Xenophobia: South Africa’s New and Silent Apartheid?

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Recent Xenophobic attack in Durban: Image credit AFP

It is now seven years since much of South Africa was shocked by the xenophobic violence that began in Alexandra township, then spread to other areas in Gauteng and the Western Cape. After the first domestic military intervention since 1994, the violence subsided.

More than 60 people were killed, hundreds of thousands displaced and tens of thousands had to shelter in hastily erected camps through the winter. With this, you might think that a permanent solution to the xenophobic violence was negotiated but it is different.

Today in April 2005, the xenophobic attacks are sweeping through the slums of Soweto and mostly the third largest city in South Africa, Durban. Shops are being torched. Streets are being barricaded. Tyres are being set alight. Rocks have become weapons. People whether young or old are being hacked, stabbed, shot and burned to death. Jubilant mobs hound Somalis, Mozambicans, Zimbabweans, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis from their homes and businesses.

In the wake of this, comes a directive by the Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, who stoked the fires by calling for foreigners to pack their bags and leave saying they are the major cause of unemployment and insecurity. Meanwhile, the government is still wrestling with how to define the problem.

Why South Africa?

South Africa is to many Africans what America represents to many around the world: an escape, a fresh start, a land of opportunity. When gold was discovered in Johannesburg in 1886, it was soon being mined by men from a dozen African nations.

Today the country is a magnet for Congolese, Ethiopians, Malawians, Mozambicans, Nigerians, Somalis, Zimbabweans and others fleeing conflict or seeking to improve their lot. Estimates of immigrant numbers vary from 2 million to 5 million, out of a population of 51 million.

The nation, it is believed that it has about 2 million documented and undocumented immigrants, which is about 4% of the total population, according to a study by the University of the Witwatersrand.

Zimbabweans make up the largest group of immigrants.

But the recent wave of xenophobia has tarnished this image and fuelled resentment among those who accuse South Africa of an arrogant exceptionalism that looks down on the rest of the continent.

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So where is all this coming from?

South Africa’s xenophobia reflects the country’s history of isolation. As a country at the southern most tip of Africa, South Africans are fond of referring to their continental counterparts as”Africans” or “people from Africa”. Many business ventures, news publications and events– aimed at local audiences– routinely speak about “going to Africa”.

This violence, is revealing two demons that still threaten South African society. The first is embodied in migrants themselves. Thanks to decades of negative discourse and practice, people out-of-place – migrants – remain an object of suspicion to South Africans. They often see them as threats: to safety, employment and progressive transformation. In the imagination of many, they loom as thieves and criminals set to rob the country and its citizens of their most valuable assets. At best, they are seen as victims of capitalist exploitation or hapless governments on the continent.

There are historical reasons for this demonization, but we need not search hard to locate a fundamental unease with human mobility – not just immigration but also domestic migration – in post-apartheid urban development plans, security programmes and, ironically, strategies for promoting social cohesion.

The second demon is a society, or parts of it, willing to turn violently on those living peacefully within it. The violence of May 2008 was hand to hand, neighbour against neighbour. Those killed were not killed at a distance but hacked with machetes, burned in their homes or bludgeoned with wooden giraffes and auto parts. This is more or less what is happening today.

Many people refer to the history of South Africa as the root of the problem apartheid was tough and many South Africans are still wary….but wait a minute…. Apartheid was not imposed by other Africans. It was imposed by the white man who thought he was superior to the black man and chose to enslave him in his own land. As far as I know, all the African countries rallied behind South Africa; Thabo Mbeki related, at a talk in Cape Town very fondly, his enjoyable stay in Nigeria during apartheid. I watched a documentary where many South African exiles related how they were hidden by other African countries, educated and taken care of, so dare I say, history has nothing to do with this xenophobic killings. It’s all about the mind of a black man.

But are the foreigners stealing the jobs?

For the record, foreigners don’t dominate the South African informal sector.

According to The Migrating for Work Research Consortium (MiWORC)’s research, international migrants are far more likely to run their own businesses. Eleven percent are “employers” and 21% are classed as “self-employed”. By comparison, only 5% of non-migrants and domestic migrants were employers and only 9% of non-migrants and 7% of domestic migrants were self-employed.

Late last year, the Gauteng City-Region Observatory – a collaborative project between Wits University, the University of Johannesburg and the provincial government – conducted a limited survey of the informal sector in Johannesburg. Dr Sally Peberdy, a senior researcher at the Observatory – says that the belief that international migrants dominate the informal sector is false. According to the report, it was found that less than two out of 10 people who owned a business in the informal sector [in Johannesburg] were cross-border migrants.

