From anxieties and pains of this virus, may the country we deserve emerge?

Friday March 27 2020

Benjamin Rukwengye

Benjamin Rukwengye  

By Benjamin Rukwengye

Sometime in 2016, we approached an international school, requesting them to have their teachers run a peer mentorship programme with teachers in lower income community schools.

The idea was to create live video links that would enable the more erudite and better trained teachers to facilitate simulated sessions on aspects such as classroom management and innovation, learner and personality support, professional development, et al.

This, we argued, would improve the quality of teaching and positively impact learning outcomes for thousands of children in poorer schools.
The school thought it was a brilliant idea and promised to back it.

To maximise reach and impact, we decided that perhaps, it would make even more sense to run the sessions in synchronised formats. Basically, we would have two to three teachers in Kampala, delivering a session to say 100 teachers spread out in about 10 different locations around the country, in the same moment.

If this worked, we would also experiment by throwing in some classes for the children, to get a feel of what it’s like to learn differently. More for less.

Long story short, it turned out that without adequate Internet infrastructure around the country, this initiative would only be a pipedream. Now is a good time to share this story, because it portends the folly of imbalanced policies and how they can come back to bite you in the backside.


The reasoning had been that by extending equity in education, we would create opportunities – especially for disadvantaged children – in the long-term. But we also knew that without equity, the consequences of socioeconomic inequalities can be dire in the long-term, not just for the poor, but especially for the rich who have a lot more to lose.

We are in the middle of the greatest crisis of our times and the one thing we can say for sure is that the world will never be the same after the Covid-19 pandemic is gone. Events such as this are what define history – the World Wars, the Cold War, 9/11 – nothing was ever the same after. Now, we need to flatten the curve.

To do that, we must stay home, social distance and self-isolate, for a while. To do that we must have enough to eat and drink. But because we haven’t always looked out for the most vulnerable among us, it’s going to be a tall order, for everyone.

Those we’re urging to stay at home today, have no social security safety nets, because of policies that somehow left them behind. Policies that protect and enrich a few, while stripping of their life’s value. How will the wretched of the earth heed and comply, when they have nothing to lose?

How do you flatten the curve where access to social services such as education and health (in whatever form) are exclusivist? How do you flatten the curve where the poor know that the rich and connected can pay their way through the dysfunction and access first class treatment in private hospitals or abroad?

Where we have made life and death undignified, for the average Ugandan? How do you flatten the curve when for a long time, the rich and connected have gobbled every available opportunity because they can afford first class education?

Where we spend less than Shs10,000 on educating a poor person’s child? How? How do you flatten the curve, when for a long time, we have seen them hounded off the streets, their merchandise confiscated, but kept quiet?

When all we did was text ourselves to “stay safe”, when they were getting shot and teargassed for protesting inequality, as if they too weren’t deserving?

So, staying home is crucial to how things pan out for everyone. But they won’t if they are hungry. Yet they can’t stockpile food because they don’t have the money to. They will not, if they can’t pay rent. They won’t if they feel powerless to save their children.

If you are reading this, understand that your safety in this moment depends on their welfare. Where our policies have created two countries in one, nobody is safe. Where one class enjoys certain protections and privileges acquired at another’s expense, nobody is safe.

If nothing else, let this crisis be the trigger we have needed to discuss access to opportunities, and the socioeconomic imbalances in this country. It will be tragic if nothing changes, when Covid-19 is gone.

Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds