Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Is the word ‘corruption’ synonymous with the word ‘Uganda’?

‘The lesson is that given entrenched corruption in Uganda (which I don’t think even the opposition can end), the best way forward is to build consensus around promoting some public goods while accepting less costly violations of procurement rules.’

These words come from Andrew Mwenda, the highly – and justly - respected journalist who writes for The Independent (the Ugandan weekly, not the British daily).  The point of his article, ‘The price of Besigye-Museveni rivalry’, is that challenges to the probity with which major projects are conducted in Uganda actually delay desperately needed developments, with an inevitable impact on industry and hence the economy, as well as on individual lives.  He gives as an example the construction of the Bujagali dam, which was supposed to be completed in 2002 and is still under construction.  As an investigative reporter during the late 1990s when the plans were being discussed, he observed manipulation and bribery of politicians at first hand.  Mwenda claims that the institutions charged with oversight of government procurement used to force bidders to go before their committees in order to extract bribes from them, rather than to ensure that the process was clean and fair.  As a result of all the delays, the electrification vital for the development of Uganda’s industries, public services and infrastructure, including vital information and communications technology, has been painfully slow, the target still being only 20% of the country with access to electricity by 2015.

Mwenda’s is a pragmatic, and understandable, position, though absolutely damning in what it implies about the ethical standards of both the Ugandan public sector and the business community.  Its assumptions are that little can be done about corruption in Uganda in the short term: people just have ‘work round it’, accept that it exists and try to operate regardless.  Trying too hard to prevent it just results in nothing happening at all.

Certainly, you do not have to live here long before you become aware of how corruption’s tentacles wrap round every single public service, every government department and, presumably, every major business.  Companies wishing to bid for contracts are apparently expected to build in ‘sweeteners’ for influential people, or else they lose the deal.  Billions of shillings are salted away into people’s pockets or back bedrooms from government departments, local and national: sacks of it, quite literally sacks – bank notes a lot of the time, because Uganda is still largely a cash economy. Vans go between government departments loaded with the stuff. When confronted by corruption, people have three choices: blow the whistle and lose your job or contract, turn a blind eye and become complicit or demand a payoff and thus join the racket oneself.

So, what are we actually talking about?  Here is a selection of recent news stories from the papers.  Just remember, these are the instances of corruption which have actually come to light and are being dealt with.  The words ‘tips’ and ‘icebergs’ come to mind.
  • Senior officials in Jinja District are accused of giving themselves publicly-owned land near the Nile and putting it into their relatives’ names, with a view to claiming compensation once the new bridge is built.
  • In April, Shs300 million given to State House to fight poverty remained unaccounted for and the papers concerning the funds were passed to the Criminal Investigations Department by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
  • A couple of months ago the Monitor claimed that MPs had spent Shs4.6 billion on ‘fake’ foreign trips for which they had been unable to account properly to the PAC. (Though who are the British to speak about MPs cheating on travel and subsistence expenses?  Nevertheless, not even the most elaborate duck house costs quite this much.)
  • Health Ministry officials are accused of stealing Shs600million from the Ministry’s bank account, enough to buy vaccine for 7,500 people, during the yellow fever outbreak in northern Uganda at the end of last year.
  • More than half a dozen ‘ghost' fuel firms have been profiteering from the current high fuel prices.  Uganda imports most of its fuel from across the Kenyan border.
  • The National Sewerage Corporation has cut off a church in a Kampala suburb which had made three illegal bypasses enabling it to use more water than it paid for each month (Shs50,000, or about £12).
  • 125 police officers were demoted after it was found that they had paid bribes ranging from Shs 200,000 (£50) to Shs500,000 to officers in the Human Resource Management and Development Department, to gain promotion.
  • The Uganda Wildlife Authority is being investigated in relation to Shs85.5 billion given by the World Bank for the Protected Areas Management for Sustainable Use project, and some officials have been suspended.
  • At the other end of the scale, and the country, 30,000 goats supposedly provided under a government poverty reduction programme have vanished (or never been born!).

The biggest story at the moment has to be the suspension of the ex-Vice President of the Uganda government from her job at the state-run Microfinance Support Centre after reports that Shs10 billion is unaccounted for. It is claimed by the press that in addition to requesting major advances (like Shs50 million) she also drew Shs500,000 per day for desk work (on top of her salary), for things like report writing and correspondence to the Finance Ministry as well as activities such as meetings, office relocation, presentations at workshops and a visit to women entrepreneurs in Kampala.