Peberdy argues that international migrants do play a positive role in South Africa. “The evidence shows that they contribute to South Africa and South Africans by providing jobs, paying rent, paying VAT and providing affordable and convenient goods.

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Why this is all wrong.

South Africans are clearly attacking the wrong enemy.

It is indeed a very sad part of black people’s history that poor South Africans have decided to turn their pangas and machetes against their also poor fellow Africans. What is happening in South Africa does not reflect a rainbow nation, but a country in denial that they are not yet independent in the strictest sense of the word ‘independence’. Here’s what South African people ought to understand: Many foreign students in South Africa pay a lot more than their South African counterparts in Universities.

An international students fee is a compulsory ‘tax’, and in some universities, foreign students pay double the fees. It is safe to assume these extra tens of thousands of rands are put in bursary funds to pay for South African students. Foreign students are hardly eligible for these bursaries until they reach postgraduate level, which by the way is not an assurance. Becoming a permanent resident might be the only way to obtain a bursary, and with all the conditions attached to that, obtaining it is not as easy as it sounds.

It doesn’t end there…. South Africa’s immigration laws state that you must have a work permit to take up employment after studying, so one would assume this work permit is given freely right? Wrong! You cannot apply for a work permit if you don’t have a job, and you cannot get a job offer unless you have a work permit. Interesting paradox i think but that is how it works here. and even if a company was to employ you so as to aid you in obtaining your work permit, they must write a letter to the home affairs department stating clearly that no South African qualifies for the job.

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Photo credit: AFP

How then are foreigners stealing opportunities when they have to fight through a web of rules to get to those opportunities? South Africa has a lot of opportunities but its black citizens are too reliant on the government for everything. In spite of abundant bursaries strictly reserved for South African students, many of them are not willing to take the opportunities.

Foreign students do, and suddenly, there’s a hate march against them for seizing opportunities South Africans did not want. Some of you may ask me…”what about the people who sell drugs and those who use fake papers?” I’ll answer with my own questions: who are the people buying the drugs? Who are the people helping them obtain these fake papers? South Africans do not hate foreigners…else they would be chasing the Australians. Americans, Britons, and many other foreign nationals that have made the nation their home. Instead, they are chasing black people- a form of self-hate and jealousy that cannot be explained by history.

They hate the fact that these other Africans are taking the initiative to seize opportunities they couldn’t care less about, and are succeeding at it, they detest other black people because they have the typical black nature- that we should either all wallow beneath the white man or all be successful (which of course is an idealistic thought considering the fact that many of us are more than eager to outshine our colleagues and have them look up to us constantly).

South Africans do not understand that many Africans here, and other foreign nationals alike do not get any handouts from the government… not by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, foreigners and their investments contribute a considerable amount to the South African economy- their skills, experience and knowledge are part of what keeps South Africa afloat.

The interesting part is that these same South Africans fantasize about living in other countries. I wonder if they imagine what it would feel like to be met by the same fate that they have so eagerly meted out to the Africans who shielded them from the oppression in their own land. What would happen if Uganda kicked MTN out, or if Ugandans had beaten up DSTV officials for not letting a Ugandan competitor Star Times TV shine in its own country?

I am not saying South African borders should be left wide open for people to take advantage of the country. By all means, good measure should be taken to keep the bad eggs out. However, the hate for our own skin colour must stop! We must understand that being African should be a thing of honour! we live on the continent that has the world’s best resources, but we are too busy hating on each other, our resources are being peddled away overseas. Our greed, our jealousy and our hate for each other is the reason we are treated in a lowly manner and disrespected by other races. The day we understand the need for our solidarity is the day we will rise as a continent.

I sincerely sympathize with those who have been affected by these hate killings. May their souls rest in peace.

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Campus Bee should get its facts right: Islam is not about terrorism and violence

This is a response to Saasi Marvin who in his debut article on campus bee titled Reflections on the Garissa Attack: Are Islam and Violence Intertwined?, sounded totally ambiguous. I did not only find it misleading, but also abhorent, equivocal, spurious, fallacious, frivolous and fictitious.

Marvin tries to list authorities from the Quran and Hadith alleging how Islam and violence go hand in hand. On surface, someone will believe his analysis but a critical reflections on his piece, clearly shows how he is wrong even though at the end, tries to show that Islam to a lesser extent, does not allow violence. Which is also wrong.

