What you need to know:
- If we are going to move forward, then we better start by answering the most basic of questions.
This week, I spent a fair amount of time crunching numbers and talking to statisticians, among other things. Gathering research has a way of bringing to life harsh realities and building a mountain of evidence that can bring you to a screeching halt when confronted with the size of the problem. It can also be pretty depressing, especially if you are digging into gloomy subjects like poverty, unemployment and the like.
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On my travels through different rural areas in the country, I often made worrying observations that I tucked away every time I returned or consulted a friend or two to assure myself that things were not as bleak as they seemed. On the village paths or along main roads to upcountry towns, you will often see columns of children, big and small, skipping along or persevering in their colourful shirts and dresses as they make their way to and from school. That in itself is not a problem as long as they are not walking miles upon miles through forests, valleys and thickets to get around.
It is the other subtle signs that you see when you look closely that really niggle. The uniforms don’t really match because some children have them and others don’t. Some children have a shirt and probably cannot afford the shorts so they improvise. Some children have school shoes and others don’t. Some wear rubber footwear, some wear leather and others nothing at all. Many of them have to walk long distances on tarmac roads on sunny days. This, however, is merely observation. It is what I found in the research parameters that was truly disturbing.
In the year of our Lord 2022, when we are measuring income, expenditure and poverty, we have national parameters such as: possession of a pair of shoes by at least one member of the household. You would think that we would have moved on from here. Our parents did not have shoes in the 1950s and they often told us about having to walk for miles barefoot through jungles in order to get to school. While those were glorious tales of making it from nothing, we kind of hoped our own children would not have to live through those conditions. This century has its own challenges like moral decay, disease, drugs and alcohol.
You do not want to add trekking to school barefoot to the burden. Yet here were are, another 60 years down the road, grooming children who are going to tell their children the same tales our grandfathers told us about roughing it in the woods.
This, of course, is just one minor symptom of a disturbing trend of regression. Flipping through the pages of the photo album that is Uganda, sometimes we find ourselves longing for the days when the streets were cleaner and more organised. The general populace in those pre-independence pictures may have had scant options for clothing and no shoes but at least they had hope that Uhuru was coming.
We, on the other hand, have cause to worry if decades down the road we have not created an environment in which our people can get themselves and their children the bare essentials to get by. I suppose the statisticians had a point in setting their poverty parameters. If we are going to move forward at all, then we better start at the bottom by answering the most basic of questions.
How many households have a member with at least one pair of shoes? What will it take to get to the point where we do not have to ask any Ugandan if they have shoes?
Ms Nampewo is a writer, editor and communications consultant