An Open Letter to Uganda’s Honourable Ministers and Members of Parliament : Poverty is Man-Made: Uganda Can Do Better.

Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.” Nelson Mandela 

 RecentlyI saw a news post from a great friend and former colleague stating, “while Africans stash their money in foreign banks accounts leaving their fellow citizens wallowing in poverty, a 9-yr old U.S citizen built a classroom block for pupils in Mpigi District, Uganda." The Ugandan Minister of Trade and Industry who was called to officiate the ground breaking ceremony, was pictured crying and wiping her tears with her hands upon seeing malnourished, jigger-infested bare-footed children whose voices failed in an attempt to entertain her and her guests. “We need to realize our mistakes and correct them ASAP to give all our children a chance for a better future.” My friend lamented. 

 Malnourished and bare-footed primary school pupils of  Namabo, Kafumu Parish in Mpigi district 

Malnourished and bare-footed primary school pupils of  Namabo, Kafumu Parish in Mpigi district 

 He also included a link to a recent article in The New Vision, one of Uganda's major newspapers. The article went on towards the end to say, that "the funds were donated to the ministers's own NGO from American donors." First, in no authentically democratic country would a minister or any government leader for that matter own a not-for-profit. If they did it would be in someone else's name to avoid conflict of interest, and perhaps fraud, but that's not the point of this post. 

I currently work and live in India on a fellowship to study and support innovative education and vocational training models created by leading social enterprises and NGOs in partnerships with the Indian government.

These models supported by the Indian government are helping improve youth skills,  providing them with high employable chances, as well as an entrepreneurial foundation, hence improving both their livelihoods, those of their families, communities and eventually their nation.

Certainly India is far from ideal, and it will take a few decades to create sustainable economic and social mobility for 500 million in the informal sector in a country with a population of close to 1.3 billion.  However, the government, corporations, social entrepreneurs and NGO leaders are working frivolously in partnership and speedily creating a foundation for an economically stronger perhaps a socially stable India.  Despite the government’s own corruption challenges, there are definitely leaders poised to tackle it head on. And the government so far has enacted forward-looking polices that if implemented ambitiously as they look on paper, India could be on a long road to economic stardom.

Among them is The Right to Education Act (RTE) of 2009, CSR Act of 2013, requiring all corporations  working in India and with Rs 50million ($806,450) in net profits to pay 2% towards the country’s social development.  This is not to mention other campaigns such as Make in India and Skilling India to ensure that 500 million people, majority of whom are the youth between 10 to 30 years-old have a promising future and perhaps a fairer shot at life. Through the STAR program, the government is promising to financially reward youth who graduate on time and with great scores from vocational skilling institutes.

It’s clear that India is piloting innovative policies, programs and campaigns uncommon in other developing countries, and in my region of East Africa it’s only Kenya and young Rwanda that comes close to comparison, and certainly not my home country of Uganda.  

In fact it seems that when it comes to important sectors of our country such as education or health care, the country is regressing about 15-20 years back.

 Given my experience in India, this should not come as a surprise that I am offering a few important lessons that I believe the Ugandan government, the NGO, and corporate sectors could learn from India.  If the  Hon. Minister of Trade and Investment and her fellow Cabinet as well as Members of Parliament really want to see social progress championed by the current government, here are a few examples  to ponder on instead of shedding tears of pity for malnourished  children whose feet were infested with jiggers, we can do something about it.

1. Uganda’s leadership should first ask itself, what are Uganda’s needs for the next 5-10, 20-30 and 40-50 years? What is our country’s vision for 2020-2050 and what type of education will get us there, and how? What is our role on the global stage, given the powers of globalisation?  Is it to be a military powerhouse in East and Central Africa, is it to become, as Ortega, a fellow Ugandan put it, “perhaps an industrialised super-power?”  It’s not until we have figured out what our output and our long term goals are that we can design or implement an education system that gets us to where we want to be.  Once this is clear as daylight, then train people religiously and frivolously as well as seek council from other nations and  let us work hard and and in unity to get us there.