Some non-Muslims either through ignorance, seeking sympathy or Islam-bashing, continue taking the verses of the Holy Quran out of context and its history to justify their false propaganda. In order to gain a proper understanding of many verses in the Holy Quran, it is important to understand and know the historic context of the revelations.

So many revelations in the Holy Quran came down to provide guidance to Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) and the fellow Muslims based on what they were confronting at that time. The verse 8:12 is one such verse which is always misinterpreted (which Marvin also totally misinterpreted). The verse and its brief explanation follows:

8:12  Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message): “I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instill terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them.”

This verse and the verses before and after were revealed about the Battle of Badr, which occurred in Arabia in the early seventh century. A battle in which the pagans of Makkah traveled more than 200 miles to Madinah with an army of about 1000 to destroy Muslims. Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) and fellow Muslims had suffered severe persecutions and torture for 13 years in the city of Makkah.

And now that they had fled Makkah and found a sanctuary in the city of Madinah, they were once again threatened. Muslim Army was only about 300 strong. God Almighty gave the order to Muslims to fight to defend their lives and faith. The enemy came to them with the intent to kill Muslims. It was a war to defend themselves and their Faith. It was a war imposed upon Muslims.

And when you fight, you strive to kill the enemy during the fight. However, even during the war, Islam has the highest moral law of war. You don’t kill children, women or any one who is not fighting with you. If Mr. Marvin, is still doubting, let him read more here Human Rights in Islam.

Let us be objective here. Imagine, if Marvin and people thinking the same way, found the following Biblical paragraph being used in the same way the above verse is used. Muslims know that Jesus (peace be upon him), like all prophets, came with the message of peace to earth. However, a misquotation may change the whole meaning. Read:

“34 Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

35 For I have come to turn ” ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—“ KJV-Matthew10

Basing on the above, will another person from a different faith believe that? Absolutely no! A christian will go ahead and defend Jesus showing how he was quoted out of context. So me as a muslim, will i also justify my reasoning when someone misquoted my spiritual teaching? Absolutely yes!

Further more, Marvin goes ahead to quote Buhair out of context. It should be mentioned, that Islam does not allow to deliberately kill women and children (according to sahih hadith), but does allow to kill them indiscriminately, if they are nearby to the enemy and are aware of it. It is reported on the authority of Sa’b b Jaththama, that the Prophet of Allah (may peace be upon him), when asked about the women and children of the polytheists being killed during the night raid, said: “They are from them”.” [Sahih Muslim 19:4321 & Sahih Bukhari 4: 52:256].

Marvin went ahead to quote the above teaching of islam which applied to polytheists, by using it to mean Christianity. This is ridiculous! There is a very big difference between Christianity and Polytheism which clearly Marvin does not draw a clear cut difference. As a matter of fact, Islam actually talks about Christianity ( read Q 2: 62, 5:69, 5:82 and 61:14)

The debate goes on and on. But let us clear this misconception regarding to the intertwining of Islam and violence and why this debate has its own flaws.

So what does Islam say about terrorism?

But first, what is terrorism? Terrorism is a complex term with a long history and different meanings, depending on the context and who uses it. But the best definition(s) of terrorism according to sage pub, has two meanings. One it means the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes and secondly, the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.

So then what is Islam? It is the most complete way of life. The  word Islam means, “surrender” to the will of God (Allah in Arabic). Since there is only one God and mankind is one  species, the religion that God has ordained for human beings is one. It is a religion of peace (Q: 2:256, 16:82, 6:107, 11:28, 22:67, 48:28, 39:41, 64:12, 60:8  etc)

Unfortunately more and more often, Islam has been associated with terrorism and violence due to the actions of a few extreme individuals who’ve taken it upon themselves to do the most heinous crimes in the name of Islam.

Tragic events dating way back such as the attack on the twin towers in New York, the bombings of Bali, Madrid, London and the latest attack on Garissa University College attack in Kenya, are assumed to be justified by Islam in the minds of some people. This idea has been fueled further by many media channels which defame Islam by portraying these bombers as ‘Islamists’ or ‘Jihadists’, as though they were sanctioned by Islam, or had any legitimate spokemenship on behalf of Muslims.