One could go on and on.  These are just snippets from a steady stream of news stories every day of every week. Apparently the country loses Shs500 billion to corrupt officials every year, enough to pay the salaries of 200,000 primary school teachers.

It is not that corruption and embezzlement are unknown in other countries.  After all, no one who has lived in South Yorkshire can claim ignorance of corruption in local government.  Only a couple of months ago, half the officials in one of Edinburgh City Council's departments were suspended on grounds of corruption.  As one of my friends said, the other half must also have known. West Lothian's well-known MP was taken to court for fraud just last year. Glasgow City Council is just emerging from a major corruption scandal involving undue influence, access to key committees and, once reported in the tabloids, a tasty dose of sex and drugs. Corruption has brought about the downfall of some very well-known European politicians.

However, in Uganda, corruption is on an industrial scale and penetrates every level and aspect of society.  And the casualties are there for everyone to see. In Europe, corruption also has victims but they are largely invisible. The victims stare you in the face in Uganda. You see them limping down the streets, hanging around hospital verandahs or walking barefoot to school to sit on earth floors in overcrowded classrooms. By siphoning off funds, corrupt officials in the Ministry of Education and Sports or in districts and schools across the country damage the futures of millions of children dependent on public funds to pay for their primary or secondary education. Corrupt doctors and nurses cause the deaths of patients whose families cannot afford the bribes required for treatment. They leave wards unmanned while they go off to work in their private clinics. They steal government-supplied drugs and sell them in those same private clinics, leaving the government health clinics empty and thousands dying of preventable diseases like malaria. It is not enough to acknowledge their pitiful pay and poor living conditions: there are ethical issues here. These people are members of the caring professions, with professional codes of practice. Can they not see what they are doing? Have they no shame, no pity, no compassion?

Why is this happening?  A man called Richard Nyhiiro recently wrote an interesting letter to the Monitor in which he argued that traditionally, Africans either subsisted through hunting and gathering (i.e. were able to access ‘free’ food) or grabbed their resources from the weak.  People are said to have ‘eaten’ when they are appointed to a position of responsibility.  Nyhiiro claims, and I have no idea if this is true, that there is no African language with a word which means exactly the same as ‘corruption’.  In Bantu languages, he says, corruption is referred to as nguzi, related to the word for trade.  There is a proverb which says ‘it is a blessing to have a kin in a position of responsibility’ – nepotism, in other words, and diversion of resources into family households.  He suggests that there is something about traditional African culture which is out of tune with modern approaches to governance. 

‘With no economic bases for achieving development, when we get an opportunity to manage communal resources, we misappropriate them,’ Nyhiiro says, a sad and depressing conclusion.

Another view is that in countries like Uganda, people have lived in such poverty for so long and have had to struggle so hard to survive that they have become hardened.  Deprivation leads them to carry out the most callous acts.  It is a year since the Kampala bomb blasts, when over 70 people died, and the papers are full of human stories of death and survival.  There are certainly stories of selflessness and generosity.  There are also stories of people picking the pockets of the dead, dying and badly injured while they lay on the ground.  Some victims, lacking ambulances, were helped onto boda bodas by their friends only to be turned off when they couldn’t produce the extra money demanded to take them to hospital. 

A fascinating and disturbing book published 30 years ago, ‘The Mountain People’ by the anthropologist, Colin Turnbull, described what happened to a tribe of hunters called the Ik, in Karamoja in the far north east of Uganda, when the colonial authorities set apart the land where they lived and on which they were reliant for food, as a national park. The Ik starved, and under the stress of dire food shortages, those 'natural' family ties which we take for granted and assume to be inborn, for example, the bond between mother and child, started to unravel.  Parents sometimes took food from children, a breakdown in family relationships which mirrors some stories from World War II concentration camps. Turnbull’s conclusion was that the survivors were so damaged that they could no longer operate any longer as a community, for essential features of communal life such as cooperation and consideration for others had been destroyed.  The Ik would prey on any people they came in contact with, whether outsiders or members of their own tribe.  Shockingly, he suggested that they should be separated and relocated among other tribes elsewhere in Uganda.  In actual fact, that did not happen and the Ik still exist today, more resilient perhaps than he predicted.

