Kampala street children: Absent income class

Author: Joseph Ochieno. 

What you need to know:

  • These are our children yet, a lost generation fading fast in our eyes.    

At every major entry point into the city, they invade vehicles, seemingly coordinated unlike the chicken, sodas or water venders in Bweyale or Mabira. 

One by one, perfect in adoptive sign languages with occasional Luganda, ssebo, as if necessary after all, they are a photographic message.

At Jinja Road, not far from the Ministry of Internal Affairs to signify they are no terrorists; Entebbe Road; Wandegeya next to Makerere University, as if to awaken the conscience of the young soon-to-graduate women and men who seek to build for the future. 

At Kira Road Police Station, opposite Bukoto housing flats built in the 1960s for lower to middle income public servants, among others.

Mostly dehydrated children, but some old and strong enough to carry others on their backs, move from one vehicle to the next, mostly unsuccessful in their quest for money, or I suppose any goodies. I have given money before, last time it was Shs2,000, driven by my spirits over the child in the back. As I drove off, I recognised that even the one who received the money was too, a child.

We know the reasons for their arrivals into Kampala and we know what the solutions are. 
It is cheeky, shameless and a little annoying except, I restrain since I believe in Sundays. 

But even on Sundays, these children are there, skipped by diesel-drinking jeeps on their ways to and from holy places of worship, scattered all round the city. 

A decade or so ago, there was set a ministry for Karamoja. I was excited, both in silence and in public. I hoped that with UPE, all Ugandan children would have rights and access to free and compulsory primary education, quality enough to equalise their lives chances and possibilities. 

I was confident that Karamoja, a sub-region with huge, fertile arable land; huge mineral resources, lots of cattle and mountains of quality rocks that trailers upon trailers breathe tones daily to destinations as far as Tororo and beyond would be a people soon transformed.  

I know for a fact that a British minister for ‘overseas’ development was once so interested she visited Moroto but why and what else happened?

Instead, together with my poor Bukedi, Busoga and Acholi, Karamoja continues to be a net contributor to national poverty indices.  

This for a region of national giants; excellent in academia, resolute in their decisions, imbedded in culture, honest as they come in fact, Max Chouldry (RIP), the minister for Lands, Minerals and Water Resources between 1980 and 1985, was considered among the most respected personalities in Cabinet. 

Of the impressive young people who have touched my hope for the future in the last 18 months, Karamoja provides a disproportionate number. Other factors if noted would cause discomfort but I must register this; these children could not have come from any other sub-region and lived so long on Kampala streets, an apparent national security matter, without an emergency session of Parliament and a Parish Development Model style task force to review and resolve, long-term.

Most puzzling is that extremely well paid civil servants and political leaders directly responsible for these must pass these routes daily unless, of course, that their lead vehicles push off these ‘beggars’. 

But I know, Save the Children, Oxfam, Unesco, Unicef, World Bank, UNDP, the Pope’s country representatives too, pass these children, and yet they proudly transmit their excellent reports back ‘home’. 

These are our children yet, a lost generation fading fast – in our eyes. Wake up Uganda.

The writer is a pan-Africanist and former columnist with New African Magazine                      [email protected]