The actions of a few fanatical individuals who happen to have Muslim names or ascribe themselves to the Muslim faith should not be a yardstick by which Islam is judged. For the same reason, that one would not do justice to Christianity if it where perceived as sanctioning the genocide of the Native Americans, the atrocities of world war II or the bombings of the IRA.

To understand Islam’s stance on terrorism, one must refer to its original sources, the Quran and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), which are explicit in their prohibition of any form of injustice including that of wanton violence which seeks to instill fear, injury or death to civilians.

The Quran turns our attention to the high value of human life, whether it is Muslim or Non-Muslim and makes it absolutely forbidden to take an innocent life unjustly.  The gravity of such a crime is equated, in the Quran, with the killing of all humanity.

“On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our apostles with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land.” ( 5:32 )

Not only is human life sacred in Islam but the property, wealth, family and dignity of all individuals in society are to be respected and protected.  Those who transgress these rights and sow fasad (corruption) as the Quran describes it, incur the wrath of Allah.

“…and seek not corruption in the earth; lo! Allah loveth not corrupters ” (28:77)

Likewise in another verse

“The blame is only against those who oppress men and wrong-doing and insolently transgress beyond bounds through the land, defying right and justice: for such there will be a penalty grievous” (42:42)

Islam goes further than just prohibiting oppression and safeguarding rights, it commands its faithful to deal kindly and compassionately to all those who seek to live in peace and harmony

“Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for your faith, nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: For Allah loves those who are just” (60:8)

In times of war and conflict, where enmity can obstruct an individual’s judgement to act morally, Islam commands that justice be upheld even towards one’s enemies.

“O ye who believe! stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do” (5:8)

Centuries before the Geneva Convention was drawn up, Muslims were bound by a code of conduct which the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, set.  He forbade the killing of women, children and elderly in war. In an authentic narration the Prophet (PBUH) warned that he who kills anyone who has a covenant of peace with the Muslims will not smell the scent of Paradise. In fact, he taught that justice is not only to humans but must be shown to animals and all living things.

In a narration the Prophet (pbuh) informed us about how a lady was sent to hell because of a cat she had locked up until it starved and died.  If such is the sanctity which Islam places on the soul of an animal, how much more grave is the killing of hundreds of innocent humans?! Abu Bakr the first Calipha of the Muslims reflected these prophetic teachings when he advised his general Yazid, who was confronting Roman armies,

“I advise you ten things, Do not kill women or children or an aged, infirm person. Do not cut down fruit-bearing trees. Do not destroy an inhabited place. Do not slaughter sheep or camels except for food. Do not burn bees and do not scatter them. Do not steal from the booty, and do not be cowardly.”

The message of the Quran is clear as i have shown, that the sanctity of any human life is to be respected and any violation in that regard is paramount to the worst crime.  Mercy is at the heart of the Islamic call, “We sent thee (O Muhammad) not save as a mercy for the peoples” (21:107); a totally different message to what the terrorists are sadly imparting to humanity.

It hurts me as a muslim, to see extremists claiming to be fighting for Islam yet in actual sense, they are just misleading people. It is them to blame for the media and people thinking that by Boko Haram, ISIS and Alshabab in Nigeria, syria and Kenya respectively killing people, are doing so for Islam which is not true. This is sad.

Conclusively, the Garissa attackers, have there own agenda not affiliated to Islam. Them being terrorists of muslim backgrounds, does not make Islam a religion of violence because if we are to go by that, perhaps we might remind ourselves that the LRA rebels launched their rebellion in Northern Uganda claiming that they are using the Ten Commandments of the Bible. So are they also Christian terrorists? I leave that to you.

Find Your Own Garden

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I had never been to Kabale. I was all smiles after packing my sunglasses, cap, and light clothes all dressed like a white pensioner on his summer holiday trip to Africa (destination western Uganda) not until I realized after reaching, that I had made a wrong choice of clothes. Kabale is a very cold place!

It is an exceedingly beautiful place on the other hand. The landscape and hilly setting, makes a first time visitor to believe that the place can be a very good location for a Hollywood adventure movie shooting but not going there with sweaters and jackets, is a wrong turn!

I was heading to ‘the Switzerland of Africa’ as a delegate student from Uganda Christian University (UCU) to the Semi-Final interface debate rounds organized by the Centre For Constitutional Governance under the topic “Freedom of speech, Assembly and Association in Uganda: Which way forward?” from last Thursday to Saturday.

