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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Visiting schools in northern Uganda

‘But madam, we were in the camps and the school was burnt down.’  With those words I was silenced.  What more was there to say?

To be fair, my question, ‘Are these all the textbooks you’ve got?’ was not entirely crass.  I was getting tired of going from school to school seeing shelves of completely unused textbooks in the headteacher’s office while the 80 or so children in each class shared three tattered copies of the most out-of-date edition.  The Ministry and international donors who are working to rebuild education in the north have provided books, but why aren’t they being used?  The record that day was held by another desperately poor school in a desperately poor part of the north with four floor-to-ceiling cupboards packed with books in pristine condition.  We had not seen one book in the classrooms.  I have still not fathomed why Ugandan primary school teachers are so reluctant to let their pupils get their hands on textbooks. 

Unused textbooks in an old storeroom
It’s funny, when I used to inspect schools in Scotland, over-reliance on commercialised texts was a common indicator of lack-lustre uninspired teaching which focused on the next page in the textbook rather than the learning needs of the children in front of the teacher.  However, it’s different in Uganda.  Those textbooks, sent out by the Ministry of Education and Sports to support the Universal Primary Education programme, are the only books that any child in a UPE school, particularly a rural one, is likely to see, let alone hold - ever.  They are also a key method of ensuring consistency and quality of lesson planning and teaching.  Oh, I knew there weren't enough.  The government sends them out in 10s or 12s.  However, it should not have been beyond the wit of a half-decent teacher to make some sort of arrangement for sharing the precious copies, even if it meant some children working on different topics or books from other children in the same class.  Shock, horror: a move away from lockstep rote learning!  That would never do...

But, back to that teacher and back to that school. It wasn’t a jolly adventure holiday camp he was talking about.  In fact, I could see where the camp had been just by looking out of the window.  There it was, a huge expanse of bare dirt where once hundreds of grass-thatched mud huts had stood, row after row.  That was where the teacher and his colleagues had lived for the last few years, some moving there voluntarily to be safe after attacks in their community, but most being forcibly removed.  The Ugandan army regarded those who did not move into the camps as enemy combatants and dealt with them accordingly.  The teacher and his colleagues had only got out a couple of years ago.  Like many aspects of life in the north, the education system was having to deal with the impact on adults and children of long-term institutionalisation and learned helplessness.
P1 line up on the site of the old IDP camp.
The last remaining huts in an old IDP camp near Gulu.
As for the school store having been burnt down: the rebels had been right across this area, not just burning books and burning schools but burning houses, burning people.  That week we had had two separate interviews with district education officers working in different parts of the north.   Both of them had said that one of the major priorities for education in their area was to improve the supply of teachers in the rural areas.  Some of the classes had 200 pupils.  The area desperately needed more teachers and the main way of achieving that goal was to provide them with houses – but not any old thatched hut like the one they used to live in before they transferred to the camps or the ones they occupied while they were there.  

Traditional homestead.  Little house on stilts is a granary.
No, grass-thatched houses would no longer do, but not because of any deep-grained snobbery derived from obsessive perusal of Homes and Gardens magazine.  Teachers had been no more immune from attack than any of their neighbours.  Too many of them had cowered in their huts or out in the bush as the rebels attacked, barely escaping with their lives as a swiftly wielded brand caught the thatch and the whole hut went up.  No, they wanted ‘strong’ houses, brick houses, and who can blame them?  Some of these new houses for teachers are now being built, but still not enough and not in all the most out-of-reach areas where they are really needed.

New teachers' houses.
The Lira area where we were, showed a few more signs of communities being rebuilt and farmland being regenerated than we had seen in the immediate Gulu area.  We had stayed in Lira itself, a pleasant rural town with some old Asian buildings.  Like Gulu, Lira had taken in thousands of internally displaced people during the height of the insurgency.  By the time we got there the camps had all been dismantled and the only signs of their erstwhile existence were the tell-tale bare acres where once the crowded rows of huts had stood.

Lira
International donors are still driving a major Food Security Programme in the north of Uganda, but the large warehouses of imported food are gradually being closed down.  The emphasis now is on people growing their own food, for which they may be given seeds and hoes by donors, though they are also trying to encourage self-reliance.  Producing their own food is essential for people’s self-respect, for the well-being of their children and for the long-term eradication of hunger in the region.   We could see people digging the rough overgrown land using traditional hoes, but we also saw two or three examples of bullock-drawn ploughs.  With the rains having arrived, it was now time to plant.

Plough at work.
We were visiting schools way out near the border of Karamoja, in Otukwe district.  VSO would have had a hairy fit if they’d known!  Cattle raids from across the border were very common until recently, when the government started cracking down on the activities of the Karamajong warriors, apprehending – and killing – many of them.  The cattle raids now tend to be carried out within their own community, so Karamoja is still not really safe for us to visit. Every so often a raiding party will attack a vehicle and travellers will be shot.  The most recent incident was on Saturday in the Kidepo National Park when a ranger was shot, caught in cross-fire. Karamoja is on the FCO’s ‘banned list’ of areas within Uganda, and most people tend to either fly in and out or go in as part of a UN convoy, flak jackets and all.  We didn't fancy explaining to Link Community Development why their Landcruiser had been hijacked and its tyres turned into rubber sandals.  So, we went no further than Otukwe.  Rebels and raiders: the people of Lira have had a lot to bear.

On the way to school.
However, as we bounced down the long murram roads we could see clear signs that life was returning to ‘normal’.  By 7 o’ clock in the morning, long lines of children were trotting off to school.  Every so often we saw small groups of them hunkering down at the side of the road putting things into plastic containers.  We learnt that these were white ants, a delicacy in the Lira area.  They are usually boiled or fried and made into a sauce or a paste.  (Stuart prefers Heinz.)  We guessed that there would be a few late pupils.  

Gathering ants at first light, on the way to school.
Indeed, the flood of school children showed little sign of abating as the morning went on.  Surely by eleven o’clock they should all have been at their desks.  Alas, no.  Indeed, many of them appeared to be coming away from school.  The colleague with whom we were travelling rolled down the window and questioned one of the pupils.  He had been sent home from school as he hadn't brought the additional ‘development fees’ charged by the local school.  Such fees are perfectly legal, though paying them is not obligatory.  They are big business in government schools in Kampala and prevent thousands of pupils from taking advantage of the country’s ‘free’ universal primary education.  In Kampala the fees could be 30,000 shillings (about £10) per term, or more.  In this poor rural school, the additional fees were 2,000 shillings (about 70p).  However, subsistence farmers do not have money, particularly those who have been in the camps and are just beginning to turn the first turfs on new farmland.  Money only comes from selling cash crops, not yet grown in any significant quantities in the Otukwe area.  Scores of children were being turned away from the school because their parents could not afford to pay the fee.

