Trying to get youth to pick interest in 'boring' national politics

Police confront Doreen Nyanjura (right) and Ibrahim Kisubi Bagaya, the authors of "Is It The Fundamental Change?" a book of critical of President Museveni's government, at it's launch.

What you need to know:

Going by the numbers, young people are the owners of Uganda. But, they have been for long accused of not taking interest in governance issues – the very core that affects their lives in almost all sections of their livelihood. However, the trend could be changing.

Doreen Nyanjura is a 22-year-old woman with a symmetrical face whose colour lies somewhere between cinnamon, cocoa-brown and alloy-orange. Her face lights up as it reveals well-lined white teeth when she parts her lips to smile. Her hair is a fine mane of wavy black tresses that rolled down from her head, down past her neck towards the shoulders.

Even in her dark-brown suit, which gives her a business-like disposition, she would easily get lost in the mass of modern-day university students who while not attending lectures, spend their time in between chasing movies, TV-series plus other bits of entertainment or anything that can win them a quick buck. She looks just like the rest of them.

Except that, that is wrong. She is not like the rest of them. Her hair features a stain of blue strands. That is not just a fashion feature. The blue pigments of hair are a symbol of her political allegiances, for blue is the official colour of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) political party.

The first time you heard about Ms Nyanjura was not when you picked up any of the numerous glossy social pages of Uganda’s newspapers where many a campus girl are a staple. She had co-authored a book, Is It the Fundamental Change?, against the political establishment. It is a piece of literature calling upon the masses to rise and overthrow the current regime through peaceful protest. She and her co-author tried to launch it at the anti-riot police infested Constitution Square, earning her a night away in the ‘university of understanding’, at Luzira Prison. Her political antenna is alive and buzzing.

Where is the youth’s attention?
As she sat at a Makerere University canteen with Ibrahim Kisubi Bagaya, her co-author, the contrast between the two, and majority of their fellow students who are largely indifferent to politics and governance, was subtle, almost invisible. But it was there. It is to people like their fellow students, Uganda’s youths, who in turn are the biggest part of the population, that Mr Bagaya and Ms Nyanjura’s book aims to reach. Out of Uganda’s projected 34 million population this year, the youth aged 15 to 24 number 6.7 million, while those between 15 and 49 number 14.8 million.

“The target market is the youth,” says Mr Bagaya. “We don’t intend to have (President Yoweri) Museveni and (Kale) Kayihiura buy the book. We know that as long as we can rid the youth of ignorance, they can clearly lose the fear. If they can lose that fear, trust me this government will be gone a few days away. Our point is to make sure we rid them of this ignorance and fear. The youths are not being involved (in politics) because they fear,” he adds.

But where exactly is the attention of the very youth that Mr Bagaya and Co. are targeting?

Most youth today, with reasonable literacy, are computer literate. As journalist, Timothy Kalegyira, has written recently, the internet is thus a good enough survey ground for what interests this section of the population. And because Google is by far the most used search engine on the internet, its search results offer great insight into the interests of Ugandan youths, many of whom use the internet. And in the past 30 days, KCCA, the English Premier League and Real Madrid football club are the three fastest rising internet searches in Uganda.

In the past three months, Whitney Houston, Gmail Login plus Yahoo Login have been the three fastest rising internet searches. When this survey is extended to cover a longer period, of say one year, a trend takes form. The three fastest rising searches on the internet in Uganda over the past 12 months have been Waptrick, WinDrawWin and LiveScores.

From these surveys, it is easy to plot where the interests of most youths are. Waptrick is a download website, used mainly for music, movies and TV series. KCCA (Kampala Capital City Authority) recently advertised a number of job openings, which could explain why they were a top search entry (It is also known to offer very attractive remuneration packages). Real Madrid, WinDrawWin, the Premier League and LiveScores would then come to represent the large section of the very popular European soccer and the resultant sports betting, which has caught on among Uganda’s youths like an infectious bug.

So, with some level of factuality, we could conclude that in the past few months, most of Uganda’s youths have had their mind’s attention directed to finding jobs, entertaining themselves and trying to make a quick buck through soccer betting schemes.

There is no politics, or governance or anything to do with the country’s leadership featuring anywhere in the top 10 searches of any period. This becomes a stark observation when you consider that the past few months have had a number of highly volatile political events, including the resignations of high-ranking cabinet ministers and near censures of key officials like the central bank governor. Oil, which has become the country’s next big thing and the centre of accusation and counter accusations of bribery and kickbacks, also does not appear anywhere. These are events that you would expect to grip an entire country, especially with a majority educated youthful populace. But for some reason, none of this seems to register on the radar of Ugandan youth’s interests.

Why are youths so apathetic to governance?
Dr Christopher Twesigye, a political scientist and lecturer at Uganda Christian University, says Uganda has a poor culture of governance where people are largely not included in the discussion and implementation of policies. When this is added to the poor culture of youth mobilisation and organisation, you end up with the current state of disaffected youth. Many students interviewed for this story highlighted the sheer incompatibility of politics and governance with their lives. It is chaotic, rough, and dangerous (in the form of protests and riots) and yet it does not have any immediate tangible benefits to a youth. “The few youth who are involved do so because they are paid small allowances by the political parties they join,” Norah Mirembe, a Mechanical Engineering student at Makerere University, says.