Together with three other delegates from UCU, we set off from Kampala at exactly 2pm aboard Global Coach. I knew the journey was going to be long and in order to contain the boredom; I carried a couple of books to give me company during the eight hours plus journey with a sleep over in Mbarara.

It seems the choice I made by first reading Richard Stengel’s book Nelson Mandela: Portrait of an Extraordinary Man during the long journey, didn’t disappoint. It is one book I have found the best in giving another side of a person from what the TV shows you. It is the most insightful explanation yet of what has become known as the “Mandela Magic”.

For starters, Richard Stengel is the 16th Managing Editor of The Time Magazine. He spent almost three years collaborating with Nelson Mandela on his bestselling and critically acclaimed autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. During that time, he almost saw him every day, traveled with him, ate with him, tied his shoes—and spent hours and hours in conversations with him about his life and work. However, Mandela’s autobiography deals more with his struggle for freedom than personal life.

In Nelson Mandela: Portrait of an Extraordinary man, Stengel recounts the moments in which ‘the grandfather of South Africa’ was tested and shares the wisdom he learnt. This profoundly inspiring book captures the spirit of this extraordinary man—warrior, martyr, husband, statesman, and moral leader—and spurs us to look within ourselves, reconsider the things we take for granted, and contemplate the legacy we’ll leave behind.

Stengel arranges the book in fifteen chapters each explaining the lessons he learnt from the world’s most famous political prisoner ever. From patience, courage, principle, love, quitting and courtesy among others, it explains how different Nelson Mandela was as a person who lived a lonely life, cheerful, jolly but also a living with a broken heart for, he had been betrayed by his wife (of course Winnie is human. You wouldn’t expect her to be faithful for twenty seven years when her husband was away).

His famous beaming smile however on the other side, is what made him tick.  It conveyed warmth and wisdom, power and generosity, understanding and forgiveness but yet this was all for a show. The private Mandela was deeply hurt about what had happened to him. He was aware that he had spent the best years of his life behind bars, knew he had lost his family but he knew he could not let people see behind the curtain, that he would never expose his true feelings.

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*Find your own garden*

The last and smallest chapter of Stengel’s lessons he learnt from Mandela named Find Your Own Garden, is perhaps the chapter which left me uplifted.

Even on a remote but beautiful Island, Mandela needed a place apart. A place where he could lose himself and find himself. To him, life in prison was tough and life outside prison was equally harsh. He had lost his son, his wife was constantly under attack and the apartheid government was getting stronger.

The only way he could find peace was to be alone. So, in the early 1970s amidst all troubles, Mandela decided to plant a garden while at Robben Island prison in the backyard (which he later realized it had a graveyard). This was his greatest companion while in prison.

This garden which he used to speak fondly about long after being released from prison is what gave him pleasure in life.  Mandela’s garden had become his own private island. It quieted his mind. It distracted him from his constant worries about the outside world, his family, and the freedom struggle. While so much of was withering outside, his garden was thriving!

The moral of Mandela’s garden story is simple. Each of use needs something away from the world that gives us pleasure and satisfaction, a place apart.

Samuel Johnson once said that there was nothing more relaxing than concentrating on a pleasant task that engages the mind but does not tax it too much. For Johnson, that was a chemistry set, for Usain Bolt it was that abandoned pitch in his home town, for Steve Jobs that was his Father’s garage and for Nelson Mandela, it was a garden.

That is the garden am also looking for. A garden which is a respite from the turmoil and storms of this world. In that way, it will help me do my main work and make me a better person. It is not a place of retreat but a place of renewal and that doesn’t mean that it will remove me from life in order to do it.

For Mandela, in a world where he had no privacy and very few possessions, the garden had been a bit of land that was entirely his. In a world that he could not control, that defied and punished him, that seemed hostile to his values and dreams, it had been a place of beauty, regularity and renewal.

Everyone needs that place of renewal and personal meditation. A place which makes you realize who you are and appreciate yourself even where the world seems to be at a standstill. You won’t only find happiness but also you will find personal pleasure and satisfaction.

As Mandela told Stengel “You must find your own garden”, he simply meant that he should find what interests him as a person, exploit it and get the inner happiness to achieve success and what he desires at work. That is also what I need to do.

AM ALSO FINDING MY OWN GARDEN!

