Mr President, how much do you know about conflict resolution?

Sunday October 13 2013

By Harriet Anena

In 2009, President Museveni labelled English in Literature a ‘redundant’ subject and wondered what one would do after studying William Shakespeare [the English poet and playwright]. “Shakespeare said this in this year, so what?” the President asked, in a NTV documentary about unemployment.

In August 2013, the President, while in Iganga Town, blamed Arts courses for the country’s unemployment [currently above 60 per cent]. He said courses, such as Conflict Resolution and Psychology are ‘unmarketable’ and that despite his ‘advise’ on the promotion of sciences, educationists have ignored him.

In October 9, 2013, President Museveni, speaking at Independence Day celebrations in Rukungiri Town, blamed ‘unmarketable’ courses such as Conflict Resolution, for the unemployment challenge in the country. “How can you do Conflict Resolution as a course? What will happen when there are no conflicts to solve?” the President asked, drawing laughter from his audience.

That statement to me, didn’t even come close to being funny. It was absurd!
The first question I asked myself was; does President Museveni really know what conflict is or does he intentionally narrow his understanding of conflict to gunfire exchanges?

Since learning is an unending process, even for a 69-year-old, I will state that conflict can also mean a disagreement, an argument, a difference in opinion, a struggle, according to Word Web Dictionary.
For instance, although guns have gone silent in northern Uganda, we can’t say there is no conflict. What about the land wrangles, resettlement woes faced by former IDPs, what about the poverty, the diseases? Even development can be a source of conflict Mr President!

So, I don’t know which research our head of state carried out to show that only those who pursued Arts courses are the ones combing the streets in search of jobs.

It is 51 years since Uganda gained self-rule from the colonialists, but our schools and universities still teach a colonial-based curriculum. What has the President and his government done to decolonise the education system?
There has been a long and loud cry about the need to overhaul the country’s education system – a primary education that prides in enrollment rather than quality and a university education that is grossly monetised. Doesn’t the President see these problems, doesn’t he hear these lamentations, or are the appeals for action still held up in traffic jam on the road to State House?

It is bearable for citizens of a country to complain about issues that do not sit well with them, but it is worrying when a head of state joins that queue of complainants to pass the back and make it appear like it is the educationists and students to blame for choosing ‘wrong’ courses.

Makerere University in 2010 set up a committee to ‘clean up’ its courses. Chaired by law professor Frederick Jjuuko, the committee recommended that 31 courses be phased out, 10 be merged and three be suspended. This was a good step in the right direction, but what about at the lower levels of education where students and pupils still learn about Appalachian Mountains in North America instead of Got Moro in Gulu?

Several youth have gone out of their way to get out of joblessness, even with the so-called ‘bad’ courses. The government, through the Ministry of Education, needs to make a deliberate and honest effort to heal the ailment in our education system, instead of holding arts courses at ransom.

It is an uncomfortable truth that Arts courses remove mental cobwebs and enhance critical thinking, raise curiosity, and make one read between the lines. And which government would want an enlightened and critical populace?
True as it may seem, President Museveni should know that we can’t all fit in laboratories, gardens and hospital wards!

Ms Anena is a journalist and MA student of Human Rights.
[email protected].com