2. Take 30% of all the resources invested in military technology and expensive government vehicles and invest it in improving the quality of teachers and education especially for the children in rural and impoverished areas of the country. Keep in mind that Uganda's future belongs to all not only those who have the wherewithal to afford the private education. Without creating a tide that lifts all boats, inequality and system imbalances will eventually breed corruption and cronyism that will come back to bite us all. Watch what happened in Burkina Faso. 

3. India has heavily invested in Science and Technology and Research and Development. That's why IBMs, Oracle, Accenture and other multinational corporations find it easy to move their operations here, because they are sure to find a skilled workforce. Why not partner with India which is already our friend, and either create a standing fellowship between India  and Uganda to train engineers, doctors, scientists & business entrepreneurs similar to what President Kagame did with his Bridge 2 Rwanda program.  We should be wary of copy and paste models  such as the Brits system we’ve had for as long as our country exists, and have for the most part yielded undesirable outcomes.  Why not hire these experts from abroad and within to build our own institutions.  Pay trainers from abroad or pay the local ones better so they don't leave the country. This would be a “kill two birds with one stone” strategy. Reduce brain drain as well as build institutions using local expertise. Where is these funds to come from you ask? Hon. Ministers here are just a few suggestions.

a) Our parliament is quite over sized with 385 seats for a country of only 37 million. That’s one member of parliament (MP) for every 96,000 people. Perhaps it is true that it takes 3 Ugandans to do the same job as one Kenyan or 7 parliamentarians to do what one U.S legislator could do. If we capped this number to about 150 maximum; perhaps we could use those savings to solve some of the poverty challenges we have failed to?

b) If we reduced the number and prices we pay for expensive vehicles for high level government officials to one, and with one body guard, I think this could free up some cash to focus on improving failing and broken Universal Primary schools.

c)  On this point we could also reduce the 24 Million UGX that Members of Parliament receive to highest 10 million UGX, this would save us a total of 5.39billion UGX per month that we could invest in skilling Ugandan youth through research and development and industry-based training. a

d) It would help if required all Uganda’s MPs to present an annual or bi-annual  score card for the funds appropriated for their constituencies’ development.  I am sure through accountability mechanisms we would save enough to at least have enough  meals for kids from impoverished backgrounds if not mid-day meals for all children in primary schools as India has done it.

4.  Take those funds saved by paying MPs and government bureaucrats less by 40% and add that to oil revenues and invest it in "Make in Uganda" policy and ensure every private and government institution of higher learning has an R&D department. Hire trainers from India, China, Singapore and or the U.S to train our vocational institutes students how to make our own products at home, keeping in mind where we have our most competitive advantage.  For instance our flourishing agricultural industry could use some value-add that would bring in more revenues.

5.  While we are at it, we should create a right to health policy, train doctors and nurses and pay them 30% better than they are getting today.  If our country does this, I guarantee there will be few or none abandoning their careers for jobs in the NGO sector,  multilateral organisations such as the World Bank, and leaving the country for better pay.  Keep in mind that we are losing a generation of smart innovators in almost all sectors of our society who would be piloting solutions, creating cures for diseases, and solving our health challenges in the 21st century. If we pay our physicians, nurses and health practitioners better, and invest more funds in their practical training and do so efficiently, we are likely to reduce our mother to child HIV transmissions by half, reduce maternal and child mortality and morbidity by half,  ensuring a healthier foundation for a stronger, productive and well respected Uganda.

6. A “Clean Uganda Policy” is very ripe for our country. Unbeknownst to you Hons. Ministers and Members of Parliament, air and water pollution is a silent killer perhaps now so more than AIDS, T.B and Malaria. Pollution is affecting the lungs of 14% of our children's population. That's a huge number considering that 50% of our population is below 15 and 80 % bellow 30 years-old. How do we "clean" Uganda you say? Start by streamlining loopholes from revenues from second-hand car imports, fight corruption, and invest in hybrid city buses.  But to do this, we have to first deal with the corruption in the taxi and boda boda systems. 

a) We have to work with the roads and transport ministry and with Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) to have city-bus lanes and commuter stops

 b) Work with KCCA & other city mayors across the country to create motorcycle and bicycle lanes to encourage more riders than drivers.

c) If we are thinking long term, city commuter trains should be on our  long-term plan list.

d) We cannot clean Uganda without dealing with the trash problem. And for this we have a clear example and perfect example. Next door neighbour and Uganda's baby, Rwanda holds a great lesson for us. If we only could have the stomach to deal with corruption in the polythene bag industry, then we could stomach cleaning our trash and investing in  recycle companies to make our cities even closer or comparable to Kigali.