That degree of starvation has not been a consistent feature of life across the rest of Uganda, but enormous suffering and both chronic and acute privation have been, the result of the best part of nearly 35 years of bloody dictatorship, insurrection and civil war.  Some people have become survivors, salting money and goods away for a rainy day.  Others like to advertise their wealth and hence their apparent security – the ‘big men’ in their flashy cars. Many Ugandans have to support orphaned nephews and nieces and indigent relatives and find it a constant struggle to pay school fees.  The extended family is a mixed blessing.  There is always someone claiming their right to a share of your salary: to buy land, to pay for training, to invest in a business.  Out of pressures like these come small dishonesties which, in time, become larger dishonesties, and before they know it people are up to their necks in filth.  The papers are full of notices placed by banks and insurance companies which feature photographs of ordinary individuals and statements indicating that they are no longer representatives of a particular company.  The churches are no help either.  Many of the most corrupt members of society are prominent members of their churches, and welcomed for their wealth, influence and patronage.

It would be easy to think that everyone is like that.  In fact, many of the Ugandans we know are acutely embarrassed by the dishonesty around them.  But what can they do?  They keep their heads down and hope not to notice, because they have to survive too.

It is difficult to know what can be done about all this.  How do you change an entire culture?  Perhaps Andrew Mwenda is right.  You can’t change it.  You try to control it, minimise it and circumvent it, but, in the end, you accept it for otherwise nothing would ever get done.

If you found this post interesting, you may also like to read the following posts:

Caring for the sick in Uganda

What do we mean by 'motivation'?

Catching up with the education news - in  Uganda, that is

You may also find other articles by Andrew Mwenda of interest: Why we need to focus on results (follow up to the article referred to above) and The political value of corruption published in January 2012 following a number of corruption scandals.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Catching up with the education news – in Uganda, that is

As everyone who works for an NGO or other such organisation knows, there are times when you feel that you are beating your head against a brick wall and nothing, but nothing, will ever change.  It’s not for lack of pleasant colleagues or a general acceptance that a particular public service is a good thing and could be helped to become an even better thing; it’s more a case of the systems sometimes being so dysfunctional across such a broad range of activities and at such a high level that you end up believing that nothing will ever work and nothing will ever change.  Fortunately, that feeling doesn't last forever, and within a few hours you are back plugging away as best you can, trying to move things along by a centimetre, a millimetre even.

Given the nature of our jobs, we don’t tend to write about such things as they affect us personally.  Instead, I thought a quick review of the papers to see what’s been happening generally in education might be of some mild interest. So, here are the big stories from the last few days, as reported in the national press: all out in the public domain and public knowledge, over here in Uganda, anyway.

Story No 1: Closure of all primary teachers’ colleges

All 45 government-aided primary teachers’ colleges in Uganda have closed due to lack of funds to meet their operational costs.  The 16,239 students in primary teachers’ colleges receive free education, the only free tertiary education in Uganda. The term started about a month ago.  The decision to close was taken by the Principals’ Association of Uganda (PAU) in order to avert strikes by the students.  The reason for their financial difficulties is that the government has failed to provide the promised funds, a modest Shs1,800 (less than 50p) per day for each student, to cover meals, medical care and stationery.  The problem has been rumbling on for a long time.  Colleges have been receiving money in instalments and their debts have been mounting.  Suppliers are now refusing them credit.   In April, Bishop Stuart College, near Mbarara, received only Shs18 million out of the Shs106 million expected, which lasted them three weeks.  In student terms, that means that for each student the college received Shs608 (about 16p) instead of the promised Shs1,800.  The college has not received its full capitation grant since 2004 and its debts have mounted to Shs532 million.  The students trained in these colleges are essential to the implementation of Universal Primary Education (UPE).

John Arinaitwe, chairman of PAU is quoted as saying, ‘If you give me money in halves, do you want me to teach half of the syllabus or …to teach half of the term?’

The Education Ministry said it was the fault of the Finance Ministry, which had only handed over Shs10 billion of the Shs30 billion needed for capitation grants to schools under the free education programme. Oh, and by the way, private secondary schools providing free education under this scheme are also threatening to close, for the very same reason.  The leader article in the Monitor claims that some heads even offer ‘kick-backs’ to ministry officials to ensure that their schools ‘feature in the first batch of capitation fund recipients’.

Apparently, so the new Education Minister says, the President has directed the Ministry of Finance to release the Shs20 billion balance for capitation grants to schools and colleges.  This hasn’t happened yet, but we are sure it will. 

The deputy secretary to the Treasury said, ‘There is no problem.  They can wait because we shall provide the money.’ 

However, as the newspapers have pointed out, even a few days’ disruption can interfere with young people’s learning and cause major worry to those committed educational professionals who are trying to shield them from the consequences of poor planning and management.