On the way back.
It is at times like this that you realise why you chose to become a school inspector.  You can make a real difference to children’s lives.  With our colleague we continued our visits to two other schools in the area, then, on the way back to the district education office, we would make a detour to the school from which these pupils had come.  In the meantime, we carried out the usual sort of visits, visiting classes, checking on files, gathering information on attendance (by headteacher, teachers and pupils), and judging health and sanitation by checking the water supply and the pit latrines (ugh!).  Checking the toilets was never a popular job when I belonged to HMIE.  However, Ugandan pit latrines belong to a different order of sanitation altogether.  The stench is of a different order also, an eye-watering experience.  Stuart and I spent a good bit of the day trying to control our gagging reflex. 

End of the day, not a cheerful looking crowd.
Our inspections in the local schools threw up a number of problems.  Each time, our colleague probed gently but relentlessly.  He got people laughing and provided probably some of the best staff development they had ever had.  What were the issues?

'What are they doing here?'
Firstly, almost every time we arrived in a school the children were peering out of the doorways and the staff appeared from the other side of the compound.  One major problem in Ugandan schools is teacher attendance, a form of corruption which involves them claiming a teacher’s salary but working for half the week as a small trader or boda boda driver.  Another problem is that even if teachers are in school they may not actually be teaching.  In fact, it was not unusual to come across a class packed with 70 or 80 P6 pupils all sitting patiently, with NO teacher in sight.  The teacher was elsewhere, sometimes marking, at other times at home.  Sometimes the headteacher was not there either, gone ‘into town’ to deal with personal business.  In such schools, the offices are often disorganised.  They have missing files, incomplete or no registers, hardly any lesson planning and definitely no improvement plans.  Worse, there had often been no visits from the local district inspector who is the very person who should be picking up and dealing with such issues.  Sometimes there is no district inspector.  Sometimes s/he stays in the office and writes reports from there (yes, truly!), if at all.  The overall purpose of our visits was to check up on the inspections carried out by the district.

We found schools which had deliberately inflated their school rolls in order to get a higher per capita allowance, virtually unknown in Scotland, but a rampant form of corruption in Uganda.  Again, patient unpicking of the evidence involved matching the official school numbers with the names in the individual registers (when these were kept...).  Our colleague told headteachers salutary stories about potential legal repercussions as well as the implications for child protection.  He stressed the need to note how many pupils were orphans (sometimes between a third and a half) so they could be better supported, in particularly those in child-headed households.

Proud owner of a homemade ball:
a bundle of old plastic bags wrapped round with string.
We found illegal boarding facilities which had not been registered with the district.  Parents often feel that their children will do better in boarding accommodation: they don’t have to walk long distances to school, providing more time for study. Also, they get their meals.  However, schools often convert old classrooms without considering necessary health and safety requirements such as emergency exits, sanitation and solid bunk beds.  They may not have matrons to provide care or night watchmen, essential in an area where thousands of children have been abducted.

Boarding accommodation, windows partially blocked for privacy.

Children sleep on mattresses on the ground.
School kitchen providing food for the boarders.
At the end of the afternoon, and by now extremely tired, hot, thirsty and grimy, we made our way through the bush to the school which had sent the pupils away.  What were the ‘development fees’ being used for?  ‘Teachers’ houses,’ was the answer. The school had four houses for eight teachers.  It needed more.  Our experienced DES colleague carefully explained that the government does not allow children to be turned away from school because they do not have ‘development fees’.  The practice was illegal and he was within his rights to fetch a policeman.  The poor headteacher, two weeks into post, was apologetic.  He hadn't realised.  He wouldn't do it again.

Weary and hungry, our heads buzzing with what we had learned, we drove back to Lira.  My eyes were burning and my nose streaming: hay fever from the dust and, no doubt, from the fleas in the schools.   Halfway back we could see a pickup stuck in the ditch, surrounded by passengers.  We slowed down to inch past.  A polite knock on the window from a smartly dressed young man: could we give him a lift?  Of course.  Another knock.  ‘It’s my ‘brother.  Can you take him too?'    'OK, hop in.’  Another knock...you get the story.  We made it to Lira an hour or so later, all eight of us, including a man with an empty jerry can for petrol and a live hen who expressed her displeasure by squawking loudly all the way.  Or perhaps she was just pleased to be riding in style.  By this time tears were running down my cheeks.  It was the hay fever, honest.


Memorial to the  conflict - Lira.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rebuilding Northern Uganda

The waters of the Nile rushed white and foaming beneath us: the Karuma Falls, gateway to what could almost have been another country altogether.  The soldiers posted on the bridge gesticulated and shouted at us not to take photographs.   Sorry, my finger slipped. 

Karuma Falls, the gateway to northern Uganda.
Once we crossed the bridge, we could see that we were in northern Uganda.  We had driven for mile upon mile across central Uganda on a broad tarmacked road that ran as straight as a die from Kampala to Gulu, if you ignore the long bend to the left round Lake Kyoga.  We had sped across the wide sweep of rich agricultural land of central Uganda, almost every inch of which was farmed, sometimes almost too intensively.  

Turning bush into farmland.
The precious wetlands are being encroached upon and mile after mile of Uganda’s forest turned into charcoal for urban cooking stoves.  We had seen herds of cows grazing in clearings, nibbling their way down the verges and criss-crossing the road itself, well aware that they were the most important and valuable creatures in Uganda, far more valuable than their two-legged keepers.

Turning forest into charcoal.
Across the bridge into Acholi-land, the land should be just as productive, if not more so.  This is the most fertile farm land in Uganda. From the road to the horizon we saw acres of green, but not the green of crops.  This land has not been farmed for years, some of it not for twenty years or more.  It was getting late and in the failing light we could barely make out the low grass-thatched huts, for they were hidden below the tall encroaching bush.  They were in much larger groups than in other rural areas we had visited and clustered behind the brick shop fronts in the trading centres.  Many of the shops and houses had been abandoned and we drove through long lines of empty ruinous shells.  Nevertheless, the road was still good, for soldiers need good roads.


Huts surrounded by weeds and bush.
Why were Stuart and I visiting the north?  We had wanted to come here for ages, keen to see how education was helping to rebuild war-torn communities and mend shattered lives. Fortunately we did see signs of physical regeneration: new brick buildings and freshly thatched houses.  However, the land itself had scarcely been touched: mile upon mile of rich farmland going to waste, from the Albert Nile in the west right across the top of Uganda. 