7. Last and perhaps greatest point to underscore. None of these "great" policy initiatives even if undertaken, can jump from paper to reality without a true functioning democracy. Where cronyism, nepotism, favouritism, and all isms are fought with tenacity and relentlessness that of fighting the same way Nelson Mandela and the ANC fought apartheid or to put it in current terms how we fought and conquered the Ebola outbreaks.   This is the only way the 80% of country 99% who are youth deprived of opportunities and shut out from the capital markets and today’s Uganda’s “economic development” will ever have a second shot at achieving their god-given potential.

Finally, Honourable Ministers and Members of Parliament, esteemed leaders of our country and champions of our democracy for this generation and perhaps the next.  These seemingly simple milestones can only be achieved if the following a hight on your radar

a)     Cross-sector collaborations

b)    Intolerance to tribalism, corruption and cronyism ,

c)     less partisanship, and a lot of financial investments and self-sacrificial work for our country. 

d)    Inclusive leadership that ensure no citizen whether young or old, poor or rich, able and differently-abled, religious and non-religious, hetero or homosexual is denied health care, education and any social services because of their social status. 

When we all stand under the our national flag raised hight with its bright colors of Black, Yellow and Red, and sing with pride the first stanza of our national anthem

Oh Uganda!

May God uphold thee,

We lay our future in thy hand.

United, free,For liberty

Together we'll always stand.”

Both black, yellow and red colours of our flag as well as the first stanza of our national anthem should always reminds us of the“Unity”, of the “Liberty”, and of the “Freedom” to be a Mugadn, Mugisu, Mulango, Munyankore or Mukaramoja and still find pride and freedom in the same flag,  because only then, can we truly be Ugandan and can we truly and forever, “Always Stand.”  

"Why I chose to stand up, alone." Boniface Mwangi

TED Fellow Boniface Mwangi on risking his life for justice, and good governance in his beloved-and mother country of Kenya. 

This post is re-posted from TED Fellows blog about Boniface Mwangi, a Kenyan Photojournalist turned activist in the service of his country. The story chronicles how this young man, call him "David" fighting the "Goliath" of Kenya's corrupt, and vicious politicians whose actions led to the the 2007 election violence.  Mwangi pictured, did not mince words, or standing up.  He was beaten severely, and jailed several times for his actions and his court cases were dragged on and on.  You can read an excerpt from his interview below and follow the link to his courageous story of sacrificing for his country and the future generations of Kenyans.

"How did you carry on after that day?

The sad thing is that the following day, my wife lost the baby. She had a miscarriage. It wasn’t related to my beating, it was just a complication. It was not easy on me at all. You can never explain what it feels like to lose a baby. You can’t even describe the pain that you go through, though I know for sure that it affected my wife more. But I carried on, trying to survive as a photographer. I shot boring assignments like models and weddings.

It was during this period that my journey as an activist began. I thought, “What now?” And the idea of Picha Mtaani, a street exhibition of my photographs of the post-election violence, was born. One of the reasons the violence had gone unpunished was that many Kenyans had not seen it happening. So with Picha Mtaani I would display my photographs of election violence in public spaces, and tour all over the country so that Kenyan people could see it for themselves.

What was the response?

It was good. People loved it. But in certain places the government denied us approval to hold exhibitions. In other places, politicians hired people to come and demolish the exhibitions. Consequently we had violent disruptions, temporary arrests, pictures being impounded by the police. It was an interesting and fun journey, though. We traveled the country, and preached peace.

Along the way I realized, “We’re talking about peace, but do Kenyans really know how they should vote?” So I have now moved away from preaching peace and turning more to political activism."

I believe that if Uganda is to see a better form of democracy that renders social upliftment for all our people, not just the wealthy and connected,  we the youth of #Uganda and today's leaders and champions of our own fate, had better learn to get inspiration from our fellow Africans such as Mwangi and work hand in hand with them to bring about social change in our corrupt, and dysfunctional political, education, health and economic systems. The Nelson Mandela's of our time will not come  with guns and machetes, or police intimidation, they ordinary people daring to live extraordinary lives such as Mr. Mwangi.

