Kafta Queen and pretty Nicole: Uganda prepared the crime, kids only executed it

Author, Benjamin Rukwengye. PHOTO/FILE. 

What you need to know:

  •  If you were a teenager growing up in Uganda today, what lessons would you be picking on conflict resolution, honesty, fidelity, hard work, excellence... 

In her verse on rapper B.o.B’s song, The Kids, Janelle Monáe starts:

“Sometimes it’s hard to grow;

While livin’ in fear of the unknown;

How can he ever give love;

When no love is in his heart?


The kids don’t stand a chance.”

Last year, after a series of surveys and conversations, my team and I started thinking about introducing teachers to soft skills if we - and Uganda - were going to make headway into preparing learners for the world of work.

We reached out to our networks and hosted eight teachers pooled from the primary and secondary levels. After a half-day co-design session, we came up with a programme that would enable teachers to do a better job of getting learners prepared for life out of school. This would essentially complement the work that they are already putting into curriculum and passing exams.

You might have read that cases of suicide and drug use in schools are on the rise. This partly has to do with the pressure that the system is exerting on the learners to perform; and the fact that teachers aren’t skilled and equipped to deal with (the repercussions) of that pressure.

Children spend the bulk of their time and formative years with and around teachers and their peers than they do with anyone - including their parents. The mannerisms, habits and aspirations they pick up on are more likely to be influenced by the dominant environment in their lives. The school.

But how equipped - knowledge and skill-wise - are the teachers to be good examples and to execute this vital role as facilitators of life and dreams? The example we used in the meeting was one of a high school student who just got dumped by her boyfriend.

The benefit of hindsight will have many of us dismiss high school relationships as puppy love. But teenagers don’t have that range and benefit of getting played till the point of emitima gyakaluba. Whatever they feel in that moment is genuine and makes sense to them in the same way that your feelings did before you got taken for eediat.

Ergo, telling them to “move on”, “forget it”, “it will pass” or suspending and expelling them from school often achieves the same effect as a baldhead worrying over a lost comb. But that’s what always happens because teachers aren’t taught to deal with the emotions of their learners so they wouldn’t recognize a mental health trigger even if it hit them in the face.

It is not helped by the fact that parents and ultra-religious types would rather blind themselves to the idea that students feel things - and sometimes act on them - but to deny a fact negates it not. You will enroll them into a mentorship programme where they drill, cane and shove discipline into them but it won’t work. In fact, it will make things worse in the long term.

It’s not just about things coupling and dark cornering. The same measure applies when extrapolated to how many teachers treat learners who aren’t deemed smart enough and the things they say to and about them; or deal with those who have the temerity to stand up to authority and/or ask questions; or even those from poorer families.

Teaching in its sincerest definition is not standing in front of fearful subordinates and giving orders with grave consequences for deviance. But that’s the measure we have gone with on every facet of whatever it is that we define education as today. And because of this denialism and not investing in alternative education, we are not just seeing suicides, alcohol and drug use, violence, and child sex.

You might have come across that unsightly video where a group of girls gang up against their peers, and execute kinds of justice synonymous with what the Uganda Police usually reserves for demonstrators. Her crime? “Stealing” another’s boyfriend. Again, hindsight, experience and biases would have us dismiss, mock or patronize the feelings or reactions of the kids. We shouldn’t.

If you were a teenager growing up in Uganda today, what lessons would you be picking on conflict resolution, honesty, fidelity, hard work, excellence, empathy, and dignity? Look around you. How would you know how to deal with someone you disagree with or one who has hurt you, based on how adult Ugandans deal with disagreements? Clearly, in this country that we have helped Museveni build, the kids don’t stand a chance.

Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds. 

Twitter: @Rukwengye