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Ugandans need civic education

By Vision Reporter

Added 5th September 2005 03:00 AM

By Eric Naigambi

With elections round the corner, Ugandans are expected to perform their civic duty as citizens to pronounce who will reign in State House.

By Eric Naigambi

With elections round the corner, Ugandans are expected to perform their civic duty as citizens to pronounce who will reign in State House.

By Eric Naigambi

With elections round the corner, Ugandans are expected to perform their civic duty as citizens to pronounce who will reign in State House.

The poor turn up in the recent referendum was partly blamed on civic education. I have argued here before that democracy is about participation; I have to add therefore that participation without knowledge is bad for democracy. Citizens must have knowledge of the alternatives from which to choose.

Civic education therefore has a lot to do with political knowledge among citizenry. It is also supposed to be an on-going process. Elsewhere, all education is regarded as civic education. An individuals’ level of general education achievement significantly affects their level of political knowledge as well as their extent and nature of political participation.

Every Ugandan has a right to participate in the affairs of government either individually or through a representative. The law, however, only provides for participation in peaceful activities to influence policies of government through civic organisations. This explains why violent strikes and uprisings, even among students, have to be forcefully challenged.

A good civic education system will provide the citizenry with the best feasible detail to the alternative types of governance and how they will choose. For the citizenry to make valuable contributions and informed decisions, they must know early enough what lies ahead of them.

In the United States, for instance, doses of civic education are spread throughout the school syllabus. A closer look at ITV programme reveals the fact that like in neighbouring Tanzania, civic education in school is a possibility. Children of primary age make attempts to articulate national political issues.

For instance, people of university education would be better off engaging in debates other than physical manoeuvres. They would offer their opinions based on informed analysis to the rest of the population. This is an ideal situation that is quite elusive in real life.
One of the greatest follies of contemporary Uganda is heavy reliance on the youth. Many of them are educated, but inexperienced.

Experts say knowledge alone is not enough, but cumulative wisdom resulting from experience and observation matters. Heurism makes the aged respond to politics with cynicism because ‘they have seen.’

Another loophole lies in formulation of messages for broadcast. This has been largely the work of political activists not schooled in political communication.

The results are largely non-theory based communication campaigns that are never evaluated. Most of the messages are never pre-tested for efficacy.

When it sounds nice in the ears of an ideologue, works in one area, it is presumed relevant to the entire country! Civic education must have consideration for the target audiences. Where possible, messages should be developed in the communities where they are to be used.

How else does one account for the rejection of the elephant as a contestable symbol in the recent referendum? Messages are framed to suit the cultural orientation of the source with no regard to the audience.

That Uganda has 56 ethnic groups is an undisputable fact, and by inference, we can talk of an equal or greater cultural variation. What this means is that certain norms in one culture are abominations in another.

Hence messages developed along a given cultural orientation could easily be misinterpreted as obscene in another forum. So, rather than risk faltering by indulging in what they don’t understand, the citizenry chose to play it safe by keeping aloof.

This is not good for democracy because the level of participation also accounts for the level of responsibility. If the majority of the population can argue that they were not party to a certain decision then that decision is doomed.

The current generation in Uganda is comparatively better informed politically. There are many channels of communication than in the past.

Today, political debates are more common in the media. For instance, the opposition receives as much news coverage as they strive to attract. Does censoring opposition groups from media coverage affect their membership? The answer is partly no. There are people whose political affiliations cannot change irrespective of the amount of information, or harassment given. Whereas different messages can be developed for various audiences, the common denominator must be unity and national development.
It is not too late for the electoral commission to correct their errors provided they regard them as learning experiences.

Given the resources at its disposal, the commission ought to develop programmes to sensitise the population well ahead of the campaigns. This reduces the burden of candidates diverting valuable time to selling their political programmes to teaching voters on how to hold a ballot, tick and perhaps what the entire exercise is all about.
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The writer is a masters student of communication at Makerere University

Ugandans need civic education

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