The words of Dr. & Rev. Martin Luther King Jr,  the Civil Rights Leader and Social Justice Activist should always resonate with us to remind us of this.  If our generation of Africans is ever going to see better opportunities for all our brothers and sisters of all colours, creed, geographical, economic and social backgrounds, we had better remember these words. 

"In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." Dr. & Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 

WHY WE NEED OPEN SOURCE PHARMA  as posted on Open Source Pharma 9/12/2014

I grew up in rural Western Uganda, where two of my siblings succumbed to measles before their fifth birthday and my father to HIV/AIDS before I turned 10. I often wondered why so many preventable and treatable diseases were still killing the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Could it be possible that big pharmaceutical companies and big, bureaucracy-laden governments were so vertically aligned in their approach to bringing life-saving medicines to market, that they rarely saw any reason to find solidarity with the communities that would eventually benefit from their inventions and policies?

My father and my baby sisters did not die because the vaccines for measles or the antiretroviral drugs for HIV were not available. They died, in large part, because life-saving vaccines and medicines were priced beyond our reach. To complicate this tragedy, my government enacted failed policies to secure the drugs for those who needed them most, Uganda’s marginalized poor.

Fortunately, this is likely to change in the not-so-distant future. The Rockefeller and Open Societyfoundations are sponsoring the first-ever global conference on open source pharmaceuticals. Given the advent of social entrepreneurship and proliferation of market disrupting ideas, such as open data, open software, and crowdsourcing, it is possible that the Open Source Pharma Conference could be the beginning of the end to generations of pain and suffering that communities like mine have endured.

Why is this important? In Uganda alone, 63 pregnant women die daily in labor, due to malarial complications. 100,000 annually succumb to the same disease. Think of the possibilities that open source pharma could bring to countries like Uganda, where young scientists and innovators could easily and cheaply have access to the formulae for malarial or other important drugs via open data and copyleft mediums. Who knows, resource-poor countries could start producing their very own generics for malaria and a host of other, easily preventable diseases.

When Eduardo Galeano referred to charity being so vertical and not respecting the other person, he was foreshadowing the hundreds of well-intentioned international NGOs that spend billions in a top-down approach to solving problems in the developing world. The beauty of open source pharma is that, first, it brings important ideas and data together in a forum not controlled by patent laws. Secondly, it democratizes information by sharing it globally. No particular pharmaceutical lab would own or have restricted access to the information. For the first time in history, Ugandan pharmaceutical experts, health professionals, and scientists could work in solidarity with their Western peers. This type of the horizontal pharmaceutical pipeline is what Galeano refers to as the solidarity we have been waiting for, and I hope it gets here sooner rather than later.

James Kassaga Arinatiwe is the School Partnership Manager for Educate! He is also a Global Health Corps and Aspen Institute New Voices Fellow.

"Retelling the story of Mwanga II, Buganda’s last independent king" Via The Daily Monitor Uganda"

The double-storeyed house owned by Mwanga II, the Kabaka of Buganda who fought diplomatic, political and military battles to preserve his kingdom from colonialists. He died a prisoner far away from his country in Seychelles.

This led to the invention of the idea of a European Civilisation that sprung independently from its own roots, in Ancient Greece and as an idea was developed to its highest academic formalisation from the 1830s.

In the process, the inconvenient fact -backed by much evidence from earlier European and Greek intellectuals themselves- that Ancient Greece’s civilisation was seeded by, and drank heavily from the fountains of, the much older, black African Egyptian one had to therefore be obscured. These are the roots of anti-African racism, and of politically-driven western academia.

In the more contemporary form, they sought to abolish the idea that there could be coherence in the motives and actions of any native figure from African history. The English Africanist Basil Davidson provides the example of 1920s Oxford Professor of Colonial History H. E. Egerton defending colonialism, which he described as “the introduction of order on to blank, uninteresting, brutal barbarism”, as “the right way… of dealing with the native problem”. It is Orientalism on amphetamines….

