My late father only went to school after a bizarre incident when the parish chief caned him for taking tobacco leaves to his father at the time he should have been in school. He made it clear he was not going to be caned again and went to school. By the time of his retirement in 1976, he was an assistant education officer.
In Karamoja, another young boy had been confined to tending his father’s goats until a leopard snatched one. He could not wait for the wrath of his father and just ran to the Catholic convent for asylum. The priests did what they do best and put the boy in school. When his father came to pick his son, the boy was transferred to Mbale. That man too lived to tell the story as an education officer.
There are some good lessons from these two ‘children’ education officers. First, ensuring children go to school and learn is a government responsibility to be supervised by local level officials even if these have to be leopards. Accordingly, the state of local leadership (both status and focus on either political or socio-economic matters) is key. The welfare of the children, once born, is no longer a matter for discretion by parents. Among the key institutional reforms needed yesterday is the removal of politicking at grassroots and concentration of authority to parish and sub-country chiefs.
Second, if the chiefs, and any other chiefs by whatever name in public offices and at whatever level behave like children who never went to school, we should give them to the leopards. To begin with, these animals will teach them how not to wish one owned a herd of goats but take advantage of every available opportunity. Irrigation may be a good wish, but what are we doing with the current rain that contributes to us having the best agricultural climate in the world. In 2014, the EU produced more than 156 million tonnes of wheat and yet they only have one season. Surely, Karamoja with its land and people can produce 100 million tonnes of grain and feed many of us rather than the other way round. Instead, somebody withdrew tractors government had given to the Karimojong!
Third, the local parish chief and the leopard both executed their programmes based on local conditions. My father was caned using a cotton plant uprooted from a nearby garden while the leopard hid in the nearby shrub. Majority of Ugandans only need electricity for lighting, which makes solar the number one priority. It does not pay to have thousands of kilometres of power lines allegedly to add value to non-existent agricultural products or light homesteads at Shs544 per unit – a fortune for a hungry mother with yawning children.
The leopards must be laughing as we borrow and trade our future on things that will only be useful to the dead. After all, death is what happens when one has little or no regard for the present. We are already paying for electricity we have not used given generation of 670MW and demand of 540MW. The power investment plan must be localised and not based on European consumption figures where there is heating of gardens and cattle sheds in winter.
Raised in very hostile environments, leopards remain one of the most successful species and are considered one of Africa’s big five – certainly not in size. Uganda can do better to establish systems and institutions that will equip children with skills and values that will make this the pearl, not the pale of Africa.
Dr Muhumuza is a research and advocacy specialist at Financial Sector Deepening Uganda. firstname.lastname@example.org