Uganda’s Born-Movement Generation

19 Apr

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. .


Posted by on April 19, 2010 in Stephen Twinoburyo's blogs


6 responses to “Uganda’s Born-Movement Generation

  1. Watching Keenly

    April 20, 2010 at 08:05

    Stevo, first, i must say am impressed, immensely at that, about your writing skills, your conception of our national issues, the logical comparisons, and above all, the factual additions you are making to our knowledge of our very own country we live in. Intellectuals in this country have been reduced to “dealsmen” – looking for how to make “njaulo” in everything they look at, hence no time to comprehend the magnitude of the problem. I mean we dont have time to read and get to know the status of our country – apart from casually commenting on the situation of roads, schools, hospitals, and the story ends there.

    It has been argued that when the president ever leaves power, handing over even to his own son, we are going to see real fundamental change in this country. We are sure even his own family are not comfortable with everything. It happened in Cuba, and in just six months people were allowed to have mobile phones.

    • Uganda Speaks

      April 20, 2010 at 09:01

      Thank you Watching Keenly. It’s important to critically analyse the problems we have. In that way, we will be better positioned to seek the appropriate solutions.

  2. Abubaker Basajjabaka

    April 22, 2010 at 09:44

    Good analysis, although in some cases it gives glaring conclusions that seem not to give credit where its due. In whatever form Uganda has transformed, we can never expect a magic bullet to have things the way South Africa has them. Even during apartheid, South Africa was far better than Uganda and so many European countries. In fact, some good analysis can be made of the importance of apartheid because as you would agree, SA is on a downward trend politically and in some cases standards of living are declining due to the cost of living.

    Uganda is confronted by myriad challenges that I think no leader can confront alone. I remember when I was studying African Nationalism, there was a popular saying among those nationalists that led our respective countries to independence that freedom and democracy are best fought for back at home in spite of all the possible threats. When Col. Kizza Besigye returned to Ugandan, I applauded the move contrary to popular belief here that his return would bring chaos and Uganda would slide back into problems. Yes, we experienced anarchy but as we speak, I think after Besigye’s return, we have the best opposition that has put the ruling party to account for their time and mistakes. If this continues, we Ugandans will grow to the realisation that opposition is good for democracy in as far as bettering services is concerned. In fact, the opposition has become the mirror through which the ruling party should look at itself and weigh its options routinely. In spite of the intimidation, Ugandans have learnt how to express themselves to an extent of defying the president in many cases.

    I remember before bimeza–round table discussions–were abolished (these were also broadcast live by some FM radio stations), the president would call in and be put to task to explain some glaring mistakes in his government. For me, as much as people say they lose their freedom after they’ve spoken, their views would have at least been heard–remember what you hear and read forms your point of view. Among the Basoga there is a saying that constant rain eventually softens the ground. Even the government that is deemed suppressive would and can yield to pressure.

    I remember when I left Uganda to join you guys who had gone before us, I was a bitter man owing to the fact that some guys from western Uganda had defrauded us by conniving with some people in the registrar of companies office to change the status of a company that we had established because we had minted a lot of money to a tune of 400m in 1998. My bitterness couldn’t be quelled by anything apart from looking at things from an ethnic point of view. But when I came over to SA, I met a number of upright thinking Ugandans who were from all walks of ethnic backgrounds and had used their educational prowess to establish businesses that were making considerable contribution to the South African economy.

    We had abused our educational system, branded it as lacking but we found ourselves superior to most South Africans. Even when we had qualifications from our prestigious Makerere, we wouldn’t say because the name Makerere sounded like makwerekwere. Many Ugandans went on a paper forging spree instead of going back to school like you Twino did, to enhance their qualifications and compete favourably. The point I’m trying to drive at is the quality of education you talked about. Is it good for the country or bad? Definitely, if the quality is bad it is not good for the country but sometimes it could be better than nothing. It is like being confronted with a challenge of feeding people with limited resources. Do you give a few a square meal or do you give little to all and save lives? By the way, these are dilemmas that are not being advanced in support of the government but touch us all.

    Then, if education is given to all, where do they go after they’ve graduated. See how this becomes a spiral of challenges?! Newt Gingrich the former speaker of the Republican dominated senate in the US once asked: Is our real goal to build an educational system or is it to have people actually learn?

    Gingrich continues: Education describes a system of teachers and students that has grown inefficient and expensive. Learning describes a dynamic community of people using whatever means they have to improve their performances and better their lives. (To Renew America, Newt Gingrich)

    One thing I like about you Twino is that you’re very intellectual but I don’t want you to end at that. Be part of the process that does something for this country. I’m not saying you’re not doing anything but you too need to tell us how you’re making a contribution. In my organisation, we have a philanthropic program that supports children through education–Hope the Children’s Educational Fund. We’ve brought children from northern uganda, given them support and that is how we have possibly made a contribution. But the same contribution extends to our relatives as individuals as well, which I think is part of anybody’s social obligation here in Africa.

    Yes, I know there is no justification for a strong military. But over the years, our strong force has repulsed the LRA. The LRA as you may know may not have been a war between the UPDF and disgruntled Ugandans but it was more than that. In fact, if Uganda had a weak military force, would Uganda be better with thugs who want to restore the ten commandments as the basis of governance? Let us balance our analysis.

    What pits Uganda is that corruption destroys every well intended program. I’ve always pitied M7. The biggest battle he has to fight is that of corruption yet fighting corruption is like an attack on yourself in the sense that most people in government are part of it and if he disowns them, you’ll see more desertion and more problems.

    Yes, Steve, I may not have responded to issues raised in your lengthy analysis but I understand the frustration that we Ugandans go through. Your story helped trigger more thoughts about this country, which I think has transgressed but like the saying goes, if fathers eat sour grapes, children’s teeth are set on edge too–it is a corporate guilt.

    At least you’re outside but the frustration would even be more if you’re visited by insults from what people call sharp-nosed guys mainly from western Uganda, who are usually in security service or some even impersonating. It is these so many cooks that are spoiling the broth too.

    Brother Stevo, I leave you with two of my stories on the links below:

  3. Drew

    August 16, 2010 at 02:30!/note.php?note_id=344320912680&id=620617398

    I will be back with my thoughts later.

    This was an opinion piece from some years ago that I saved and used to start a similar discussion a few years ago.

    I actually think that the definition of Museveni’s children has got to be expanded to include all those who were children and young teenagers during the phase of his war in Luwero for many of these really know no reality except that of Museveni and the war that brought him to power.

  4. Twino Speaks

    August 16, 2010 at 20:11

    Thank you Drew for the link you posted. Lilian makes an analysis that rymes with what I am saying here.

    You are right about those who were born during the time of his war because that war shaped the circumstances in Uganda at the time – from general security to rumour mongering to fear itself, as well as hope.

  5. Muhiire Nathan

    November 16, 2010 at 08:57

    Great contribution!!


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