Which brings us to:

Story No 2: Billions returned to the Treasury

Somewhat embarrassingly, it has just been reported that the Education Ministry has returned Shs10 billion to the Consolidated Fund having failed to use it.  The money had been earmarked for the recruitment of primary teachers in rural districts, where they are desperately needed.  Ironically, every year higher education institutions churn out 400,000 graduates, who all compete for the 18,000 jobs available.  Some of those who are finding it difficult to get jobs are recently qualified teachers from primary teacher colleges, national colleges (for secondary teachers) and universities.  Responsibility for this state of affairs, say the newspapers, does not just lie with the Ministry; it also lies with the districts, which are in charge of teacher recruitment.  It is said that so many new districts have been created recently that they have not all been able to get the statutory arrangements in place to carry out key tasks like making appointments.  Why so many new districts (up from round about 60 a few years ago to over 112 just now and rising)?  Because people ask the President for them and, naturally, he likes to do what pleases the people.  And what do the cynics say? With each new district come lots of new jobs which not only provide salaries, but (dare one whisper it?) also enable people to ‘eat’, an East African euphemism for making lots of money by embezzlement and corruption.

Which brings us to:

Story No 3: Ghost schools, ghost teachers and ghost textbooks

It has just been announced that in March this year the Auditor General discovered 500 ghost schools in the Ministry of Education and Sports primary school database.  He found the ‘discrepancy’ when going through Shs900,000 million expenditure on materials for the new P4/P5 curriculum in UPE schools.  It has been suggested that officials inflated the number of schools in order to benefit.  It is possible, for example, that SHs67.6 million may have been spent on 'phantom textbooks' (a term which, up till now, I have been unfamiliar with).  Apparently the schools which are supposed to have received the textbooks have not submitted receipts.  The papers lists a whole series of ‘discrepancies’ too boring to reproduce here, but which, presumably, syphoned off thousands of pounds which could have been spent on Uganda’s dismal under-resourced schools and have helped thousands of its ill-supported children to learn.

The Daily Monitor then continues that last year the government was paying more than Shs20 billion annually in salaries for ‘quack’ teachers.  Again it accuses Ministry officials for being part of a ‘racket where appointment letters are shared among several teachers’.  You couldn’t make it up…

Which brings us to:

Story No 4: National school census

Like most countries, Uganda has a yearly school census.  The census being carried out this week, however is rather different from its predecessors.  Over the next two weeks, all ‘operational’ government and private schools must fill in new census forms which give particulars such as numbers of pupils, teachers and other staff, infrastructure and sanitation and information about HIV/Aids and physical education and sports.  Unlike during previous censuses, headteachers are going to receive ‘training’ in how to fill in the forms and are required to fill them in the venues where this training takes place.  District education officers are being asked to endorse the form.

Ministry of Education spokesperson Charles Kitonsa is quoted as saying that some district officials ‘have a tendency to give false information about schools in their areas,…’

There are supposed to be 17,865 primary schools (12,576 government-aided and 5,289 private) with a total enrolment of 8.3 million, 3,234 secondary schools and 181 degree and non-degree-awarding institutions.  Who knows how many there’ll be by the end of next week?

As the Monitor puts it: ‘… both schemes [UPE and USE] have been plagued by unchecked graft which has crippled the delivery of quality education in the country, particularly at the lower levels.’

Last year, President Museveni established a judicial commission to investigate the alleged misuse of funds for free education, the processes of disbursement to districts and schools and how the money for the construction of new classrooms has been spent.  (New classrooms? What are they?)

Which brings us to:

Story No 5: A new round of school inspections

The Education Guide in the Monitor got it slightly wrong when it used the headline Ministry resurrects inspections as school standards plummet – not the bit about plummeting so much as the bit about resurrection. 

School inspections have in fact been going on for years, though recently the secondary kind have been less in evidence than the primary kind.  The inspections which started this week and last for a fortnight are to establish to what extent secondary schools in the central region (Kampala and its surrounding districts) meet the government’s Basic Requirements and Minimum Standards (BRMS).   BRMS primary inspections (or ‘data-gathering’, a rather more accurate term as such visits do not involve much evaluation) have been taking place for some time.  Now it is the turn of the secondary schools.  BRMS checklists listed in a precious little blue book cover everything from the existence of a flag pole (though, strangely, not a flag) to medical examinations for school cooks. They don’t, however, cover learning, attainment or achievement.  Oh well, you can’t have everything, I suppose.