Many of you will already be aware of the conflict in the north of Uganda, so just skip the italicised paragraphs below.  However, for those of you who are interested, here’s a summary, with some links to further reading. 

In the nineteen eighties, the northern Acholi and Langi formed a high proportion of the Ugandan national army and during the bush war were accused of violence against civilians in the south of the country.  In 1986, Yoweri Museveni successfully rebelled against the government headed by President Okello, who, like his ousted predecessor President Obote, came from the north.  The northern soldiers fled home, fearing reprisals.  Many northerners regarded Museveni not as a liberator but as an oppressor and accused Museveni’s National Resistance Army of terrorising the north.  The area has experienced only brief snatches of peace since that time.

Under Museveni, Uganda’s economy, devastated by the Amin years, gradually picked up, helped by huge amounts of western aid.  Central and western Uganda benefited most from this investment, while the north and north- east suffered relative neglect, a situation which some came to believe was ‘punishment’ for the region’s role in the bush war.  Some commentators suggest that influential politicians deliberately encouraged southerners to see the northern tribes as ‘barbaric’ and violent.   Ex-soldiers in the north became fertile recruiting ground for rebel forces.   In 1987, an insurgency by Alice Lakwena and her Holy Spirit Movement got to the outskirts of Jinja, within kicking distance of Kampala, before being defeated.  However, it was the rebellion by Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) shortly after this defeat which tore the whole of northern Uganda apart and traumatised an entire population. You may be interested in the following accounts of the conflict.  The Wizard of the Nile: the hunt for Africa’s most wanted by Matthew Green is about how a journalist ‘chases’ the story of Kony.  It includes telling accounts of interviews with Ugandan military personnel, ex-child soldiers and rebel leaders.  The Worst Date Ever or how it took a comedy writer to expose Africa’s secret war by Jane Bussmann covers similar territory and is cleverly written and (astonishingly) both very funny and deadly serious.

Kony's tactics were horrific and included burning villages, killing babies in front of their mothers, hacking off limbs of people seen riding bicycles and padlocking or slicing off their lips, ears and nose as a warning not to inform. The rebels also abducted children and young people, at least 10,000 of them, from as young as seven though most were between 12 and 14.  Some managed to escape after a matter of months; others stayed for years.   The girls were raped and acted as rebels’ ‘wives’, bearing their children and, in many cases, becoming HIV positive.  Some, like the boys, became soldiers, the core of Kony’s ‘army’, a good number apparently eventually identifying with the beliefs and values of the LRA and even attaining high rank.  Kony claimed to be a spirit medium and his soldiers had to follow various rituals and rules.  The abductees sometimes had to undergo initiation ceremonies in which they were asked to attack their own villages or maim or kill new abductees or people close to them: their friends, neighbours or even members of their own families.  This tactic made it difficult for them to run away and return home as they were overwhelmed by guilt and fear that they would no longer be accepted by their own communities. If they were discovered escaping, they were severely punished and usually killed.  (This YouTube video tells you more: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oe1kcEXIUnI)


Map showing areas of northern Uganda affected by conflict.
At the worst of the insurgency, villages right across the north were affected: about a third of the country.  The most famous case of abduction was that of 139 girls from St Mary’s College, Aboke, the raiding party including boys abducted a couple of weeks earlier from Sir Samuel Baker’s School.  Both of these are well-known and respected establishments - rather like abducting girls from St George’s School Edinburgh using boys from Stewart’s Melville.  Sister Rachele, the deputy head, managed to negotiate the release of all but 30 girls and, with the Concerned Parents Association, spent years searching for the rest (See Aboke Girls by Els De Temmerman). 

The St Mary’s abduction is just one of many similar incidents.  Over the years, up to 25,000 young children used to walk miles into Gulu every evening to sleep on the streets, just to be safe from abduction.  There is scarcely a family in the north untouched by the conflict: parents losing children, children losing parents, thousands maimed for life, physically and psychologically.  More than 10,000 civilians were killed in Gulu and Kitgum alone.  Dozens of schools were destroyed.

The government’s reaction to the rebel activity was to herd almost the whole of the rural population, 1.8 million people, into Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps to ‘protect’ them from the LRA, rather like the British incarceration of Boer civilians in concentration camps in the early twentieth century.  People could no longer farm their land, which reverted to bush.  Instead they were fed by the World Food Programme and other international donors.  The camps were enormous, some holding 45,000 people and even as many as 80,000.  Imagine grass-thatched mud huts as far as the eye can see.  We saw the remnants of these camps as we travelled around the region, most now occupied only by the elderly and disabled, those with nowhere else to go.  Sanitation was totally inadequate and children’s education completely disrupted.  Community values and structures broke down, the rate of defilement (child rape) and prostitution soared and sexually transmitted diseases swept through the camps and among the Ugandan troops who acted as the inhabitants’ ‘protectors’.  Thousand of those living in the camps died from preventable diseases, including a third of all children under five. 

Last remaining huts in an old IDP camp.
The insurgency went on for twenty years and spread from Acholi-land across the Lango region and into Teso in the east.  Many analysts claim that the Ugandan government was very slow to resolve the situation and a few have said that this delay was deliberate, an attempt to destroy the Acholi culture.   (See The Lord’s Resistance Army: myth and reality edited by Tim Allen and Koen Vlassenroot)  Many parents were traumatised: they wanted the government to end the conflict, but were reluctant for the rebels to be bombed as many of them were their children. Even if their children eventually returned, they had changed and many had done terrible things.  Re-integrating them into families with younger children was difficult.

The conflict is still not resolved.  Even though it is now about five years since the last attack in Uganda, the rebels have simply moved across the border into neighbouring Congo and the Central African Republic where they continue to carry out their mutilations, rapes and abductions.

The victims of Kony’s rebellion were his own people.   Some young people have returned to live in communities after having done terrible things.  Many others have never returned home, or have no homes to go to.  People who have not farmed their fields for twenty years have forgotten their skills and their children, unlike those elsewhere in Uganda, have never learned them. Property boundaries have been lost or forgotten.  Landmines and discarded weaponry are sometimes still a hazard.  Many of those who moved into towns like Gulu or Lira are reluctant to leave, having got used to an urban lifestyle and fearing to return to their old way of life, far from health and other services.  They have also lost the habit of providing their own food having lived off hand outs for the best part of twenty years.  During the conflict, the number of cattle fell to 2% of the previous numbers and annual income to just 10% of the national average. 

