I’m a product of Universal Primary Education (UPE). In fact, I was part of the pioneering lot in 1997 when I joined primary one at Shimoni Demonstration School.
Back then, nearly everything to do with school was free; lunch, books, porridge at break time...education was actually free. We only heard it in ‘rumours’ that in the past, pupils would be chased away from school due to lack of school fees.
There was never a dull moment at this beautiful scenery filled with trees and a short distance away from features we used to study about such as parliament, Crested Towers (then the tallest building in Uganda) and the National theatre.
At school, I always looked out for the nice lady that used to serve us porridge, the friendly literacy teacher and, of course, the excitement of playing on the swings. The seven years at Shimoni stand out in my life because there is hardly anything negative I can recall.
But just like all good things, Shimoni literally came to an end in 2007 and had to leave the city to pave way for a more ‘serious’ project of a five-star hotel. Ironically, the masterminds behind the school’s demolition were the same people who sold us the idea of free education under UPE.
‘It had served its purpose,’ so we were told, in spite of UPE statistics pointing to the opposite direction. Need I mention what became of the vast land that facilitated more than 5,000 learners, including the Shimoni Teacher’s training college?
Currently, Kitikifumba village in Kira municipality plays home to the remains of my UPE Primary school. It is simply a shell with minimal attachment to ethos that made Shimoni a standout in academics and co-curricular activities.
Almost 11 years on, the Shimoni situation has turned into a mockery. One may wonder; what’s stirring up this pile of repressed memories? It is obviously the current state of political energy in the country.
Events over the last few weeks in the country have created a new narrative that pits the youth ‘Bazzukulu’ (youth) against the political establishment to the extent that President Museveni has come out with a series of statements on social media platforms he once dismissed as convergences for lugambo (gossip).
The brutalization of youthful politicians such as Robert Kyagulangi ‘Bobi Wine’ and Francis Zaake, among others, has created a wave of global criticism never before seen. Many others have lost their lives supposedly from stray bullets.
The major force behind this wave of discontent is the youth, who are armed with nothing but their votes and phones to expose their displeasure. Many youth associate with the emergence of the new People Power because it is part of their life.
On that backdrop, a counter narrative has surfaced. ‘The Bazzukulu are becoming extreme with their [perceived anti-government] stance, ungrateful of the sacrifices from the five-year bush war and misguided by frustrated opposition politicians.’ It goes on: ‘they are lazy, preoccupied with ‘loose’ talk and have done little to promote the positives of their country.’
First of all, it is an open secret that Uganda has one of the fastest-growing youthful populations in the world. Incidentally, that age bracket is also the most unemployed; so, it is not easy to directly connect them to the bush war.
What many grew up seeing was a relatively stable country full of life with a citizenry that lived in harmony. A policeman was treated with utmost respect. Merit superseded connections. A corruption scandal was big news and impunity was almost unheard of.
That’s the Uganda I experienced first-hand while growing up but that is not the case anymore. Thanks to social media, the Bazzukulu are now very informed about the goings-on in the country and there is little anyone can do to curtail that in this fast-changing digital age. They no longer need ‘elders’ for guidance on what to think or believe.
So, when the Bazzukulu express displeasure at the deteriorating state of affairs, they are well-informed, yet I find many of our leaders out of touch with reality. As a Muzzukulu, I see a clear disconnect when Bazzukulu are constantly fed on bush war rhetoric.
So, the same way I mourn Shimoni, many other Bazzukulu have their dissatisfactions with the way the country is moving. And this wave can only grow bigger with time.