A recent article on the online publication African Arguments titled ‘Generation gap: What #FreeBobiWine tells us about Ugandan politics’ summed up President Yoweri Museveni’s problems, epitomised by the fiasco around MP Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine.
The recent brutal crackdown in Arua in which Bobi Wine was arrested, tortured, dragged before a military court, and his driver killed; and several others hammered and jailed, all “illustrate the regime’s helplessness in dealing with the increasing confidence, demands and disobedience of youth voters”, it said.
“Uganda has the world’s second youngest population…62 to 83 per cent...are unemployed…
“…Museveni’s statement on recent events – which addressed the ‘grandchildren’ of Uganda and described Bobi Wine as “our grandson” and “undisciplined” – was intended to demonstrate his authority. It was instead viewed as condescending and symptomatic of the deepening disconnect between the liberation generation and the youth wave ridden by Bobi Wine. The hashtag #wearenotyourgrandchildren trended after his missive. The President apparently took notice, dropping the term in his next missive”.
However, governments (and businesses) fumble to address youth needs, partly because it is complex. By extension, the references on which we base our analysis of Ugandan, and African youth, are derelict.
Take the backlash over Museveni’s reference to the youth as “bazukulu” (grandchildren), why?
More than 10 years ago, Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) data in Uganda was reporting that 17 per cent of children were living in a mother only family. Because of stigma, it was thought the actual number could be as 45 per cent.
Now if you go further back, and factor in the ravages of HIV/Aids that swept through Ugandan families like a hurricane, leaving grandparents to raise villages of children, and the effect of wars, the makeup of the young people today is extremely different from anything we have known.
Growing up in a single-parent mother household in Africa can be tough. But it is one of the best things to happen to our democracy, and one day, Africa shall build giant monuments to single parents. If you grow up in a traditional father-mother household, and they both have a good income, and are in the Rotary Club, then you probably have a “father figure”, who is also an “authority figure”. And your father and mother have most of the power.
When you are raised by a single parent, your mother needs your support more, and therefore, you are raised a co-principal in the home. It is a more democratic relationship. Because such children do not have a “father figure” and their mothers are not matriarchs as such, they are more likely to look to a “role model”.
Unlike your father whose authority is partly derived from biology, and is not negotiable (the bugger will remain your father, however undeserving he is), a role model is earned, and can be transferred at the drop of a hat.
For Museveni, it means for these young people, being a President, or at 74 years of age three times older than them, is nothing. He has to negotiate and earn their respect.
To them, force and a strong hand, are not the way they understand power, having been raised by grandparents and single parents, for whom the only way to be successful was to have a household run like an egalitarian commune. You cannot be their “father figure”.
Single mothers tend to be the ultimate hustlers, and in Uganda, some reports indicate they are the backbone of the small-scale business sector, and what Kenyans call the “kadogo economy” (the roadside markets that pop up in the evenings).
To them, Mobile Money was sent by God. M-Shwari, launched in Uganda as MoKash, the mobile saving and credit service, is the only “bank” they will ever borrow money from.
Then you, as policy, you slap another one per cent transaction on every Mobile Money transaction. You have to see how that is a penalty on a social structure that emerged out of our many crises and gave so many young people today a life, and why 21-year-old raised by his grandmother or mother, might react differently – and with anger – than one who grew up in Bugolobi and his parents help to collect the offertory in their local church.
We have seen how these structural changes have influenced the views of women in Kenya to something like East African integration. How the installation of solar lights in small towns dramatically altered the lives of single mothers (in some places in Africa they lead 65 per cent of households), who have to juggle many roles and would like to see their day “extended”.
The ways of the past, are useless in this changed world. It takes an open mind, a greater democratic spirit, and long hours of studying for leaders to succeed in it. If Museveni doesn’t, then he will be locked in a deadly tango with the youth of Uganda.
Mr Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africa.
data visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com. Twitter@cobbo3