One of the most serious social issues in the north is the large number of young people – abductees and those brought up in camps - whose education has been completely disrupted, who have no jobs, lack relevant skills and are without family support.  Many ex-child soldiers and adult rebels are alienated from their communities despite attempts to reintegrate them by reviving traditional Acholi approaches to reconciliation.  All these factors have led to a growing view that the area remains a potential powder keg.  Rebuilding northern Uganda is therefore a major priority for international aid agencies and, indeed, for the government. Towns like Gulu have been awash with such agencies for years, dealing with the victims of the insurgency as it unfolded.  Now their main concern is to mend a broken society.

Junctions in Gulu are covered with signposts to aid agencies.
All this sounds very grim.  However, we did see some very promising work which we believe will make a real difference to young people’s lives and to northern Uganda as a whole.  We tend to think that Ugandan education is too theoretical, too rigid and too focused on passing examinations.  Skills development is correspondingly neglected.  The Uganda of the future needs young people who are flexible, innovative and creative.  They need to be able to make their own jobs, because there certainly will not be enough for the rapidly rising population.  This is even truer of northern Uganda.  Here young people literally have to learn to rebuild their communities. 

St Joseph's Technical School
St Joseph’s Technical School just outside Gulu is an established technical school which trains 200 young people in construction, carpentry and vehicle mechanics, in addition to the usual secondary subjects such as English, maths, physical education and the sciences.  Students also study entrepreneurship.  New courses to attract female students include catering and tailoring.  

Practical construction work.
New kitchen for catering studies.  Donated electric cooker on the right.
Students also learn to cook using traditional charcoal stoves.
The school's own kitchen.
Donated Singer sewing machines powered by treadles.
All students undertake practical placements with local employers and take UNEB examinations and the Uganda Junior Technical Certificate.   Students either enrol at around 13 having passed the primary leaving examination (with varied success) or in S2 or S3 having dropped out of ‘academic’ secondary schools.  Many have poor skills in literacy and numeracy and all have been affected by the conflict in one way or another.  A priority therefore is to help learners develop basic skills and provide appropriate support and counselling.  Charities like War Child and World Vision are doing sterling work in the north, providing training for adults like those at St Joseph’s who work with distressed and vulnerable young people.  They also provide direct support for such young people themselves.  World Vision has provided considerable support to St Joseph's.  (This video gives you a brief insight into War Child’s work - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsD8mGZbRq4 )   

You will also be pleased to know that the European Union is using your taxes to improve the facilities and resources at St Joseph’s.  Indeed, the German government has set up a computer lab in a container, complete with solar panels, and provided training and technical support.  The accommodation and resources may not look particularly modern or sophisticated by UK standards, but they represent a major investment in developing the skills of young people in the Gulu area.  We are told that young people from St Joseph’s are successful in gaining employment or moving on to further education establishments.

Computer lab in a container, solar panels on the roof.
Inside the computer lab.
A more ambitious development for an older age group is the newly established Northern Uganda Youth Development Centre at Labora not far from Gulu, where some of our VSO colleagues work.  

Northern Uganda Youth Development Centre.
The Centre takes young people aged 14 to 35 irrespective of any qualifications they may or may not have.  All have missed out on education through being abducted, orphaned or involved in conflict.  Some may have been boy or girl soldiers.  Some students come from nearby South Sudan, also a war-torn area.  The Centre is supported by the Commonwealth and receives funding from the UK’s Department for International Development, in other words, from your taxes.  It currently has 680 students, a huge increase on the 126 it catered for last year.  All students are residential, for almost all have no homes to go to.  Originally they lived in old IDP accommodation but now live on the campus.

Learning to dig.
Happy hens.
As at St Joseph's, the curriculum is skills-based.  A major strand of the Centre’s work is developing farming skills among young people who may not even be aware of the life cycle of plants.  It has a poultry unit and piggery.  Other courses include carpentry, metal work, construction and electrical installation, all skills which are essential for rebuilding the infrastructure of northern Uganda.  The curriculum also includes catering, tailoring and art & design courses.  All the courses develop practical job-related skills.  Students are presented for a range of certification including trades-based assessment.  The Centre also has four satellite centres across the north.

USAID-donated machine for making animal feed.
We have sometimes felt quite pessimistic about the capacity of aid agencies to deliver discernible improvements which have a real and sustainable impact on the lives of people in Uganda.  However, we were very encouraged to see the range of work which international donors and NGOs are doing in the north.  The focus on developing practical skills which motivate young people and encourage them to be financially independent is entirely appropriate.  We are aware of the current financial pressures on people in the west.  We hope you see these developments as a worthwhile use of your hard-earned taxes.  You are all making a real difference to the lives of young people in northern Uganda.


You may also be interested in the following posts:

A moral and legal conundrum: justice for northern Uganda

Visiting schools in northern Uganda



Saturday, March 19, 2011

It never rains but it pours…

Only ten days ago I was bewailing the lack of water.  Then at the beginning of this week the heavens opened and it has rained every day and night since!   OK, not ALL the time but for quite extended periods – a couple of hours or more at a time sometimes.  And, also, not everywhere: the drought-ridden areas are still bone dry.

Fetching rainwear in Kampala
But what rain!  Just imagine being on the west coast of Scotland during the holiday season.  In my own mind I can recall a three week holiday in Ballachulish with my French pen friend when I was 15.  It rained non-stop – stair rods - throughout those three weeks and I can honestly say there wasn’t a woollen mill within 50 miles of Loch Leven which we didn’t visit.

Uganda does rain properly.
Well, those of you who know the west coast well, just visualise that rain, then multiply its force by ten and add in gale force winds, skies illuminated by lightning and the sound of crashing thunder.  That was the weather we encountered when visiting a primary school deep in the countryside east of Kampala on Tuesday.  We had got as far as the headteacher’s office when the wind rose, tearing through the insubstantial building and threatening to whip off the roof.  Peering through the downpour, we could just make out the classrooms across the quadrangle, children clustering at the doorways underneath the overhang, shivering in their thin cotton garments.  It was after lunch and the children – who should have been already sitting at their desks - were still dashing up and down through the mud to the pit latrines, soaked through within 3 seconds of being outdoors.  Most were barefoot and the few who had shoes had taken them off to save them being spoilt.

No sign of most of their teachers, of course.  Some had not made it back from their houses, not an unusual situation in Ugandan schools regardless of the weather, and some had simply decided not to bother teaching.  To be fair, it was virtually impossible to hear oneself think let alone speak because of the heavy drumming on the corrugated iron roofs.  Nevertheless, it should not have been beyond the bounds of possibility – otherwise called teacher creativity – to devise some written tasks which could have been completed despite the rain.   Unfortunately, the Ugandan approach to lesson planning does not allow for any flexibility.  It is easier to stop teaching than to organise an activity which is not in the plan: somewhat ironic given that we have found no evidence of strategic forward planning in any other aspect of Ugandan education!

