We love being here in Uganda, it is a beautiful country and we see amazing potential in its people. Most people are very friendly towards us and we feel very safe here.
Before we came away, we were aware that there was to be an election in Uganda in February. Our travel advice from DFAT was to stay away from popular meeting places etc. during this time. Lots of people were surprised that we were staying around during the elections. Many other “mzungus” (white people) left the country during this time, leaving businesses closed for several weeks.
Well, today I have more reason to fear for Uganda than I did during the elections. Firstly, one of the big election planks of the ruling party during the elections was the boast that they had introduced ‘Universal Primary Education’ and are well on the way to ‘Universal Secondary Education’. This is supposed to mean that all children can go to school freely! What a load of crap!!!
If our children were to go to one of these grossly underfunded schools with classes of 150+, they would have to walk at least 5 km in each direction to do so. Instead, they have the luxury of attending a school only about 200m from the front gate, with very modest fees and at least a few of the teachers that we have met seem to be very committed and good at what they do.
However, because of the economic situation of the people in this area, even the modest fees charged by the school (35000 Shillings per term = $15) are too much for many families. So this morning, at least 60 children were “chased” from the school.
Chased is the term that they use here for kicking out any children who have not paid their fees. I don’t blame the school for this - they cannot operate without receiving fee money for the students. As I said, the fees are very modest. But it was a very difficult moment to walk alongside these children on the road at the front of our village as they headed home at 9.30 in the morning.
The government boasts of its achievements in education while large numbers of children still cannot possibly access any sort of education. At the same time, during the election campaign, the government entered into a contract to spend US$1.7billion to buy fighter planes to bolster the defense forces. This is the defense force that backed the ruling party in the elections by putting fear in the lives of many villagers across the country with bashings and heavy handed security measures. US$1.7 billion is more than the whole Health and Development budgets combined.
The second big deal today was when we heard about a friend of ours who had been arrested on Friday. It turns out that a man died as a result of a road accident in March last year. The accident was not reported to the police at the time. The family of the deceased man last week presented information that they had gathered to the police who promptly arrested our friend, and charged him with murder. The fact that the information was false did not deter them or lead them to investigate it themselves before making the arrest. Another friend spent the weekend finding out what really did happen, and presented this information to the police today, complete with statements from people who had witnessed the accident. This information completely exonerated our friend, who could not have been involved as he was not working in the area at the time. So all charges were dropped, yes?? No. The response from the policeman to our friend who had spent the weekend doing the policeman’s job for him was, “How much are you going to pay me?” This wonderful government who have been in power for over 25 years and who recently won the elections with a massive majority oversees a public service which is totally corrupt. To get anything done you must pay for it. There is hollow talk of weeding out corruption, but the reality is that everyone in power turns a blind eye or is involved themselves. It filters down to all levels. Just last week when I was taking Anne out for her birthday surprise, we came across a roadblock. The soldier manning the block came out and within a minute had already put it on us to provide him with cigarettes to allow us to pass.When we refused that on the grounds of not having any, his demands changed to money to buy them. He only allowed us through after I referred to his name on the badge and suggested that I would have to report him to his superiors.
It is hard to see how the country can get itself out of this mess when the corruption is so widespread. I guess the only hope is in the young people who make up more than half of the population. I pray that God will protect them from the greed of a corrupt society until they are ready to take it on themselves.