There is a general concurrence that with a proper functional education system, Uganda would be producing a lot more talent, that is, in different disciplines.
While the country has been blessed with occasional breakthroughs of Olympic and World marathon champion Stephen Kiprotich, footballer Ibra Sekagya or sprinter bronze medalist Davis Kamoga, with proper systems, that number would even have been in tens, if not hundreds.
Like in most developing countries, identifying one’s talent at a young age and nurturing it has been difficult. As such, it is often down to luck and an individual’s own effort to have a breakthrough.
Some have blamed Uganda’s education system that has for long not done enough to marry education and sports, for example.
But is it down to lack of a defined system? Do we even recognise and appreciate talent at a young age in school as a country?
The problem is implementation
“Generally, I could say we do. By policy,” says Fagil Mandy, former boss of Uganda National Examination Board (Uneb).
“But, by about 80 per cent, we do not implement. I think our weakness is the implementation levels,” he adds. “When you look for example at the Education White Paper – which is a policy document – the characteristics of a young person are described clearly, that our education system is supposed to produce a wealth generating youth, somebody who is scientific. Now, who has measured that?”
Actually, there is no lack of a sports policy in place. Way back in the late 90s, the government realised that there was increasing public demand for; better performance in sports, art and culture; improved funding; better management and administration; and transparency and accountability in sports.
The government also could not escape from the benefits of Physical Education and Sports to the individual as well as to the nation.
So they embarked on a journey to have a Physical Education and Sports Policy in 1999, which was finally put in place five years later.
In the policy, the Ministry of Education and Sports is, in conjunction with the National Council of Sports, charged with monitoring and evaluating the implementation, coordinating with the relevant line ministries.
National Sports Association are charged with identifying and developing Physical Education and Sports talents through youth competitions and training coaches, athletes and technical personnel, while the National Commission for Unesco links up with the body in matters of sports, culture and education.
The policy was developed along lines of formal education and emphasises that such education should cover basic theoretical and practical skills of handling different types of sports.
It rightly insists on physical education or sports education being based on comprehensive and relevant curriculum and syllabus, hence, the need for specialised higher institutions of learning for professional sports to cater for those interested in pursuing sports as a lifelong career and profession.
While the latter still has a long way to go, physical education has been accommodated in the syllabus, and a good number of primary schools generally practice it. But Mandy believes it is not going the right way.
“For example, at the introduction of the Education White Paper; every school is supposed to teach physical education. But right now, my estimation is that less than five per cent of schools, government and private, are teaching PE,” he says.
Co-curriculum activities in schools
“We know that we have a document called basic requirements and minimum standards indicators for schools, and I was chairman of the committee that initiated that thing when I was a commissioner.
“In these basic requirements, we even named the minimum of what co-curriculum programmes should be run, we named the basic key facilities that should be in school among others.
“Now all those were meant to awaken and produce an all-round runner of an all-round school; an all-round teacher. But I must say the implementation of that is still lacking.”
Mandy adds: “Generally, we are weak in management, that’s why we are a third world country.
So you must ask the questions: One, who pursues the policy to make sure it is implemented? Two, get clear guidelines that will be understood by everybody? Three, follow up and be on the ground? Right now, I think we have too much sitting in chairs and attending too many seminars.”
He states: “We won’t achieve our policy until we have defined the sort of student we want out of our school system. You won’t achieve Vision 2040 until you have changed the fabric of your system and you won’t change the fabric without defining what kind of student you want to produce.”
Talent is identified, it’s just not nurtured – David Obua
David Obua is a retired national football team player and an example of those that defied odds from Police and Express, among other Ugandan clubs, to join Kaizer Chiefs in South Africa and later Hearts in Scotland.
He agrees with Fagil Mandy that implementation of the sports policy is lacking.
“Identifying, yes; nurturing, I’m not really sure,” he says. “All those guys you’ve mentioned, me, Jackie [Jackson Mayanja] at Kololo, Ibra [Sekagya]; we were identified, yes but it was up to us to take our career to the next level.