So, while we struggled through our interview with the deputy headteacher (because, of course, the headteacher was absent), the children generally milled around, scampered through the mud and learned nothing whatsoever throughout the couple of hours we were there.  These are pupils who broke up at the end of November and have scarcely been to school since the start of the new school year at the beginning of February because of the disruption caused by the elections.  It will be the Easter holiday in a month’s time and in five months they will scarcely have had one month’s proper teaching. 

Imprisoned in the headteacher's office, we didn’t make it to the classrooms, but there would have been little point anyway.  Eventually some of the more enterprising children decided that they might at least take advantage of the rain to refill the thirty or so water containers for the next day from the overflow of the water tank, which did at least mean that the precious water wasn’t wasted.  We waited till the rain died down and then drove off along the long murram roads, grateful that our solid Landcruiser made it safely through the thick sticky mud and deep potholes.

Rain clouds over the Rwenzori foothills.
Back in Kampala, travelling was not much easier.  In the days before last month’s elections, the city’s potholes had been rapidly filled in with red murram and even rubbish, just to show that the capital’s ruling administration was efficient and effective.  Alas, these stop-gap measures have now been washed away and the potholes are as bad as ever, with deep waves of rainwater scouring them out and threatening to wash away any vehicle brave enough to be on the roads.  Predictable but typical of Uganda’s political short-termism.

However, things are getting interesting within Kampala city politics.  You may recall that the original mayoral elections were abandoned after the ruling party, NRM, was discovered to have planted a score of ballot boxes with pre-ticked papers at various ballot stations.  Newspapers allege that this wheeze was planned with the connivance of the NRM candidate, a pastor of the Miracle Church, a church which is at the crazier end of the Ugandan ‘born-again’ movement.  A dozen journalists were beaten up with nail-studded cudgels for attempting to report the vote-rigging.  Nevertheless, the whole incident was so embarrassing for the Electoral Commission whose agents had been caught helping the NRM do the ballot box stuffing, that they re-arranged the election and sacked twenty of their agents.  Any further vote-rigging would have been so blatant even for Uganda that the election at the beginning of this week went ahead quite smoothly and the Opposition candidate Erias Lukwago got in on an anti-corruption ticket, defeating the NRM candidate in a landslide victory.  The defeated NRM candidate has since announced that he is ‘going back to minting money’, an interesting doctrinal position.

All this leaves us with a very intriguing situation here.  We have a local government election result in Kampala which is quite at odds with the national election result for the same polling stations, but is apparently completely in tune with earlier voting patterns.  Kampala, so we are told, has always tended to return Opposition candidates.  We also have a Lord Mayor who is said to be anathema to the President and whose celebratory parade through Kampala was tear-gassed by the police.  Yes, true – you could not make it up!  Imagine the Metropolitan Police using tear gas to disrupt the Lord Mayor of London’s Parade…  There is a basic rule to the reporting of any Ugandan election activity.  Gatherings in favour of the ruling party are described as ‘enthusiastic crowds’.  Those in favour of the Opposition are described as ‘riots’ and quickly dispersed by armoured vehicles, teargas and, last week, by live ammunition, fortunately fired over participants’ heads. 

Just to make it even more interesting, the President has recently restructured local government in Kampala so that the Mayor has no access to any money.  The person who holds the purse strings is, apparently, a hardline NRM member.  What are the chances of our world-famous potholes being filled in permanently?  How are any of the bog-standard activities of local government going to be financed?  Mmmm… the words ‘struggle’ and ‘power’ come to mind.  So, interesting political weather in Kampala then. 

Who knows what the long-term weather forecast will be?  When Stuart and I, somewhat over-impressed by our recent electrical storms and downpours, asked our Ugandan friends whether this was now the much-delayed rainy season, they all prevaricated, saying, ‘Well, not really, you’re just seeing the first signs of a change in the weather.’  They told us to wait for a month or two to see the real thing.

Storm clouds over Palm Valley golf course.

A rain sodden view from our office car park.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hail to Uganda’s crème de la crème

Advanced Level results are out at last.  Congratulations to all the S6 candidates who have made it through the elimination contest which constitutes Ugandan education.  The government will support the best 4,000 A level students at one of the five public universities.  Among them will be its future leaders.  They are its elite.


Just think of the obstacles they have overcome.

  • They were among the fortunate 30% who survived primary education and completed P7.
  • They passed the primary leaving examination with grades which enabled them to be selected for secondary education. 
  • They were among the lucky two thirds of their secondary cohort to survive education until S4.
  • They then got good enough ‘O’ level passes to be selected for senior school.
  • They completed the two years of ‘A’ level, sat the exams and managed to pass.
  • Many of them have walked long distances to school, have done their homework by paraffin lamp or, if at boarding school, completed their prep during the early hours of the morning or late at night.
  • For the 13 years of their education, they have sat and passed fortnightly, monthly, mid-termly and termly tests, the results of which have been displayed publicly for all others to see.
  • Each year, they have passed promotional exams to enter the next stage, including at nursery, if they were lucky enough to attend.
  • They had parents or supporters who paid school fees during those 13 years (official fees for private schools or unofficial and supplementary for government schools) including, for many of them, boarding costs.
  • Their parents and supporters provided school uniform, including leather shoes, stationery and books.  In boarding schools, they also provided all their bedding and other domestic necessities.
  • They endured pretty basic boarding facilities in often overcrowded and sometimes unsafe dormitories and did their own laundry and household tasks within the school.
  • If they were girls, they successfully avoided rape, pregnancy, removal from school and/or being married off.

Of course, as in the UK, some students had it much easier than others.  Unsurprisingly, the ‘best’ results came from the ‘top’ schools, mostly in Kampala or nearby districts, those which are also the most selective. The privileged young people from schools like these shimmy their way through the ‘youth’ pages of the newspaper supplements, modelling expensive clothes, attending exclusive parties and brandishing the latest IT equipment.  So, the same inequalities exist as everywhere else in the world, but, perhaps, more so here.   Unfortunately, Ugandan newspapers seem to make no connection between selection and examination success, publishing only raw scores with no analysis.   

In some parts of the country, particularly in the north and east, virtually no pupils – and in four districts no pupils at all - were able to sit A level as their districts had scarcely any schools or, indeed, no schools providing teaching at this level.

