By Stephen Twinoburyo
South Africa has a group that is called the born-free generation. These are children that were born from 1990 when Nelson Mandela was released. Their progress has been tracked as they have grown. The year they completed primary school, the year they joined matric (the equivalent of senior 6 in Uganda) as well as their matric results have all made news. Statistics have been compiled on how many have reached those levels, their aspirations as well as what they have benefited in the new South Africa.
Particular interest has been placed on children born in 1994, the year Nelson Mandela became the first democratic president of the country. According to author Sandile Mamela, “They have grown and developed at an age marked by tumultuous social and political transformation for a better world. It is their role and responsibility, now that they are about to come of age, to take part in the battles over the direction of their country and its role in the continent and the world. …. Their mothers and fathers could never have lived a life where they had individual choice which did not put group rights first.”
If I am to look at Uganda, the equivalent would be the born-movement generation, children born from 1986 when President Yoweri Museveni came to power. What have they achieved, what are their aspirations and what have we, the pre-movement generation, taught them?
The best place for me to start is my family. My younger sister, born on the onset of the movement generation, is now a university lecturer and happily married with two children – an extension of the born-movement generation. The bother after her, has just completed his electronic engineering degree and is beating the streets of Kampala in search for a job. The youngest of all is making his way to university.
Like the rest of us in the family before them, they have managed to find their way to university and acquire an education. However, what kind of Uganda have they and all the other born-movement generation children grown in and what does the future Uganda hold for them? How many of this group have made it through university and how many are employed? Such statistics are very difficult to acquire in Uganda and at best, one can make deductions – and with some good reason, generalizations.
What makes the Ugandan story after 1986 difficult to follow is the fact that our only president since then has not stuck to one way of doing things but has shifted and changed again and again. An analysis can still be made based on the current situation and I am going to use a comparison between Uganda and South Africa to give an indication.
According to official figures, more than 60% of Uganda’s population is below 25 years of age. This is a country of youngsters, so an analysis of this group will represent the majority of the country. The government must also think about this group because this is an active group. Pension funds and government also need to consider what is going to happen to productivity and social care in 40 years’ time. The population growth rate is 2.692% (compared to South Africa’s 0.281%). South Africa’s population is 1.5 times that of Uganda and yet South Africa is 6.1 times larger in land size. 61% of South Africa’s population is urban (98% urban in Gauteng province) while in Uganda the urban population is 13%. This means that the majority of the born-movement generation are rural and increasingly so.
At the coming of Mandela, South Africa enacted many laws that made the life of South African very different, in almost all ways. Uganda also made changes. A new constitution was developed to give a Ugandan broader voice and people were encouraged to participate more in their local leadership structures. Unfortunately, this constitution lost respect when it was later changed under a cloud to allow for the unlimited stay of the president.
Long ago, going to university just meant going to Makerere but the born-movement generation have to make a choice from scores of universities. Quality may be another issue but acquiring university education has been greatly simplified. Like all other youngsters elsewhere, these youngsters have grown up in an era of advanced communication technology. Studying has been made easier by the ease with which information can be acquired or passed on electronically.
The born-movement generation have been brought up in a world of instant access to information. As such more should be expected from them in tackling the challenges that face their society than those before them. It was easier to frustrate the pre-movement generations by simply denying them information or communication but that is not possible now. Uganda is the 68th in cellular phone usage and 64th in internet usage in the world. These are impressive positions.
Getting into the job market has remained exceedingly frustrating. Uganda’s GDP per capita of $1300 at the 208th position in the world is not helpful. The country’s labour force distribution is, agriculture: 82%, industry: 5% and services: 13%. Since most of the educated people are likely to end up in the industry or services sector, the born-movement generation face an uphill task. (South Africa’s figures are: agriculture: 3.5%, industry: 32.1%, services: 64.4%).
ISO, ESO and other security bodies are known to exist but they have failed to beat Amin’s State Research Beaureu in instilling perpetual mass fear. The new security bodies are more covert in their activities and their means may include intimidation and frustration of opportunities, otherwise some kind of meaningless charges are formulated. A born-movement youngster is aware that he/she may quietly be visited by security agents.
It is interesting that while South Africa occupies the 98th position in the world in military expenditure as a proportion of it’s GDP, Uganda is far ahead at number 76. The born-movement generation are therefore likely to work more for military expenditure than other developmental issues compared to South Africa. According to the Stockholm Peace Research Institute, Africa is the most conflict region of the world, with the number of conflicts taking place in Africa over the past decade far exceeding those of the rest of the world combined. Uganda has had a fair share in these conflicts. The born-movement generation have grown up in a Uganda that is always fighting somewhere, and they undoubtedly have to pay for this fighting – either through contribution or lost opportunities.
South Africa’s 2009 GDP was $495.1 billion compared to Uganda’s $43.22 billion, (11.46 times). South Africa’s budgeted expenditure is $100 billion compared to Uganda’s $2.5 billion (40 times). While the South African government gets it’s financing mainly from taxation and local borrowing, the Ugandan government gets most of it’s funding from foreign donors and foreign lending institutions. As a result, the born-movement generation carries an ever increasing foreign debt burden. Uganda needs to refocus its production priorities. A shift from agriculture to industry and services is highly desired.
Today’s youths have also grown up in an economically different environment. Unlike us who came before them, they know they may go without a grocery item but that will only be due to lack of purchasing power and not the non availability of the item. They have been saved the torture of queuing for sugar or salt. They have also not seen the days of knowing somebody at Uganda breweries before one could acquire a crate of beer.
With electricity production of 2.256 billion kWh (compared to South Africa’s 240.3 billion kWh) and looking at the country’s population, the born-movement generation is likely to live without electricity. Energy investment is needed but this will require massive borrowing that will spread the debt repayment to the born-movement’s grand children. However, the country has no choice but to invest in energy if it is to offer the children of the born-movement generation a better future.
There are items of language that now sound like they existed since Uganda was created. There are Kadogos, Investors, Afandes e.t.c. LCs have forced the village muluka chiefs into oblivion and where we knew of DCs, now we hear of Resident District Commissioners as if the ones before never resided in their districts of work. There are also phrases like “broad-based”, “fundamental epoch” and “10-point programme” that came in with the movement but then quickly disappeared as priorities changed. How about the origins of Kitanda beer that eventually gave birth to Akafunda?
Politically, these youngsters have grown up with a ‘strong man’ view of their leader and have been discouraged from viewing the president’s position as contestable. They’ve grown up with a belief that opposition to the president is equivalent to being an enemy of the state. They have grown up with a view that power belongs to the leaders (and of course the military) rather than the people and that political power or military seniority is a means to massive acquisition.
They have grown up in a system that encourages more of individual acquisition rather than general development. They have grown up with a view that institutions don’t matter but rather who is in charge. They have grown up with a view that to be successful in Uganda, one must lay a hand on a connection that ultimately leads to the president. Unfortunately, this is what is likely to shape this generation.
This is my view of Uganda’s born-movement generation and the challenges they face. However, they live in a period where they can take their destiny into their own hands. They are ambitious achievers, they demand what they want and advances in technology have offered them opportunities to rate themselves against the best in the world. If they decide that they want something, they will surely get it. .