media, you see forces in disarray- young Ugandans insulting each other because they belong to different tribes, religion or political parties etc… Yet these two young men or young women share the same challenges and problems every day. They are both unemployed, they both struggle to put food on the table; they both struggle to raise some little money to help parents or guardians who brought them up; and when they fall sick, both have to be admitted in some dilapidated hospital!
Rather than fight amongst ourselves and seek the attention and small favors from people whose cause we do not belong to; rather than continue to be used to fight other people’s wars, let us envision the kind of Uganda we want, and embark on building it.
We must never forget that about four decades ago, young people in Uganda faced similar dilemmas that we face today. They had a choice to make. They refused to sit down and fold their hands and watch as the country went to the dogs. We are once again at that point. Our generation does not have to resort to violence because as we have seen violence begets violence and the cycle never ends. But we can do something to refocus the direction of our country!
Young people ended apartheid, young people marched against slavery, and yes, young people fought for Africa’s independence.
We should remember that there are some generations in this country which have been bypassed- which have not played any contribution to the development of this country.
If we do not make a conscious decision today, we may become one of them. The Obote, Kiwanuka generation fought for Independence, the Museveni generation fought against instability rising out of bad politics. There is a generation which came after- people who are presently in their late 40s and 50s. That generation did not play a decisive role. They are approaching the evening of their years, and those who I speak with, regret the missed opportunity to substantially contribute to this nation’s development. They were told that they were leaders of tomorrow. They waited for that tomorrow, and it never came!
Remember this- we shall not be young forever- not even much longer.
The statistics are clear. They are on our side! The median age of Uganda is 15. More than 77% of the people are below 30 years of age, and over 80% below 35 years of age!
The average age of our cabinet ministers is about 65 and the young people continue to be sidelined.
Rather than demand for and take their place in shaping their country, the majority continue to beg for handouts from the minority- turning themselves into subjects of patronage.
Out of the many intelligent, young Ugandans with great potential, it is the likes of Hon. Evelyn Anite and Hon. Ronald Kibuule who get appointed become ministers- to represent this generation!
This should and must bother us! It saddens me that our leaders are always on the plane visiting countries which with even fewer resources and less opportunities have been able to work for their people and make great strides. And yet, they return here to superintend over this mess!
Let me also speak to you, young people who live in some bit of comfort which has made you complacent. Some of us are luckier than the majority in this country. We are doctors, lawyers, musicians, bankers, insurers, IT specialists, economists, engineers,etc. We often feel comfortable and because we can afford some basics of life, we have become depoliticized. The temporary comfort has blinded us to the bigger picture and to the problems of our country.
Our silence in the face of injustice is loud. Our inaction is costly. Many of us do not even vote! By so doing we do not only betray our generation and country, but the effects of a badly run country will soon catch up with us. Assuming you were driving upcountry and you are involved in an accident and there is no ambulance or there is no blood in the nearby hospital (if there is one)- all of a sudden your disinterest becomes costly. If you’re a lawyer and the country’s Constitution is constantly undermined, sooner than later you may have no job.
Therefore the struggle for a better country must involve all of us- men and women, young and old, from rural and urban areas, educated and not educated, ALL OF US.
Our country is endowed with enormous natural and human resources. There is no aspiration we cannot achieve, no height we cannot reach, no obstacle we cannot overcome. LET US UNITE, determine and purpose to take the long tiresome journey to make this country better.
We must build a country which works for everyone. Where merit is rewarded. Where if you work so hard you are 100% sure that you will succeed. Where all persons are equal before and under the law. Where freedom of expression and assembly are respected and protected. Where a national Constitution is indeed supreme, popular and durable. Where all persons are proud to be called UGANDANS.
I will repeat that this is achievable. And this won’t come from any politician. Not from any leader- not even me. We should not wait for another prophet. It all begins and ends with ‘WE THE PEOPLE”
Your friend and comrade,