Overall, fortunately, performance has risen, though girls’ performance is still lagging behind, and hence their access to university.  As elsewhere, girls did more poorly than boys in science, but ‘exhibited better communication skills and maturity of thought’ in the Daily Monitor’s summary of the UNEB report.

Many of the successful results hide difficult personal stories.  Many young people had trouble paying school fees, often being sent home for non-payment.  Others were luckier, having been supported by understanding school principals, well-wishers, charities or NGOs. 

One strong-minded young woman, who was also successful in winning a hotly contested youth seat on Entebbe Municipal Council, achieved very high grades despite being, as she said, ‘suspended for two weeks towards exams for reporting our Deputy headteacher after finding him strangling students.’ 

Despite achieving excellent ‘O’ level results, one young man ‘had only one option’, to go to teacher training college (the only free tertiary education in Uganda), when his parents could not afford the fees for a school which taught to A level.  He took up a teaching post at a primary school but ‘would sneak to A-Level schools to get notes for S5 and read on my own.’

More than half the inmates at Luzira Maximum Security Prison who sat A level qualified for university entrance: 16 out of 30, a remarkable achievement which points to tragic waste of talent and potential.  The rest also achieved, though at lower levels.  Commendably, the Ugandan prison service enables successful students to take tertiary studies in Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management, supported by Makerere University Business School.  Interestingly, those on death row performed better than the rest. They expressed their gratitude to the authorities for enabling them to study, and asked for ’a second chance in life to contribute to the development of the country’.  Amen to that, we say…

Interestingly, a week before the A level results came out, the newspapers also reported the results of the technical and vocational examinations.  Here performance has fallen, with almost half of all candidates failing, a situation which the Ugandan Examination Board blamed on ‘inadequate facilities for practical lessons, shortage of teachers and inadequate syllabus coverage.’  In other words, low status and perceived worth.  The BTVET (business, technical and vocational) sector is probably the most important to Uganda’s future.  With one of the highest birth-rates in the world and a greater proportion of unemployed young people than virtually anywhere else, Uganda needs skilled craftsmen and women, healthcare staff and technicians, in particular those who have entrepreneurial skills and can make jobs for themselves.  The public services are failing Uganda, leaching away its resources and feeding the nation’s endemic corruption.  It is probably going to be the private sector which saves the country.  But the private sector needs people with technical skills, creativity and passion for enterprise, not those eliminated and failed by an out-of-date and elitist education system.

Ugandan students are surely among the most determined, persevering and committed in the world.  Given the obstacles placed in their paths, despite the introduction of universal secondary education, one would almost think that the country did not want the kind of educated, literate, thinking citizens that make democracy a reality.  The personal, practical and intellectual qualities these successful technical/vocational and A level students have demonstrated will make them invaluable contributors to the process of building their country and addressing the inequities which have held back or excluded their peers.  

These young people are indeed la crème de la crème.  The future is in their hands.


You may also be interested in What do we mean by 'motivation'?, about the material rewards some privileged Ugandan schools use to 'motivate' their pupils.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The water of life....

I really woke up to the fact that I was in Africa the day I was told by a kindly but more experienced volunteer that, no, it would not be a good idea to set up water play at Royal Pride Academy.  You see, I had had this lovely picture of my own two sons splashing around in bowls of water in their pre-school years.  They never tired of pouring water from jug to container and through sieves and funnels, all the time learning about quantity and volume, about floating and sinking.  Somewhat naively, I thought that this would be a great activity to introduce to Royal Pride so I started saving all my plastic containers and squeezy bottles.  All we would need were two or three large plastic bowls and the nursery class would be well set up.

Alas, no.  There is no water on site at Royal Pride.  It all has to be carried down the hill from the standpipe.  Water is precious.  Uganda may normally have a high rainfall, but water is not necessarily safe for infants to play in.  The water from the standpipe is ‘improved’ water, but far too precious to splash around with.  Every drop matters.  The same, of course, applies to food.  I must admit that I have always been a bit uncomfortable about the propensity of Scottish primary schools to use macaroni, lentils and kidney beans for purely decorative purposes.  These are foodstuffs, not craft materials, for goodness sake!  Well, even more so in Uganda.  If you are a hungry child, the last thing you want to see is your teacher ‘wasting’ good food on making musical instruments or decorating pictures.

Water is for health and survival, whether it’s for drinking or washing.  One of the government’s Basic Requirements and Minimum Standards for schools includes access to a clean water supply.  In practice, ‘access’ is defined as the availability of water within one kilometre of the school.   Schools without a bore hole or access to a standpipe with national water either send pupils to collect (and possibly pay for) water from the nearest village or trading centre, or expect them to bring their own supply.  We quite often see the more fortunate children walking to school with small water bottles. 

Link’s health programme for primary schools includes promotion of safe water and sanitation.  Link provides practical support for schools in making the best use of what water they do have.  For example Link officers may demonstrate how to make a ‘tippy tap’ out of easily available materials: a clean used 3 litre jerry can, a stick to fit through its handle, lengths of string, support poles and a stick to act as accelerator.  With such simple devices, schools can protect children from disease and train them in basic hygiene.  In so doing, they help children to develop attitudes, skills and knowledge which they can take back to their families as well as use when bringing up their own children, in many cases not long after they leave primary school.

A tippy-tap (Caritas)
At Royal Pride Academy, the water butt and guttering have now been installed, you will be pleased to hear.  Fortunately there has been enough rain to partially fill the tank and the system is now in operation.  The water is for hand washing, so drinking water still has to be brought from the standpipe further up the hill.  Nevertheless, it’s a great improvement.   Many thanks to all those who contributed to this project. 

Rainwater butt at Royal Pride - almost finished, a pipe and tap
to be placed where you see a damp patch on the right.
Access to water is a basic right.  Yet, like many Europeans, we have often felt quite far removed from the natural rhythms of rain and sunshine.  In Scotland we always felt that we saw too little sun and too much rain!  Even here in Uganda, we are quite protected.  When the tap in our kitchen dries up, we use the taps in the bathroom or shower-room which are supplied from the tanks on the roof.  Lack of water at work, a long standing situation, simply means that we don’t receive our usual thermos of boiled water to make coffee.  Instead, we have to remember to bring bottled water with us, but then we can afford it.  Yet whole areas of Kampala and its suburbs have been without water for weeks.  Embarrassingly, because we find food here very cheap by UK standards, we often don’t even notice any increase in prices.  Uganda is beginning to educate us, but we are still very privileged, indeed, spoilt.