Anyway, the reports from these secondary inspections will be produced in due course.  In the meanwhile, the stories are trickling through and some get as far as the press.  We cannot imagine premature release of inspection evidence being countenanced in Scotland.  (‘The past is another country.  They do things differently there.’)

The inspections started on Monday.  By Tuesday, this story had appeared in the Monitor: Inspectors find school with two licences.  The first paragraph began, ‘From ghost schools, ghost pupils and ghost teachers, officials on yet another round of schools inspections yesterday found what they say is a school with two registration certificates.’

Naive readers in Scotland might say, ‘So what?  What’s the big deal?’  The big deal is that the authorities might have been drawing two sets of USE payments.

After one day’s inspection of 52 schools (can you believe it?), the paper reports one of the inspectors from the Directorate of Education Standards as saying that the inspections found ‘unprepared teachers, poor security and sanitation’.  It also found unauthorised boarding schools with some using classrooms as dormitories.  ‘Teachers …  don’t have schemes of work and lesson plans,’ said the inspector.

What is even more interesting is the fact that the Monitor can actually predict the outcomes of the inspection when the activities have barely started let alone the report published.  ‘It is expected to record the actual number of schools benefiting from universal education (schools benefiting?  not pupils?  Shome mishtake, shurely...) and ascertain stakeholders who defy the sector’s policies.’  Well, that’s that then.

One wonders why we bother having inspections at all when the newspapers can write the reports in advance.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Nile rapids near Jinja... and Stuart’s birthday treat

No, the birthday treat wasn't white water rafting, it was (surprise, surprise) golf.  The ‘treat’ bit was being allowed to play on two consecutive days, but we’ll come to that later.

First, the rapids.  We’d already seen the much diminished Ripon Falls (basically a slight swirl in the water) and the rapidly diminishing Bujagali Falls.  Now it was the turn of Itanda, the Bad Place.  No plans to flood these rapids yet.

We did 'rapids for wimps'.  That meant that we took the car.  We turned due north out of Jinja on a tarmac road which soon became murram as we travelled beyond the pricey Jinja Nile Resort.  Jinja is a faded Indian-built town, its peaceful tree-lined colonial streets reminding you of languid afternoons of tea and tennis.

A comfortable house in one of Jinja's attractive streets.
One of Jinja's Hindu temples, near the Nile.
The road north had never been part of the colonial scene, so ‘faded’ wasn’t part of it.  We drove through busy trading centres avoiding the bicycles and bodas.  The usual ramshackle one- and two-roomed houses lined the road, families living their lives out in the open, children playing in the compound, carrying water and firewood or herding cattle, women stripping ears of corn and heating food on three-legged charcoal stoves.

Typical village house with nice tidy compound and matoke trees.
We turned off onto narrower country roads.  We wanted to see how far the engineers had got with the new hydro-power dam downstream from Bujagali.  Quite far, not particularly impressive at this stage, but we are sure it will improve.  Sad to see the Nile change in this way, but Uganda badly needs the benefits which access to a reliable electricity supply will bring.

Bujagali dam - there's a river somewhere.
From the Bujagali dam we followed the lanes north, deeper and deeper into the Busoga countryside.  This is one of the poorer areas of central Uganda, renowned, sadly, for its endemic jigger infestations.  Certainly, the children we passed were mostly barefoot, though they could have been saving their shoes for school, for it was a Saturday.  They were very poorly dressed. The most common garment – for boys and girls alike – was a filthy over-sized and dramatically ripped adult tee-shirt, reaching to the knees and hence disposing of the need to wear anything much underneath.  However, again, you need to be careful about making hasty judgements. Yes, it could be neglect, for most of the adults we saw wore perfectly clean if faded clothes.  However, we rarely see children wearing ripped and dirty school clothes. My guess is that precious school clothes are kept in good condition and, at the weekend, the children change into any old rags because they live in a dusty and sometimes muddy environment and spend their time playing in the compound or, more often, doing domestic tasks.  After all, clothes aren't really necessary in the warm Ugandan climate: a hundred years ago children would have worn virtually nothing.

As we drove we saw them carrying their hoes, off to dig the ‘garden’: not regimented lines of snapdragons but neat rows of banana and maize. Children and adults thronged the road carrying enormous bundles of cattle fodder.  The lucky ones had bicycles.  We didn't take many photos of family life for we were driving right through people's compounds and to do so, we felt, would have been intrusive: people are not animals in a zoo, after all.  We did manage to snap a few road scenes, though, taken through the windscreen, so a bit murky-looking, I'm afraid.