For more on this topic find the click on the link

We Need Safe Roads In Uganda Not Public Safety Campaigns

In Uganda over 3,000 lives are lost to road accidents annually. Over 90% of deaths are youth below the age of 25. To compound this even further, that the number is an equivalent of three (3) classrooms each full of 75 young people perishing each month. However, police and media blame this on the irresponsibility of the “reckless” passengers, the majority of whom are our youth. Despite having some of the most dangerous roads in the world, riddled by poor public infrastructure and planning, leaders go on about their business as usual without any efforts to address this epidemic. Recently, I saw an article in the New Vision, the daily newspaper praising the police for their training campaigns about safety precautions for motorcyclist, passengers, and school children.  I could not help but wonder how this campaign would help “half road accidents by 2020” as suggested. To me, this was one of those band aid solutions once again prescribed to our public that deserves better than charitable campaigns.  Our tax-paying public deserve a public health infrastructure that works for them, not ‘sensitizing” them about things that they already know.  When I saw the above-mentioned article, I could not help but scream within me of how our leadership still belittles our public as uneducated and an informed populace even about their own safety.  Which parent does not teach their children about how to cross roads safely? Or which adult doesn’t look right, left and front before they cross these dangerous roads?

 If there was a disease outbreak that was killing as many people as road accidents are doing may be our government and policy makers would pay attention especially if it was killing the wealthier Ugandans. It’s quite shocking that you can find well manicured pavements and walkways in the porche surbs of Kampala such as Kololo where you can hardly see a passenger on the road, yet downtown where a million people go about their business daily there is none.  About 98 % of our cities and highways lack pavements and walk ways (zebra crossing). I am appalled by the complacency of city planners who are ignoring this important public health necessity. Lack of pavements and walk ways for pedestrian is a public health hazard, not mentioning poor or no lighting on these roads which cause more preventable accidents. Had pedestrians had an option of walking without competing for the same space with motor vehicles, I believe we would lose fewer citizens than 3,400 per month.  In just two months, I have lost two friends, an uncle and a cousin to road accidents. This has nothing to do with my friends and family members being reckless it has more to do with our dangerous and broken public roads systems that need a major overhaul. 

I am an avid runner. Everyday I go out to run, I am afraid of losing my life on these narrow and unsafe roads. Without a place for walking or running, walk-ways, pedestrians here live on the edge, yet each month my paycheck is less 1 million Uganda shillings to a government and to city leaders that do nothing to protect my public safety and my right to live in a safe and healthy environment.

My message to Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA), Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA), the Ministry Works and Transportation officials, and the police is simple. Ugandans do not need your public safety campaigns and are not stupid, we probably know more about public safety than you do because our lives are in danger daily. What we need are roads that are safe with walkways, pavements to walk and run, covered potholes, gutters and enough lighting for safety at night.  In case you need a lesson, please visit Rwanda next door, and if you need an international context from more developed nations visit Greece.

Uganda city leaders could also learn an important lesson from the Mayor of Bogota, Colombia as he is famously quoted,“a developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It is where the rich use public transportation.” -Gustavo Petro, Mayor of Bogotá.  

Without a safe public health infrastructure, Ugandans especially our youth will continue to perish on a massive scale due to this preventable epidemic, and more and more will become diabetic and suffer from cardiovascular diseases due to not having safe public places to exercise. 


Dear Ugandans Health Care Is Your Human Right!

I have been distraught by the way most Ugandans appeal to their government to come to their aid in places across the country where health conditions are devastating. If a non Ugandan heard the way our citizens express their pleas to their government, one would think they are begging for mercies from the government mandated to serve them. It is very common in Uganda’s media to hear sector leaders saying “we appeal to the government to fix this hospital so that people have better health facilities, or to fix the road so that they are less accidents.” Either Ugandans are so submissive to their government that they are afraid of rising up to ask for their inalienable human rights,or we have no idea whether we have rights or not.  