‘Photography gives me freedom’, says Ugandan born photographer Irene Namuganyi

This Is Uganda

Irene Namuganyi: Blog Irene Namuganyi: Photo from her website

Her Photography is breathtaking. She has an eye for beauty. Her name is  Irene Namuganyi  a Ugandan Computer Engineering student of  Potchefstroom University.  in South Africa. In an exclusive interview, this awesome photographer and photoblogger spoke to This Is Uganda about her love affair with photography.

Who is Irene Namuganyi?

I’m a Computer Engineeríng student with a passion for photography, currently living in South Africa. My family lives in Uganda so I visit frequently. I love photography, travelling, art, technology and adventures.

When did you become a photographer and for how long have you been?
I have loved the art of photography for a while, but I only got serious about it in December 2013 when I got my first DSLR camera, a Nikon D5100.
You have an awesome website. What was your first big break in photography?
Thank you.My first big break…

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Everyone first bench what you’re doing and learn some Uglish

This Is Uganda

The Uglish Dictionary The Uglish Dictionary: Benard Sabiti

“But you guy, when will you ever stop cowardising? stop beeping that potential side-dish and go bench her”

“Man you’re lost. Long time no see”

“Let me first go to the toilet and make a short-call before we go eating money now-now”

“I was busy taking my dry tea trying to forget what that de-toother had done to me but Seya killed me when i heard him on radio spewing buffaloes. It made my day!”

“Anti for us, okiraba, the problem is nti okudevelopinga will take us long because of politicians eating all the money, lack of transparency like the issue of lacking kisanja in the constitution” (quoted from Uglish Dictionary)

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Uglish (pronounced as You-glish).  This is the Ugandan form of English influenced by local dialects, which has produced hundreds of words with their own unique and identity meanings. It is…

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What can you do for your country? So much, if…

Some Ideas are "R-evolutionary"!

Writing in his The Last Word column last week, Andrew Mwenda did touch an area that has been a subject of debate recently – whether citizens or government should be to blame for the apparent mess that this country is. From his Nightly news segment, “News Night,” to the Friday KFM hot seat programme Mwenda has found every opportunity to blame the citizenry and dismiss their (sometimes genuine) complaints as mere heckling and frustration. I disagree with the old man.

Firstly, the title of the article (“What can you do for your country?”), paraphrasing John F. Kennedy’s famous 1961 inaugural speech, could not have been any more inapt. The speech, delivered on a chilly January day, by a youthful president who had just won an election by the closest of margins, in a country at the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, was meant to both inspire and…

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Someone needs to listen to these unemployed youth: A conversation with Uwihanganye

It is Friday 21st and am excited as time for my 4pm  appointment with Mr. Awel Uwihanganye approaches.

Time check, 3:45pm and am still stuck in traffic jam around the Spear Motors junction in Nakawa. With this jam, i can tell that i might be late for the chat. I quickly jump out and get on a bike instructing the boda boda man to drop me at Drew and Jack’s café at Forest Mall in less than ten minutes if he wants to make some extra bucks.

Of course boda bodas do not disappoint. At 3:59pm, am already at Forest Mall and I get a sigh of relief for being there in time and the fact that I have arrived before him, gives me a sense of responsibility and seriousness.

I feel relaxed and begin making myself busy as I wait for Awel. As am about to pull out Eckhard Breitinger’s book Uganda: The Cultural Landscape out of my bag, I notice a familiar face walking into the café.

Suddenly, fireworks and signs of victory invade my mind for finally meeting one of the inspiring men in Uganda. Mr. Awel Uwihanganye, the social entrepreneur with a passion for championing positive change projects which include the Young Achievers Awards, the Concordia volunteer Abroad Program, currently the CEO of LeO Africa Forum and one of the unsung young heroes, was standing right there in front of me offering a handshake.

I quickly introduce myself to him and we sit down and begin engaging in an hour conversation which will later turn out to be one of my most life changing chats so far. It is from this that we talk about many things ranging from social media, politics, youth unemployment(including solutions) and governance.

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Awel Uwihanganye (A.U): Hi man how are you and school? You actually look different in real life. I thought you are an old guy.

Ibrahim W.Batambuze (W.B): Am really fine and so excited to meet you which is indeed a great honor. Blame it on the Internet (social media) for my change in looks because actually people look different in real life than who they are in virtual life.

A.U: Am really quite shocked because from your tweets, I thought you were some big guy out there but here you are, young but intelligent. Am impressed.

W.B: Oh that’s good to hear from you. Most of my friends actually think am boring and too old for what I say and do. They think everything I say, is beyond my age bracket and I worry myself about politics and good governance.