Uganda as a whole is going through a prolonged dry season just now, as a result of La Nina.  We should be well into the rainy season in March, but despite the occasional clouds and a few modest drops of rain, there is little sign that it is on its way.  As in many areas of Africa, and indeed, across the world, the climate in Uganda is changing as a result of global warming.  People tell us that the seasons are not as distinct as they used to be and that the timing of the rains is becoming more difficult to predict.  The water table has gone down and water levels in Uganda’s lakes have fallen, including in Lake Victoria.  The expansion of the Sahara further south is affecting Uganda.  

In Uganda, the areas suffering most are in what is called the ‘cattle corridor’ from Kampala to the west, as well as to the north and east. In Uganda, cattle are very important.  They are not just the source of milk and very good quality beef, they are also a form of currency and the cause of much pride.  Indeed, the bride price may often still be paid in cattle.  So important are cows that in Karamoja, cattle-rustling is a way of life. 

Cattle on the road to Masindi, before the drought set in.
Lack of water affects cattle-rearing areas disproportionately. In Kasese, to the west, many animals have died as the pastures have dried up.  The few water sources remaining are being overwhelmed by a sudden influx of starving cattle from elsewhere.  The Daily Monitor writes of some farmers having to trek 13 kilometres with their cattle to reach water.  It is a similar story in the Masindi and Sembabule areas, where it is said that the milk yield has gone down by half.  The Ministry of Agriculture is advising farmers to cull some of their herds, a hard message.

In Karamoja, the rains have failed frequently over the last few years with resulting food shortages and feeding programmes run by international agencies.  The government has an agreement with Israel for support in water conservation, including the building of damns.  Agricultural agencies are educating people about introducing more varied approaches to farming, trying to persuade semi-nomadic pastoralists to grow crops and rear goats and chickens.  Such approaches, however, require changes to centuries-old cultural practices.

Even though, traditionally, Uganda has not had a problem with water because of its relatively high rainfall, access to water is becoming an important feature of government policy and daily life.  Almost all families rely on water from standpipes.  The national water department is working its way across the country burying pipes and setting up community taps.  Uganda has been doing reasonably well in extending access to improved water compared with its neighbours.  Over 90% of urban residents now have access to such water, and about 70% in the rest of the country. 

However, in rural areas, the distance which women and children have to travel to collect water is getting greater as bore holes fail and water courses dry up.  Two kilometres may not sound much, but they are if you are carrying a fifteen litre container of water on your head.  The time taken to collect water at the beginning of the day eats into children’s school time.  The further they have to walk, the later they are for school.  And if they are late for school, they are often beaten.  We see them struggling along with two or three water containers.  Children often have to join long queues at the standpipes, many of which have started to run quite slowly.  They may even have to make several journeys, for Ugandan families are large and need a lot of water: for drinking, cooking, washing and often for watering animals.  In Kamuli, people told journalists that they get up as early as 4am but still find 50 jerry cans ahead of them in the queue.  They are cutting down on mopping their homes and washing their children.  Sometimes boreholes have become contaminated with worms and maggots or with human and animal faeces.  In whole areas of the country like Bukedea, hand-dug wells and springs have long since dried up. Even the River Rwizi, which serves the major city of Mbarara is running dry.  Enterprising individuals sell jerry cans of water, but the prices are steadily rising.  The price of a 20-litre jerry can has risen from Shs200 to as much as Shs1,000 (around 30 pence).  This may sound very cheap, but many people live on less than Shs3,000 a day.  

School child fetching water
Crops are dying in the fields in Acholi-sub-region to the north and food prices are going up.  The newspaper reports that rice has gone up from Shs1,800 to Shs2,000 a kilogramme, beans from Shs1,200 to Shs1,700 and maize flour from Shs1,000 to Shs1,200.  Farmers are reported as harvesting only half as many bunches of matooke as five months ago, leading to another price rise.  This month should be the planting season for some crops, and the flowering season for bananas, pineapples and coffee.  The flowers, however, have begun to wither and are now unlikely to bear fruit.   Although there is enough food for most people just now, shortages will start biting in May/June when current stocks have run out.  All this in Uganda, a country which has been called the ‘breadbasket of Africa’! 

Bunches of matooke for sale.
So what is the government doing about it?  Its meteorologists sent out the first warnings of possible drought in November.  Then what?  The Minister for Disaster Preparedness told the Daily Monitor that ‘the population has been taken up by elections so we have not been focused on the welfare of the people’, a statement he may live to regret.  It is all hands on deck now.  TV adverts in English caution people to use food and water carefully as the rains are not likely to arrive until May, two months late.  Most of the rural population do not have electricity let alone TVs, nor do they understand English.   Fortunately, the government is now also sending out SMS messages, although also in English, asking people to store food and water – a tall order for those who live from hand to mouth.  However, at least the messages make a change from the ‘old man in the hat’ thanking us for voting NRM.  Farmers are being warned not to plant all their seeds, although many, unfortunately, already have.    They are being advised to conserve moisture by digging furrows and spreading their planting across the season.  In the longer term the recommendation is to plant drought-resistant strains, including GM varieties.

The drought does not just affect families and farmers.  It affects schools.  In previous droughts, children have stopped attending school as they are sent by their families to search for water or food.  Many children already do without food all day, not because their parents don’t care but because many families only have one meal per day and sending children to school with food means sending them to bed hungry.  School attendance is bound to fall during any protracted dry season.  If you are hungry and thirsty, walking to school may be just too much.  So the authorities are looking at their disaster-preparedness policies and considering the advice they are going to give schools.

How does this affect Stuart and me?  We, of course, being mzungus, will manage. And Stuart will complain to the Minister for Disaster Preparedness if the tees and greens have not been adequately watered!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Are we speaking the same language.....?

He says
Even if he tried
To answer my questions
I would not understand
What he was saying
Because the language he speaks
Is different from mine
So that even if he
Spoke to me in Acoli
I would still need an interpreter.

Song of Lawino by Okot p’Bitek has been a wonderful discovery.  I know that the poem has been on Ugandan school syllabuses for some time, and that every educated Ugandan knows about it.  However, it is new to me and, thanks to the Book Club I recently joined, represents another step in my exploration of Ugandan society, culture and literature. 

A bit of background first:  Song of Lawino is a dramatic monologue by an Acholi woman living a traditional life in the north of Uganda.  In the poem, published in the early 1970s, she bewails the fact that her husband, Ocol, has taken a second wife who is westernised and, in his eyes and probably in the eyes of society, more suited to him now he is university educated.  She recalls in turn each aspect of Acholi life which she sees as being devalued and scorned by Ocol.  In so doing, she paints a vivid picture of a society which even then was under threat.