Carrying cattle fodder.
Bikes are better than heads...
Pineapples off to market.
Papyrus for mats, roofs and walls.
Every few yards there would be a school or the signpost to a school. Soft Power Education is an NGO with a very significant presence in the area. Their distinctive school signs indicated which schools had received their support. One look at the buildings showed you the impact.  These were lovely solid watertight structures, such a change from the usual tumbledown buildings we see.  Buildings do matter: if nothing else, they tell children that they, and their education, matter.

Soon we reached Itanda itself.  We parked the car high above the Nile and walked down to the Falls.  Itanda means ‘the bad place’ and we could see why.  We imagined being nineteenth century explorers placidly floating down from Lake Victoria and then realising to our horror what was in front of us. Well, perhaps not quite ‘placidly’, for by the time they got to Itanda they would already have navigated the Ripon Falls, Owen Falls and Bujagali Falls.  Still, Itanda is in a different league from Bujagali, and the Ripon and Owen Falls are no more. Just across the river we could see the Kalagala Falls.  Placidity didn’t come into it: barely 15 kilometres from Lake Victoria and already plenty of opportunities to drown.  We counted five.

Wild water rushing down the Itanda Falls.
A bit quieter but still a pretty bumpy ride.
A good view from the top of the lower falls at Itanda.
An island in the Nile, with fishermen and fish eagles.
A bucolic backwater scene - almost like Scotland.

We had no intention of drowning, however, so no white water rafting for us.  A quiet drink at the Jinja Nile Lodge, looking across the eponymous river, then back to our hotel further upstream, in an earlier life a presidential rest house.  

View across the Nile from the Jinja Nile Resort.
Then golf of course for Stuart where, I heard, he was ‘brilliant’ and some shopping and a pleasant walk for me.  That is something I really miss, for Kampala is not the kind of place where one walks for pleasure: if you’re not looking at your feet to make sure you don’t fall down a broken manhole or splash through a sewage-laden ditch, you’re looking directly onto the road so that you’re not run over by a madman on a boda.

The next day, however, combined another pleasant walk for me and my camera, this time on the golf course, and an extremely frustrating round of golf for Stuart.  I keep telling him to take up another sport, like tiddlywinks for instance, but he never listens…  

A point being made here, perhaps, about a more discriminatory past.
Near the start.
Further on.
Mind you, the competition was stiff, and there were an awful lot of onlookers. They may have put him off.  Some of them clearly thought that his play was nowhere near up to scratch.  That’s what comes of playing golf on two consecutive days.  Perhaps he’ll learn one day.

Stiff competition from this budding golfer.
In the rough.
In the rough again - it was the tree's fault.
And again.  Where's that ball?
Not in the rough this time.
The resident cow continued chewing, unimpressed.
The goats dropped off to sleep.
Embarrassed, the monkeys turned their backs.
A final look...
But no, it was too painful......
Even the maribou storks took a quick look...
...then they too stalked off.
However, all good things come to an end.

Chipping onto the final green.
Whew, we're nearly there: the 9th hole.

So it was back to Kampala, along the leisurely back road via another civilised drink, this time at The Haven.  It was here we realised we had counted wrongly after all.  Six opportunities to drown, not five, for there were the Overtime Rapids in front of us: we'd forgotten about them. We thanked our lucky stars we were no longer young.  No rafting for us. It had been a good birthday treat, despite the golf, and now it was time to go home.

View of the Overtime Rapids from The Haven.
Happy birthday, Stuart!

PS If you'd like to find out more about Jinja, why not read this post: Our intrepid explorers reach the source of the Nile... and Jinja Golf Club (Golf courses of Uganda Part 5)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Learning skills for work: new hope for Ugandan youth

Wednesday was a good day.  We didn’t go far – just south of Kampala to the outskirts of Entebbe.  What were we doing?  Inspecting technical institutions (business, technical and vocational educational training – BTVET). 

We hadn’t expected much.  In a selective and, arguably, elitist system of secondary education such as Uganda’s, establishments which cater for the ‘less academic’ (note the language of deficit) have traditionally occupied a relatively lowly status in the education hierarchy.  This is a pity – more than a pity, a disaster – as it is on the young people studying in BTVET institutions that Uganda’s future depends.

