African children have evolved and so have their challenges

Pupils of Green Planet Day care School in Makindye during their Sports Day on June 25 . Photo/Noeline Nabukenya

What you need to know:

The solutions for African child’s problems should be reached by the African child

Last month the world celebrated the Day of the African Child (DAC). The day was instituted in 1991 by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in memory of the June 1976 student uprising in Soweto, South Africa. At that time, students marched protesting the poor-quality education they received and demanded to be taught in their languages. The day is celebrated to commemorate these children and the brave action they took to defend their rights. It also serves to celebrate all African children as well as inspire a sober reflection and action towards addressing the challenges they face on a daily basis. And if ever a child was faced with insurmountable challenges, it is the African child.

Decades might have passed since those brave young souls’ lives were cut shot by racist bullets but the challenges remain; if anything, they become alarmingly overwhelming everyday. Although many are no longer the starving and helpless children the west has stereotyped, our children still need interventions.

However, these interventions should be modified to suit the times and the challenges at hand. The reality is that the African child of the 1970s is quite different from the millennial. For the child of the 70s to 90s grew up at a time of scarcity and instability and was forced to grow up fast in order to survive.

This child had to deal the HIV/Aids scourge; many witnessed the death of a parent or their entire families, so they became acquainted with death at quite a young age. In Uganda, children from the North or East witnessed the brutality of war and extreme poverty that came with it.

This child’s perception of life is bound to be quite different from the older child of the golden age of the 1960s where I have been reliably informed that students were served milk tea and bread for breakfast and if you did not want milk tea you had to get a doctor’s recommendation allowing you to take black tea. This child is also different from the millennial whose priority is owning the latest gadgets, living on followers, likes and subscribers.   The 70s child knew why they were at school unlike the millennials and the following generations who make it seem like they are doing their parents a favour. Many people from that generation share stories of how they had to work during holidays or part time to contribute to their school fees, so failing hurt them more than anyone else. This child knew the value of people whether it was a relative or a peer because you needed every person you met.

Without the extended family one collected along their school years, you ran the risk of finding yourself homeless as you struggled to establish yourself. Your peers were your support system in case you needed to borrow text books or copy the notes you missed when you were sent home for school fees.

These peers you kept for life you could not unfriend or block them unlike the millennial. This child also values property whether it is a simple t-shirt or a bespoke suit. Clothes, shoes, books or music cassettes were valuable things and were rare to come by, so if you had them, you looked after them well because they earned you status and friends.  With the influx of second hand clothing and cheap Chinese merchandise, a millennial treats possession with such shocking disdain. While it was perfectly normal for friends to share the same suit for their important events, millennials would rather die than be caught wearing the same outfit twice. The most expensive possession that one had was a suitcase, which was mostly metallic. Nowadays, unless the luggage bears a designer logo it is not worth a second look. 

Once school was done, you had to get some form of employment and start making money to look after your family. If you married, the marriage was for life. We know millennials who have been out of school for years but are still living at home as they find their passion. Recent statistics put the divorce rate in Uganda at 49 percent of all new marriages, which should tell you our youth’s attitude towards matrimony.

So yes, the African child still needs the global attention but the interventions should change. Many African parents are now aware of the importance of education and are willing to sell the shirt on their back to send their children to school.

So, the problem now is not access to education but access to the right education. We are also aware of the importance of a balanced diet, sanitisation and even family planning, the help we need is empowering our economies so that young people can either get jobs or start their own businesses.

But most importantly, we need the African child to be reintroduced to themselves; to learn to value their culture and heritage after decades of neocolonialism.

We need the African child to have enough faith in their abilities and to be bold enough to pursue the inventions their countries need instead of consuming what the west markets.

The African child more than anything needs a reprieve from western ideology passed on through aggressive marketing campaigns and subliminal messages. They need a chance to make choices that are purely their own; unadulterated by foreign influences and aspirations. Only this way will they be able to enjoy the freedom those brave souls sacrificed their lives for all those decades ago.