By Charles Okecha
Since pre-colonial times, Asians have ventured into Africa’s interior. Unlike their Arab and European counterparts who succumbed to the unscrupulous slave trade, their scope of trade has been merchandise.
They have utilised the Swahili language for trade more than the locals themselves. Deep in rural Uganda it is no surprise finding Patel juggling a retail shop, produce, hides and skins to earn a living.
They endeavour to assimilate with other ethnic communities and learn their languages to enhance trade. Their dispersal all over the world is not an outcome of the population explosion in their homeland but an exodus that dates back several centuries ago.
Conversely in Africa, even after decades of introduction of formal education, people are shy at going beyond to horizon to explore the unknown. Unless certain natural or man-made disasters like wars and conflict compel them to leave, they love to dwell within their homelands.
The current economic hardships and scarcity of jobs are forcing Ugandans to give overseas lands a try. Better late than never.
After decades of grappling with wars, HIV/AIDS, orphans, widows, hunger and poverty, Ugandans have grit to contain danger. Our MPs who have a lot to lose shudder about setting foot into hostile lands. But a security operative who earns a hand to mouth income has a daring mindset that cannot turn down lucrative opportunities.
On the flip side some Ugandans are too brave to attack heavily guarded premises to rob and iron bar hit-men are on the rise.
I wish such brave fellows could be enrolled and trained for world peace missions, than torment the population the way Cubans became mercenaries after the end of their revolution! I also wish we could train and export more health workers and teachers!
Ethnic attachment makes the politics and economies of the African continent recipes for corruption and sectarianism. The war in South Sudan was instigated by the controversy of Riek Machar the Nuer warlord against the alleged President Salva Kiir’s Dinka domination christened as Dinkocracy.
They united against the Arab north, and once autonomy was achieved they have resumed war. This occurs at the peril of their own countrymen, displaced, devastated, killed or drown in the River Nile.
Although Christian communities in Central African Republic combined to resist Muslim Seleka rebels, thereby ousting Michel Dhotodia, their bond is equally fragile and this shall manifest at the outset of any electoral process. The AU must take quick action to avert genocide.
Unlike Asians who have identified their potential contribution to the human society, Africans tend to demand for special favours when one of their own descent sits in higher echelons of political/departmental authority.
Such sentiment led to the expulsion of Asians from Uganda in 1972. The vast majority of Asians who sought refuge in UK have never looked back but continued to flourish in their new found homeland. While Ugandans had to relent from their folly and welcome them back so as to learn basics of enterprise after enduring decades of abject poverty and conflict.
Our most lethal enemy sending many destitute to the grave is not foreign. Neither is it the colonialists nor the Asian entrepreneurs but sectarianism! Sectarianism is subtle and may use religion as a camouflage, characteristic of DP and UPC heydays when party allegiance swapped positions with religious inclinations. Al Qaeda’s strongholds in the Middle East thrive on the same.
The Ugandan trait of sectarianism is embedded in our society in a manner that more than meets the ordinary eye. We should never dare to dream about federalism for that very reason.
The decentralisation policy for example, has paved way for civil servants to work within their home districts. Although this is deemed a quicker way of accessing government payroll, it has adversely affected the education sector. In the past somebody from another region, say Kabale could teach in distant eastern Uganda till retirement.
His presence in a remote village school could compel his pupils to learn English faster in order to understand and commune with him. Such scenarios are now old story tales when all teaching staff speak and understand local languages.
Children in these new environments do not perceive the relevance of English in their future careers. It is the primary cause of decline in academic performance prior to poor facilitation. Proficiency in certain skills and knowledge obey the genetic law.
In the past the majority of secondary school teachers of woodwork, metalwork and technical drawing hailed from the northern region and taught anywhere within the country. Botched execution of decentralisation policy and the Kony insurgency have barred dissemination of such talents and skills.
Corruption in local governments remains an incurable epidemic. In contractual bidding money changes hands within single localities and concern about shoddy work is next to nothing. Embezzlers of public funds may set up pubs, schools, drug shops, buy tipper lorries or commuter taxis. Since such enterprises operate within their communities, they have no qualms over unlawful acts supposing that they provide employment or serve their own people.
Teams dispatched to investigate/prosecute culprits show sympathy to their own and conceal evidence. Checking crimes like defilement and domestic violence are no easy tasks as more occurrences exhibit at household levels.
To overcome crime and achieve sizeable growth and development we must shun sectarian tendencies which have led to the abuse of decentralisation.
The writer works with St. Paul’s College, Mbale