What the education system does here perhaps is identify you in S1, you play football or rugby and at a certain time, say S4 or A-Level you see no future and just decide to quit and focus more on education.
“Same story with Smack [St Mary’s College Kisubi] or Namilyango rugby… boys will be identified in S1, play good rugby and quit like in S4. You only get a few Kimonos [Justine] who persevered not necessarily because of the available systems but because of the fire in them, the desire in them to carry on to the next level.
“I’ve always asked the Kennedy Mutenyos [who promote youth football], these Coca Cola guys who do the Copa Coca Cola. They do a good job but I’ve always told them that it’s not enough to just take these boys to tour Brazil or to be with Arsenal coaches.
“How many remain there after those tours, for example? But they all come back here and we never get to see their true potential. Look at the Saddam Jumas, Tonny Odurs, yes they are playing with local clubs but have we maximised their potential?”
Obua adds: “Lack of ready systems to absorb the talent identified early has also not helped. But like I said, it’s up to you to persevere; it’s the burning desire in you to take your career to the next level.
It’s what Ibra did, it’s what Jackie and I did. In Scotland, for example, the systems identify and nurture talent. Even the parents are fully involved. You see parents come with their kids every Saturday, watch them, follow them through.
“They grow within age groups and the kid is followed at every stage of progress. Every stage has ready systems to absorb those advancing. They grow level by level, to club academies, senior and finally national team. That is nurturing.”
We are too focused on the academic side – Maggie Kigozi
Dr Maggie Kigozi, the former Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) boss and currently a director at Crown Beverages Limited, was a sports woman. She is also mother of one of the country’s biggest musicians, rap artiste Navio.
She believes a lot of talent and consequently employment opportunities are lost because of generally less emphasis on sports and culture by government and society. Dr Kigozi, however, says her son benefitted as a sportsman from good systems at schools he went to.
“Navio didn’t study here,” she says, “But I wouldn’t say the school he went to had a system that would nurture him as a musician. They were okay with church choirs, and instruments but for him he was not in that kind of…you know, of music. For his primary and secondary he studied in Nairobi and actually that school nurtured his sports side very well.
“He is a very good sportsman… he was the Most Valuable Player in South Africa [at Monash University in Johannesburg]. Also he was a good high jumper, good at cricket and good at swimming. So yeah, he was an all-rounder.”
Dr Kigozi adds: “But that his music was nurtured at school? Not really. He was rapping and of course he did it on the side because not many schools would be in for rap,” she says, laughing heartily.
“His father, yes, was a musician but in a traditional sense; the choirs and all that. So yeah, I think rapping is a talent that you have in you.
For example you can do rhymes that not anybody else can do, and you can speak them out and make them attractive to people. So, that is one’s special talent; I don’t think anyone nurtured him into that.”
But just what does Dr Kigozi make of the education system in the country in terms of practically following talent through? “I don’t think it does,” she says, “We are so focused on the academic side, yet strange enough, it is the brightest children, the smart ones that are also the best sportsmen and women.
Of course my other children are also good at sports although I must admit I also focused more on academics.” If she could do it all over again, would she rethink what to focus on?
“It depends. For example, if I saw that this kid was really talented, perhaps would become a Tiger Woods (World No.5 golfer), a Serena Williams, then it’s worth considering but remember it takes just one out of billions to become a world tennis champion. Not many people can make it to that level.
“But we can start somewhere, and I think our education system could do better for sports because it’s very important. Even when you are not going to be a champion, it teaches discipline, leadership; it teaches teamwork; it teaches the fact that sometimes you don’t win. You learn to live within you and to appreciate yourself.”
Don’t blame the system, it’s down to inner drive – Alex Mukulu
Alex Mukulu, a renowned actor whose CV includes directing the Ugandan story in a drama skit at the opening of the 2007 Chogm in Kampala, is not certain whether to blame the lack of a steady and clear path into talent identification and nurturing, on government or the education system.