However, the government is beginning to wake up to the situation for a number of reasons.  Firstly, Uganda’s extraordinarily high birthrate (3rd in the world) means that there will never be enough jobs for all its people.  Secondly, even now, only 5% of all Ugandans have permanent jobs (in the western use of the term) and most university graduates are unemployed.  Thirdly, the world is changing and Uganda with it.  New businesses are developing, including the country’s own oil industry.  These new industries need completely different skills from those currently nurtured in the country’s secondary schools.  Indeed, secondary schools in Uganda are looking more and more like an irrelevance.  The theoretical and ostensibly ‘academic’ education they promote, largely based on rote-learning, teaching for examinations and an absence of practical application, looks increasingly ill-suited for a developing modern economy.

However, enough negatives, we had a very positive day on Wednesday.  We visited three technical institutions, all quite different.  We would have visited a fourth as well, except that it didn’t seem to exist (probably one of Uganda’s many ghost schools).  The aim of our visits was to follow up the experiences and successes of a particular group of students.  The government has recently started funding short-term three month 'non-formal' placements for young people who have missed out on secondary or further education for a whole range of reasons, but principally related to poverty and poor experiences earlier in their educational careers.  Some students had never been to school.  Others had dropped out after the first 3 or 4 years of primary school, at the end of primary school or part way through secondary school, or had left after completing S4.  This free three-month opportunity to learn skills for employment was a fantastic opportunity for all of them.  None of these students would have been able to afford vocational training without the financial support provided by the government.  The head of one of the institutes told us that well over a hundred young people from a wide area had applied for their course on metal work, for which they only had 20 places.  So it was first come, first served.  We asked how they advertised their courses.  After all, some of their prospective students were illiterate or semi-literate and few would have been able to afford a newspaper anyway.  The principals had used a range of practical means: announcements at church, contacting the chairman of the local council and even using loudspeakers to broadcast the availability of places on the various courses.

We were really impressed by the sense of purpose, the positive atmosphere in the training centres and the sheer enthusiasm of all the young people we met.  The instructors were paid quite low salaries but were highly committed, believed strongly in the worth of what they were doing and were delighted by the positive responses from the students. We were very pleased when our DES colleague spoke to each group of young people about the importance of the training they were doing: a real morale booster.

The technical institutions we visited were quite different from each other.  One of them was a large church foundation, now government aided, which had been founded in 1911.  Another was a much smaller institution founded only five years ago and priding itself on its ‘innovative’ approaches.  Across the three institutes, the non-formal courses we viewed included metal fabrication, tile-fixing, electrical installation, cooking and catering, tailoring, hairdressing, entrepreneurship and, in one institution, computer training.  The government paid for twenty students in each group, though actual numbers were a good bit higher.  All institutions had benefited from the drive, commitment and enthusiasm of their leaders.

Courses and learning approaches differed significantly from those normally seen in primary and secondary schools.  Groups were smaller, for example, 10 in the tile-fixing course and 20 or so in the metal fabrication and electrical installation courses.  They contained students with a range of backgrounds and very different prior educational experience and achievements.  Teaching approaches were practical and ‘hands on’, with theory being kept to the bare minimum.  Attendance on the whole was very high.  There was some evidence of positive approaches to dealing with gender stereotypes, with a few young women following electrical installation and metal fabrication courses.  There was less evidence of young men enrolling for courses which are traditionally female-dominated, for example hairdressing and catering.  Continuous assessment was carried out by observation, feedback, discussion and planning of next steps (though not called these!).  And, of course, self assessment is built into such courses.  There is nothing like learning from your mistakes and improving your work when you have measured and made a real chair, or cooked a real meal.  End-of-course assessment was carried out by the Directorate of Industrial Training. 

Our discussions with course and institution leaders, and the responses of the students themselves, gave us some food for thought about education more generally.

Firstly, although students were clearly committed and interested, some communities still needed to be persuaded of the value and esteem of vocational courses.  On occasion, some young women still suffered from being expected to interrupt their studies and provide domestic support to their families. 

Secondly, we were told that many students ‘feared’ examinations, having had negative experiences earlier in their school careers.  Sadly, in one institution, some competent students just did not turn up for the end of course assessment because they were so convinced that they would not be able to perform.  This was despite the fact that the assessment was skills-based and practical rather than paper-based and theoretical as in school.  It is sad that such bad experiences earlier in their educational careers can still blight young people’s lives years later.