A few months ago, I took a trip with colleagues from Global Health Corps  to spend Christmas with families and children affected by nodding syndrome in Kitgum Referal Hospital in Northern Uganda. Being my first visit to the region, I was keen to learn and to understand the struggles that have befallen these communities. I have always heard and witnessed the horrors of Joseph Kony, the neglect and marginalized of these same communities by the government of Uganda. However, I was not ready for what I encountered at Kitgum referral Hospital. Nodding disease and its aftermath are already a great tragedy to these poor families, but the state of the hospital calls for a mass protest against the injustices that our very own government has inflicted on its citizens in this region. The hospital was covered in spider cobwebs, broken windows, without ventilation and had not seen a coat of paint in over four decades. Despite not having much to offer, we spent time with the children and their parents sharing and learning more about each others lives and shared in their burdens and their misery of neglect by a government that has not prioritized them nor their health and wellbeing of which is their human right.  Article 25 of he Universal Declaration of Human Rights  states that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including…medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security… sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” There are probably 20% of Ugandans who know that they have a right to health care and adequate social services. Our very own constitution in article 39  says “every Ugandan has a right to a healthy environment. and other articles mention a right to human and descent treatment.” Although these documents were drafted to protect the fundamental rights of the vulnerable and the unjustly treated in our society, little effort has gone into implementation of these rights. The government in many instances has acted with impunity and knowingly ignored sensitizing people about their rights both in failing to incriminate health leaders who misappropriate funds meant to rehabilitate health facilities as well as failing to enforce and implement its policies regarding these rights.  It makes sense that the politicians stand to gain from this because, citizens can continue “begging”to be supported by government, instead of actively seeking after their human rights and demanding for results from politicians, citizens see them as gods who come to give them ‘the gifts’ social services in exchange of their votes.  In his letter from Birmingham jail, Re. Dr. Martin Luther King warned, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

I believe it is up to us Ugandans, young and old, big and small, rich and poor to peacefully march and ask for our fundamental human rights to quality and emancipated education, to quality health care, and to economic and political freedoms as well as accountable results from our elected officials. Without it, most of us if not all of us will continue “begging” for government and those in power to come to our aid when a road is broken, a disease outbreak, or when our children lack adequate resources for quality education such as teachers, libraries and or books.

 True and authentic leadership is about solidarity in service not impunity.  Rise up Uganda! 


Dr. Brian Ngwatu, Moses Ariong and James Arinaitwe 2012-2013 Global Health Corps fellows and now alums on their way to Gulu to have Christmas with children affected by nodding diseaseimage

A Case of internalized Oppression & Human Rights Abuse

Today was a very sad day for me! :-(  I read the case of Gabula, a 17-year-old Makerere University student in 1987 who was arrested and sentenced to death for writing an incredibly intelligent and thought provoking essay titled “‘Under development in Africa: A Case of False Economics.” It made me reflect on how Ugandans, although we gained independence from colonialism over 50 years ago, are still in many ways than one battling with our internalized oppression. If a fledgling nation whose young, intelligent and critical minds are imprisoned by a system that doesn’t allow them space to think, critique or reflect, how can it truly emancipate itself from colonialism? The story of Gabula in many ways show that as Ugandans we have a long way to go to realize the subtle ways in which we have not only hated our very own leaders who embody the keys to our freedom of mind, soul and spirit but are still stuck in our colonized minds repeating the exact same acts that our imperial masters vetted out to us.  This young man, a Ugandan prodigy had he been born in any Western state, he would not only be revered but he would be celebrated as a hero and a role model for all young people. He probably would have gone on to become either a poet, following in the footsteps of giants such Chinua Achebe, Ngugi Wathiong’o and the like or a respected professor at a renowned university where his writings, his poetry would liberate the minds of thousands of students and shape the leadership of our nation. Instead, he has been languishing in our jail cells, suffering from peptic ulcers, and instead of keeping his mind alive it has been subject to a politically constructed “Christian” dogma that disempowers from being a social political and human rights force in his country to a now a submissive ‘born again christian” who can only beg for forgiveness from his master.”

Gabula, had he continued to live free he would have been a force and a voice that probably could challenge and redefine the international development discussion in a way that is more liberating to Ugandans rather than patronizing to them. Thanks to his jailer, we have lost a hero, a teacher, and an emancipator. God forbid what has happened to thousands of Gabula’s out there across Africa. 

I have heard this saying quite often, especially coming from our Western counterparts. “If you want to hide something from an African hide it in a book.” As sad and as condescending this statement sounds, if we as a nation and as continent keep marginalizing the minds and the voices trying to liberate us from our own internalized oppression through critical thinking and reflection on the powers that influenced the formation of our ‘modern” systems, Africa will continue lagging behind other continents and we shall have ourselves to blame. 