Now in his 50s, Mukulu is initially not sure whether the education system in the country has shaped his career.
“Yes and no,” he tells us at his home in Mengo, “Yes because you cannot create outside your environment, family or schools. Even the themes you treat come from the society, from your education.
“No because I was opposing it (the system). It’s like when someone asks you, ‘Do you dream in black or white, and who influences you to dream in that colour?’ Difficult, right?
“So when I’m writing a play, I wouldn’t say that the education system is influencing me. For me, the issue is what is driving me. Creativity is more of intuitive. Something happens and your intuition leads you to doing something.”
Mukulu, whose independent or rather pragmatic nature saw him have several run-ins with supervisors at Makerere University as he pursued a drama course, believes it is one’s drive that determines his destiny, not the education system.
“We are not yet at that level (of having systems to track talent from a young age to professionalism) yet, economically and financially,” he asserts.
“When you mention the late Magid Musisi (footballer), I remember a saying that it is not the size of the dog, but the war in the dog (Mark Twain). So it’s about us (artistes).
It’s about being angry. Are you angry enough? When you talk about Magid Musisi; you talk about Muhammed Ali in boxing; you talk about Michael Jackson; even our boy Bobi Wine here, who grew up in a ghetto – it is all about anger.
“These guys were angry at something. If you don’t have anything you are angry about, you will never do anything, not even in business; because you don’t have a struggle. That is why in most cases, you don’t find a rich man’s son fighting. He has it all.
“Just look at some of the most iconic and biggest songs, the hymns written and sung by black Americans – they are so strong with messages of struggle. Listen to South African anti-apartheid songs… They were angry.”
Mukulu, however, says that if the system favoured talent identification and nurturing, we would have a more vibrant acting industry.
“As I told you, our education has no open door for someone who is angry. Our education system should also put into consideration that artistes are independent-minded people, they are not formal.
“Maybe we should have private schools considering these independent-minded people. This could be primary and secondary. But still, due to our upbringing, you won’t have such an arrangement and parents bring their kids to that kind of school.
That’s not what they are used to, which is partly thanks to the colonialists, who groomed us to work, to do office jobs - and not to think. So it will take some time before we really change.
“Finally, I wouldn’t fully put it on the education system. Let me tell you, if you have talent and you have the fire in you, trust me it doesn’t matter where you are. It will come out.”
Assessing the sports policy
On the passing of the Sports Policy in 2004, a 10-point action plan was laid out. But just how has the ministry scored on those targets?
The very first step was to establish a department of Physical Education and Sports at the Education and Sports Ministry, which was started in 2007. Omara Apita, a commissioner, heads it.
“A number of actions, we have not been able to meet,” he says.
“They have been overtaken by a number of events. So the roll out has not been easy. For example, right now not all districts have sports officers, and that has made it difficult to get down to the lower levels of the Local Government.”
The policy was supposed to have a Physical Education and Sports (PE & S) Fund in place by 2006, a National Scheme for Recognition of National Athletes by the same year, and graduates heading PE & S offices by 2005 among others. All these have not been met.
“The Fund is not in place yet and must be approved by Parliament. What we have now is only the Sports Development Account. But we are currently working on a new law called the Physical Activity and Sports Bill, which will recall the current outdated NCS Act of 1964.
“The new regulations recently passed will move directly into the new law we are working on.”
Apita adds: “The national scheme to reward athletes is not fully operational yet, although we have made progress. What we have now is rewarding winners of gold in international events with Shs3m per month, silver Shs2m monthly and bronze Shs1m.
“We need to streamline it to accommodate all disciplines and levels. Right now it rewards individuals, we need to streamline to accommodate team sports as well and clearly define when and at levels it applies so that all deserving and successful national athletes are rewarded.”