A.U: Actually that is good. You see, these days online marketing is important because it is when you get noticed by someone who develops an interest by following and observing what you say online. You as a law student, engaging lawyers like David Mpanga can get you networked. I mean, the reason why am actually meeting you, is because I enjoy reading your tweets and ever since I followed you, I have no regrets. I met one brilliant boy called Edgar yesterday(Thursday) because of Twitter.

It is from this point that we go deep into our conversation and the chat officially kicks off.

W.B: Which Edgar? Are you talking about Mwine Edgar the chap who wrote An Open Letter to Mr. Simon Kaheru (herein referred to as SK) earlier this week?

A.U: Yes that is the boy! Am telling you when I read his blog post, I said I must meet this guy and discuss with him and I can assure you I was not disappointed. I found him to be intelligent and always using facts to back up his case.

W.B: I do actually like him too. He is one person who seems determined and knows what he is doing. I interact with him a lot and I would love to meet him too. My best from him was The real life of an Unemployed Graduate in Kampala. He seems to be a very great chap.

A.U: I think Edgar has a point. There is a very big problem happening now and it seems there is not much concern, a sense of urgency. Edgar is talking on behalf of these unemployed young people who feel they are not being helped and yet they deserve better. I think its unfair to bash them off and stereo-type them as attention seekers without first listening to their concerns.

W.B: But Awel, let us be objective here. I think we are missing a point. SK is being used as a scapegoat by Edgar and friends. The man is now being handled like he is the Minister of Unemployment Affairs. What he said was his opinion to which everyone is entitled to.

A.U: I think Simon Kaheru and Edgar got lost in translation first of all.They mis understood each other and am sure Simon is not insensitive to their situation. He (SK) was not rubbishing them off like most old people do thinking its a bunch of desperate rowdy boys. The problem now comes in when most old guys see youth belonging to Youth Leagues of different political parties fighting for  money, they presume all the youth are the same which is wrong. Edgar and friends are different, or i hope they are. These young people need solutions to their situations though their might not be easy answers.

W.B: By the way, I remember some other youth am not sure if all were also unemployed or not, polished their writing skills and begun writing very good pieces directly pointing at SK like Kevin  and Muhamya. Did you follow them up?

A.U: Yes I did. They were actually more than five. They all express their grievances rather well. Even with their anger,they have valid reasons as to why they are doing this but it needs to be challenged in the right direction. Because of their situation, they need acknowledgment that something is or will be done, basically hope.The situation seems to be very bad which is sadly we may all not are not aware to what extent. Edgar told me that in his class of 200 students which graduated two years ago, only four of them are employed. To make it worse,the person who topped their class with a first class degree, today in 2015, remains unemployed.

Someone needs to listen to them, attempt to address their concerns, and at the very least assure them that something is being done instead of dismissing them. More so, even where you can’t help them, do not paint a bleak future for them. After i read their blogs, I wrote an email to a senior government officer known to be concerned about young people, and attached all these blogs. Am sure it an issue he will raise with his colleagues in government.

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It is at this point that my heart freezes and the espresso am taking suddenly turns sour and sugarless. Did I just hear Awel say that someone with a first class is still unemployed after two years? I quickly begin saying a silent prayer wishing the Law Reform Committee changes the Law degree from four years to seven years so as I keep on masquerading in law school to avoid the wrath of this unemployment cancer already spreading like wildfire. Am now lost of words but I have to pretend am not affected and am strong.

W.B: But my friend, feeding these unemployed youth on only hope will not get them jobs or change the status quo. Hope is one thing and getting them employed is another. You might actually be postponing the inevitable and might just turn against you.

A.U: But again you see, giving someone hope is important because sometimes a lot can happen just because someone was able to hang in there. Someone who is without hope is literally dead. You need to remind him or her that a better day will come, and there honest efforts at addressing their situation. That is the beginning of dialogue. Am thinking of organizing a meeting with all of them and invite some people who have been concerned about this like my friend Morrison Rwakakamba  and especially Simon Kaheru because his back and forth with Edgar has started an important conversation.

W.B: This issue of unemployment, you seem to be giving it a minute or rather an exaggerating view thinking Uganda is the only country going through this. No government in the world is Utopian to be believed that no youth unemployment is going on. Kenya’s Unemployment rate is over 40% and Nigeria as at 21st September 2014, had over 11.1 M unemployed youth. Uganda is not bad i presume.