Imperialists Constructed Stereotypes & Distorted Views of Africa

In reflection to this blog, I had a privilege of watching the new movie "12 Years Of Slave." I think it should be a must watch for all Ugandans. For many reasons. As someone who has lived in the Southern United States for close to 10 years, I witnessed how the Christian right, used the Bible to enslave the minds of African-Americans our very own ancestors. Having returned home, I now see a clear correlation between the evangelical movement from the same place-Southern USA with the evangelical,Bible preaching, fire spitting, gay bashing, charity obsessed, and white savior complex models of Christianity in our very own Uganda. If you get a chance to watch this movie, “12 Years of Slave” with a critical lens, you will see how the same conservative, Christian Right,really used the Bible to beat it on the heads of African-slaves and to psychologically beat them into surrender and obedience to their masters in the South. Ironically, the same scriptures that were carefully picked from the Bible, I have heard them used here over, and over, in our very own churches. You can also clearly see the same slave/colonial vestiges of power, and stereotypical imagery of Africans in todays modern aid, and Christian charity industrial complex. I wish us as Africans could have a debate, and an intellectually safe and free of emotion conversation about these Western Religions and their role in keeping us Africans subdued, patronized, and dependent on their own religious, social, and economic systems. I could say more, but these are just my reflections having lived a life of rural cow-herder in Western Ugandan, a Kampala, high school youth, and an “American-black southerner” for the last 10 years. 

Thoughts, your comments, and critiques are welcome. I would love u all present and future African empowered leaders to start deep and critical, spiritual and intellectual and moral leadership conversations of what makes us who we are and what influences who we truly are or aspire to be as Africans in this modern age. 

Living my Ugandan Dream? Perspectives from My Reverse Culture Shock

Four months ago, I returned to Uganda, my mother country, after ten years of studying and living in the U.S. This came soon after I completed a Global Health Corps fellowship in New York City, where I led programming initiatives to provide poor New Yorkers with public benefits such as Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition, Education benefits and legal services. A month after my return, I took on a task as a School Partnership Manager for Educate! Uganda. An organization, whose mission is to develop young leaders and entrepreneurs in Africa who will not only solve their community and national challenges but will propel their countries into sustainable economic futures. Soon, after my appointment, I took to the field for two weeks working to cultivate relationships with schools in two districts of Masaka and  Tororo. Most of my days were spent on non-stop boda-boda rides and in beat-up minibuses where conductors force 20 people in a 14-passenger capacity vehicle on dusty, pothole-infested, 1960 roads. My journey took me from small urban and rural towns to “last mile” village schools, where the only mode of transport is non-other than a motorbike taxi a.k.a boda boda. 

Soon after my two-week cross-country stint, I took a day off to reflect on what I had observed in the field. While editing my notes at a cafe in our bustling capital, Kampala, I realized that ten years ago, I would not have complained about the crumbling public schools, broken roads, and or inexistent public health systems, challenges I observed on my short field trip. Soon it occurred to me. Could I be undergoing reverse culture shock as some of my close friends from Global Health Corps had alluded? Of course, it made sense. I had been away for almost ten years, returning only twice and for short visits to my family and friends. I have also been lucky to live in relatively great cities, and in safe neighborhoods in the U.S. There is no doubt I have lived a privileged life.

Nevertheless, living away shaped my perspective in a way that I do not regret. Ten years ago, I was coming out of high school, jobless like 83% of the youth here. At the time, Kampala was not bustling with malls, expat cafe’s, expensive cars, so much wealth and as many Wazungu and local NGOs as it is today. Even finding a job in a restaurant was next to impossible for a young man of my age. Back then; I combed the streets of Kampala for six months after high school to find a job. I finally landed a manual labor job at and Indian juice factory for $45 a month in Kampala’s industrial area. I was lucky to have a job because they were always endless lines of mothers looking outside the factory. It made it so easy for our bosses to hull insults and abuse us verbally because we were easily replaceable. When I got my sponsorship to attend college in the U.S, it was a breath of fresh air. However, I have never forgotten my experiences and among many have always reminded me the challenges people face in this beautiful country.