Politics, in general, thus comes off as another of the stress factors for an ordinary youth who already has the hardships of either finishing their education or getting a good job or some other sort of livelihood for themselves. It is thus no wonder that a youth will find themselves seeking solace in stress relieving activities, movies, music, soccer, alcohol and nights out in the bar. Ms Nyanjura and Mr Bagaya insist that Uganda’s youth have an interest in their country’s governance but are only scared to making that interest publicly manifest. “The problem with the youth right now is intimidation. That is why you see we took the step that we took, to come out and prove to these people, to encourage them not to be intimidated,” Ms Nyanjura says.

And there is a bit of truth to that. Rogers Kubaruho, a Civil Engineering student at Kyambogo University student includes fear of the unknown, and at times, fear of the known, as reasons why a young man may opt not to for instance, go stage a protest in the streets. “Students here have the urge to take part in politics, even protests. But what is the effect of the protest? What happens when you go there? You may die from there,” he says.

In the Arab Spring revolutions that kicked the presidents of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya out of power, young people, whether literate, illiterate, employed, or unemployed, were in the driving seat of the protests. Uganda’s opposition knows this very well. Getting the country’s youth into a critical mass, one that can stand up to the political establishment is a feat that Uganda’s opposition has tried to achieve. And Ms Nyanjura and Mr Bagaya’s book could be seen as one such attempt.

Are youth political structures, any use?
When asked about the involvement of youths in politics and governance in Uganda today, Youth Member of Parliament, Evelyne Anitte, said Uganda was heads above its neighbours in youthful involvement in governance. She mentioned the political representatives of youth, from local council levels at villages, all the way to parliament and cabinet, and everything in between.

But Anitte is conscious of the fact that this has not exactly translated into a politically aware and involved population of young people. She says the youth’s interests are elsewhere, like anything that puts money in their pockets. She says this has had a bad influence, where youths today are only interested in getting money, even without doing work that equates the money.

How, if possible, can this be changed?
Muriel Iyanu, a fourth year law student at Makerere University, says for the case of getting youth to be interested in voting for instance, a system that meets them halfway could help solve the problem. She highlights the tiresome ordeal of standing in the sunshine while queuing up to vote, a scenario that is a basic turn off to a youth whose mind is undecided about voting. “They could put up a better method of voting, say on Facebook. More youth would be involved. The youth want easy things,” she adds. While political parties definitely stand to lose from having a disaffected youthful population on their hands, the youth themselves stand to lose.

“Government determines the policy envirnment within which our hopes, dreams and aspirations are either realised or crushed. That is reason enough to get concerned,” says Helena Okiring, a 25-year-old youth leader.

Dr Twesigye says the youth must take their own initiative and take a step towards defining which direction their country takes because it is their future that is at stake. “Me as a person, I am ready to go with those who are ready. It is a struggle. You cannot go with everyone at once. I will go with those who are ready and others will follow. Even when Museveni was going to the bush, he went with 27 people and others followed later,” Ms Nyanjura says. Hers is a shot in the wild, an effort to, as the youth would put it, make young people start giving a damn about their country’s governance.

Book Review: They took to writing to make a difference

Author: Ibrahim Kisubi Bagaya & Doreen Nyanjura
Reviewer: John K. Abimanyi

Upon completing the book, you will wonder whether it really is these early-20-year-olds who managed to get this book off, with its sheer strength of ire towards the serving government and the weight of accusations thrown at it. You will likely suspect that one of the older opposition politicians could have more than offered a hand in drafting the book.

Is It The Fundamental Change? will not exactly “unveil hidden truth” like the book promises, especially if you have kept yourself abreast with such anti-establishment literature like that which existed on the Radio Katwe# website. If you have not, then there may be something new in it for you.

The book is not entirely about comparing President Yoweri Museveni’s promises vis-à-vis his failures, but rather, trying to show that Museveni has not always been the angel who just went bad, but that he had always been bad.

There is a chapter on Uganda’s history, which is quite an educative read, but it comes off sounding misplaced in this book, when you consider its general focus. The book also spends a whole chapter tearing into what it says is fact and fiction about president Museveni, like his age, his roots, his performance in school, and his lifestyle. You feel a 10-page verbatim reproduction of Milton Obote’s views on President Museveni was a bit of print waste as it could have been summarised in a page or two.

Some of the key accusations the book puts at the current regime are those of genocides in Luweero, Northern and Eastern Uganda, human rights violations plus numerous murders. Some of the accusations however have little or no evidence to back them up.

On the brighter side, the book features an engaging prologue, written by Omar Kalinge-Nyago. It is stuffed with literary devices, humour, fine prose, imagery, irony and satire. It is a poem about a girl who hands over her life to managers who keep ruining her life, telling the story that Uganda has had with its leaders.