A.U: True, but the situation of Uganda is unique. We are said to have the youngest population in the world and the fastest growing. Yes unemployment exists everywhere in the world, but it does not excuse the fact that if not addressed it can lead to societal conflict and even chaos. The government needs and the private sector also needs to be fully engaged on the issue and to see how it can be improved.

W.B: But Awel let us be realistic here. There is what they call political ideology and political reality. Sitting down with these boys is one thing and following up the resolutions made during the meeting is another. The 2016 elections are just around the corner and getting jobs for the unemployed youth is not going to find its way on the NRM government’s priority list in this election time— even if it is by mistake. Still if such arrangements were to happen, I can assure you that these youth will be played left, right and back to the center up to around 2017 when nothing has been done.

A.U: Then the government will be just postponing the inevitable- stiff resistance (and to the extreme, conflict on the streets) from these young people in the long run. Your generation is blessed compared to our times. There are a lot of educated youth today. This simply means you can easily change Uganda because of this literacy boast. Edgar in fact told me that they are around 200 unemployed youth who engage in debates on issues of governance, policy and matters that affect them on Facebook and Twitter. This is something very serious and cannot be underestimated. You know how countries like Egypt have broken up because of issues such as what we are talking about.

W.B: An Arab Spring in Uganda? You have got to be kidding me! Trust me that can never happen. You see there is a very big difference between your generation and ours. Let me first begin from the start. If we are before history to judge us, it will say that the Obote, Musaazi and Ibingira’s generation led Uganda to her independence. Then came the generation of the young Museveni, Olara Otunnu, Dr. Opiyo Oloya and Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda which liberated Uganda from Idi Amin’s dictatorship. Enter now our generation (beginning from 1986) which is only interested in betting, watching European soccer/soaps and lack interest in governance. The question is does our generation have a role or duty to play? Am sure history will (or already has) judge us as the generation which betrayed their country. We seem not to be having a common voice and interest as far as making resolutions for our country is concerned.

A.U: And who tells you that it is your generation to blame? It is the old folks who should take the big share of the blame. Most leaders today, were active during their times at universities and today they have not mentored your generation to take up power when they have left. The Uganda National Students Association (UNSA), the National Youth Council and the Youth Leagues of the political parties are not playing the role they were established to do. Today, they do not groom young leaders in large numbers and most of the mentoring is isolated by few individuals. It is the reason why you see today’s youth leaders on TV fighting for money instead of fighting for ideas and you expect such youth to be thinking intellectually upright?

W.B: Well, on that point I agree entirely. I do believe that it is also the reason why we have MPs fighting for beds in Kyankwazi instead of fighting for thoughts, visions and dreams on how to change the status quo of this country.

A.U: The problem is in fact, not only on youth but us as a country. Like any government in the developing world, today the government is faced with a lot of challenges today in relation to effective service delivery. I mean look at the health sector today. In my village (Kanungu), i almost lost a relative who was in labour when she was taken to the village hospital late in the night and there was no doctor. She had to be taken to another hospital which is almost an hour and half journey to give birth and remember the roads are hilly. But thank God she survived. I did lose a nephew in a similar circumstance which still hurts me today.

So really, we need leaders that produce results which are concerned about the plight of everyday citizens. Those government officials who do not live up to the expectations of the people,should resign. We cannot allow or accept this as they are and think that’s how it should be. Something needs to be done early enough and well all have a role to play.

It is at this time that Mr. Awel remembers he had another appointment (and later an evening jog) and the time we had allocated for the chat, had passed long time. We quickly finish up our drinks and offers me a ride to Capital Shoppers in Ntinda as the conversation continues.  We continue talking about what went wrong with the movement system of governance which seemed promising and perhaps we should have given it an opportunity to work and why the size of the cabinet should be reduced to lessen public expenditure.

I reach my destination and say bye to my new mentor as he continues to his residence in Ntinda. We promise to keep ourselves in touch and continue discussing issues and matters affecting us and our country. It was a chat to remember!

Mr. Awel Uwihanganye (photo credit: Leoafricaforum.com)

Mr. Awel Uwihanganye
(photo credit: Leoafricaforum.com)

*Note: Please note that, words in the conversation with Mr. Awel Uwihanganye do not necessarily reflect the exact words he said during the chat. If you read any reply from him resulting from this writing, please do take his words as final and i will take responsibility if i happen to have misquoted him anywhere.

Follow him on twitter here: Uwihanganye_A