In a way, my return has been sort of a necessary boot camp for a Ugandan who aspires to be part of grassroots political and social transformation in this country. In four and a half months of my return, I have been to 10 out of 112 districts and visited over 17 rural and urban secondary schools, and met with Chief Administration Officers (CAOs), District Education Officers (DEOs), Inspector of Schools, head teachers, teachers and students. I have traveled between small and rural towns and villages. My field trip has been met with a deep sense of appreciation for the natural beauty and the wealth of this country, as well as a sorrowful sense of realization of failed dreams and untapped potential amongst our youth who make 78% of the population. 

I returned here close to five months ago, with optimism to live my African if not my Uganda dream. Although it been difficult to keep this optimism.  Despite the wealth, the influx of international NGOs and companies, luxury brand vehicles- that resemble those I saw in Miami, Florida, fenced and well guarded mansions in Kampala, and across the country. There is so much that my country and its leadership leaves you desiring, and I fear that my optimism is turning more into questioning.

Why has Uganda, a country with rapid economic reforms geared to attracting foreign direct investment, a booming market-driven business and tourism industry with over 2 decades of relatively stable economic growth, and substantial mineral resources, not mentioning our fertile soils, lakes and rivers failed to provide the basic public health infrastructure to her citizens? A recent article in the local paper mentioned Uganda achieving middle-income status by 2040 while relegating poverty to a small percentage of our population. Although that would be every Ugandan’s dream, I am not very optimistic about Vision 2040 unless our 83% unemployed youth and those employed come together to find a solution.

Here are my reasons for pessimism and my challenge to the leaders who drafted Vision 2040.  Middle income status or not could we at least get the basic infrastructure right?  To borrow the words ofDaniel Kalinaki on the state of public infrastructure, “Our public health system is in coma. Learning has been suspended in our education system and replaced by attendance. Most of our streets are unlit at night, and filled with open sewers with no place for pedestrians to walk. The garbage goes uncollected. Our sewer system has not been expanded in decades.” Vision 2040 is and will remain a dream, if all of us, and most importantly our leaders do not selflessly invest their time and resources to move it from the books to its physical reality.

If tasked with implementing Vision 2040, here is what I would do to make this dream come true for all Ugandans

  • Start by making sure that all Ugandans have access to clean drinking water and uninterrupted electricity by 2040. This would ensure uninterrupted business activity, which guarantees clean tax revenues. 
  • Ensure all Ugandans have equal access to health care by instituting a national health system and investing more in health care education including physicians, nurses, and social workers.  A healthy workforce is a very productive one.
  • Overhaul our education system, so that children born in Kidoko sub-county, in the remotest place I visited in Tororo, have equal access to quality education as those born in Kololo.

Remember the words of our great African leader, Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.”  If Uganda is to achieve the ambitious dream, Vision 2040, we must get our Education right.  We do not need to look far to see how smart-and context-specific educational reforms and policies have transformed the Eastern economics of India and China. Instead of an old education colonial model, that leaves the majority of our population unemployed why not change it.

Last and perhaps more important, 480,000 youth are churned out of Ugandan universities and only 100,000 are likely to find a job.  What Uganda needs now, is to collaborate with more organizations such as Educate! which trains our youth in entrepreneurship and leadership, to solve problems in their communities at all levels of society. Youth who ask not what their government can do for them, but who are creating jobs and employing their fellow Ugandans, and solving both local and national challenges. And Global Health Corps, which deals with the unemployment burden head on, by training and placing young people from all careers backgrounds and place them in cutting-age organizations working at the margins of health care to deal with social injustices and inequities in the world and mostly importantly our fledgling healthcare system. Our leaders must figure out how to get the national strategic plan if we are to all come to realize our dream of Vision 2040.

As I reflect on what a Ugandan Dream would truly look like, I am reminded of these words of Gustavo Petro, the Mayor of Bogota, Columbia, “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars It’s where the rich use public transportation.” Vision 2040 will only become a reality if and only if, those who drafted it in the end get the same health care, and their children attend the same schools as their subjects. That is when I will gladly say; I am now living my Ugandan Dream!