And when my sister
Is grinding simsim
Mixed with groundnuts
And I am grinding
Millet mixed with sorghum
You hear the song of the stones
You hear the song of the grains
And the seeds
And above all these
The beautiful duet
By Lawino and her sister.

Okot wrote two versions of the poem, the first in Acholi and the second in English, rather like Sorley Maclean in Gaelic and English.  That fact in itself tells us something about the dilemma faced by African writers, similar to that faced by Gaelic writers and in many respects more challenging.  As one member of the book club said of his own writing, his first language is only spoken by a couple of thousand people.  Indeed, many of the 56 or more languages in Uganda do not even have a written form.  If they wish to be read, Ugandan writers almost always have to write in English, usually their second language. 

Of course, writing in your second language does not mean that you cannot be a great writer.   Think of Chinua Achebe writing in English and Camara Laye in French.  Think of the great writers of the Indian sub-continent and its diaspora.  Indeed, for some years it has almost been a truism that much of the best writing in English has originated in the Commonwealth.  Where would English literature be without Nigerians and Kenyans?  Sadly, no Ugandan writer has had the same international currency.   Who can tell what coincidence of circumstances, geography, culture and inheritance brings about outstanding creativity or the ability to break through to publication? 

Ugandans are educated in English almost from the time they enter primary school, and sometimes long before that, in nursery school.  Many upper middle class Ugandans speak English at home as their first language.  The government policy of using local language in the first three years of primary school is quite often ignored, particularly in towns, as parents want the social benefits of English for their children and, anyway, there may not be many, or any, reading books in the local language.  The policy, of course, has a well-accepted educational basis – using and developing your first language, or mother tongue, helps you develop intellectually.  The conceptual development of children who only learn through their second language, usually English, may be held back as they struggle to make sense of the teaching being delivered.  

An added complication in Uganda is that the government has recently announced that Ki-Swahili will now also be an official language.  Very few people in Uganda speak it and there are scarcely any teachers.  However, the country has entered the East African Common Market and must be able to communicate with its Kenyan and Tanzanian neighbours.  Francophone Rwanda has taken a similar step in making English its official language in place of French and faces similar problems.


However, Ugandan English differs from UK English in some subtle and some not so subtle respects.  Firstly, some words are pronounced differently, for example, a ‘ch’ sound is often used where we would use a hard ‘k’, for example in ‘security’, ‘documents’ and ‘curriculum’ - rather similar to Italian.  Beyond pronunciation, the same words may mean rather different things, for example, the word ‘scheming’ is quite pejorative in UK English but in Ugandan English it is simply the term used for teachers’ schemes of work. ‘The teachers have done their scheming’ is NOT a reference to subversive union activity.  Quite often Ugandan English drops the adverbial preposition (Jane, is that what it’s called?) from verbs, so that ‘pick’, for instance, is used where we would use ‘pick up’.  ‘I will pick you at 7’ does not imply some kind of selection activity.  Indeed, the word ‘pick’ is used in many different contexts where UK English speakers would select another word.  For example, in today’s paper, an interviewer asked a well-known gynaecologist ‘How did you pick interest in women’s health?’.  UK English speakers would not simply have chosen a different word; they would have expressed the thought completely differently.   ‘How did you start becoming interested in women’s health issues?’ would be nearer to what we would say.    We know what the interviewer means, so there is no problem with understanding, but the expression is just different.  Ugandan friends tell us that this choice of language reflects the use of the equivalent word to ‘pick’ in their local language.


None of these divergent usages interferes with understanding but they do make Ugandan English into a rather different language from its UK parent.  One can predict that in the not too distant future, African – or even Ugandan – English will bear the same relation to UK English as does American English.  Indeed, is it too fanciful to consider that perhaps we are seeing the first geological cracks in the continental plates similar to those which eventually separated Spanish, Italian and Romanian from their Latin origin, and have made three different languages of Norwegian, Danish and Swedish?  Certainly, I understand that in West Africa what used to be called ‘pidgin’ is now considered by linguists to be a language in its own right.  All this brings into question the hoary old issue of what is a language and what is a dialect, an issue which used to dominate discussions of the status of Doric in the north-east of Scotland, for example.  The equally hoary saying that ‘a language is a dialect with a gunboat’ has little relevance in Africa where national borders are rarely contiguous with linguistic boundaries.

But how does all this speculation about language relate to the mutual incomprehension of the unfortunate Lawino and her Ocol?  Language is not just about words, but about concepts.  As I noted earlier, children develop their thinking as they develop their vocabulary.  Ocol is talking about a whole world about which Lawino knows little.  Even if he had the words, he feels that she will not understand the concepts they relate to. 


Most Ugandan children learn English from teachers for whom it is also a second language which they learnt from their own teachers.  The breadth of vocabulary and expression which characterises UK English may not be something they are automatically exposed to, just as native English speakers often end up speaking an impoverished version of French.  Having a limited vocabulary can make it difficult for people to develop, not just express, their thoughts.  The implication of this linguistic narrowness for the education of Ugandan children is quite serious as they are not simply 'learning English', they are 'learning through English'.  Limitations in their grasp of English have a potentially negative impact on their learning of every subject on the curriculum.  In school it also opens up great chasms between upper middle class English speakers and those who are only introduced to English part way through primary school.  Yet they all sit the same examinations, in English, at the important transition points in their education.

The use of English as the main language of education, business and the professions potentially devalues the mother tongue.  It also devalues hugely important aspects of culture and the arts, for example, oral tradition and poetry which rarely have a place in the formal curriculum of Ugandan schools.  The use of English even affects one's personal identity.  One of the sadnesses of Uganda is the fact that almost everyone uses an English ‘Christian’ name.  Why is that?

My husband rejects me
Because, he says
I have no Christian name.
He says
Lawino is not enough.
He says
Acoli names are Jok names
And they do not sound good.
They are primitive, he insists,
And he is a progressive man.

Jok refers to traditional religion.   Ocol even goes as far as renaming his children, replacing their 'pagan' names as he calls them, with names which Lawino, their mother, cannot even pronounce.

His first born son is Jekcon (Jackson)
And his second he calls Paraciko (Francis)

Disappearance of names can so easily lead to disappearance of cultural - and personal - identity.  

Okot wrote a sequel to Song of Lawino, called Song of Ocol, in which Ocol rejects what Lawino stands for and presents what he thinks of as the way forward for the Acholi people.  Sweeping away ‘tribalism’ can involve sweeping away languages and sweeping away identity.

We will obliterate
Tribal boundaries
And throttle native tongues
To dumb death.

The poem concludes with the words.

What proud poem
Can we write
For the vanquished?