Thirdly, many students had not mastered basic skills at primary school.  Instructors in courses such as tile-fixing, metal fabrication and tailoring often had to teach essential mathematical skills from scratch, for example, measuring and calculating quantities.  What this suggests is that many primary school teachers do not deploy practical approaches such as the use of rulers and tape measures, but simply give abstract sums in exercise books. Active learning approaches are not dependent on small classes or the purchase of expensive resources.  Rulers can be made out of scrap wood or cardboard by teachers or pupils themselves.  Children can be asked to measure the length, height and width of their desks and chairs, the area of the classroom, the windows, the compound and each other’s vital statistics.  Such practical activities are suggested in national curriculum guidelines.   The issue here is implementation of recommended teaching approaches.  Contextualised approaches are essential when teaching measurement in tile-fixing and tailoring.  No one learns well in a vacuum.

Fourthly, students’ language skills were limited.  All teaching was carried out through the local language (in this case, Luganda), which is perfectly appropriate.  However, students’ understanding and use of English, the official language, was very limited.  In some groups, only one or two students were able to communicate with us or to respond to simple printed questions in English.  This matters, not because of visitors like us (after all, we are strangers in their land), but because of the future employment prospects of these young people in a country with an increasing number of international firms and where those few job opportunities that exist might require them to be geographically mobile.  Even working elsewhere within Uganda might require the use of English if the local language of that area was different from one's own.  When these students were at primary school, teaching was carried out in English from Year 1.  Immersion in English in a class of 100 has its limitations.  Many learners must have dropped out of school, discouraged because they could not understand their lessons.  Only those few students we met who had completed S4 were fluent in English.  The implication is that in many cases, despite seven years or so of being taught English in primary school and, crucially, using English for learning in other subjects, students lack basic linguistic competence and the language in which to study a range of other subjects. 

The conclusion has to be that the government is right to introduce the use of the local language in the first three years of primary school.  Only once learners have achieved basic competence in their own language should they then move on to learn a new language: English. This does not mean that use of the local language as a medium of instruction is without its problems.  Even in those local languages which have a written version, like Luganda, resources such as text books and personal reading books are in short supply.  These resourcing problems affect other subjects as well, for example, the limited availability of books on mathematics and social subjects written in the local language.  Some languages do not yet have a written version.  There are more than sixty languages in Uganda.  Some teachers may have a different mother tongue from that of the area in which they work and hence, limited fluency in the language which their pupils bring to school.  Those teachers who move from north to south or vice versa have a particular challenge as the Bantu languages and Nilotic languages have as much similarity as English and Finnish.  Nevertheless, successful early conceptual development requires learning in the language in which one is most skilled and confident.

The continuing weaknesses in literacy and numeracy are reported in a number of surveys.  The National Assessment of Progress in Education report (2009) indicated that literacy proficiency in P3 and P6 remains below 50%.  The UWEZO report of 2010 indicated that 98% P3 pupils sampled could not read and understand a text of P2 level of difficulty and 80% could not solve P2 division sums.  28% of P7 pupils could not understand a story text of P2 level. 19% of all P3 children sampled could not recognise the letters of the alphabet.  And so on.

The new three month 'non-formal' courses in BTVET institutions cannot solve all the short- and long-term problems of employability in Uganda.  That requires a root and branch review and transformation of the curriculum and examination system across all primary and secondary schools.  It also requires substantial support from development partners such as USAID which is currently planning significant investment in developing literacy skills in local language and English over the next five years. 

What BTVET institutions can do, however, is to support the current cohort of unemployed young people and give them some hope, a degree of self-belief and a few skills which may enable them to gain a toehold in the job market.  These ‘graduates’ may not all gain employment as such.  It is unlikely that Uganda’s budding oil industry will take on employees with such modest academic and technical skills.  Such students are much more likely to join the crowds of self-employed small-scale entrepreneurs who form the bulk of the earning population in Uganda.  They will start up hairdressing businesses, cook and sell fast food by the side of the road and carry out short-term contracts for building firms.  These may be precarious jobs but they are a step on the ladder to full employment for those with sufficient self belief and a modicum of entrepreneurial skills.  The positive ethos and climate for learning within the vocational institutions we visited gave us some hope for this previously neglected group of Ugandan young people.

You may also be interested in the following posts:

Hail to Uganda's creme de la creme

Are we speaking the same language?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How the world is helping Uganda

Every so often we come across an interesting development project and discover, when we look closely, that the financial support has come from an individual country like the USA, UK, Norway or Ireland or from the European Union (EU) as a whole.  

A typical example is Kiwoko Nursing College, which we visited because the Directorate of Education Standards with which we work is responsible for inspecting vocational establishments of various kinds. The nursing college is next door to the hospital and both were originally Church Missionary Society foundations, although they now receive public and donor funding from various sources.  

The attractive and well-kept Nursing College site
Having toured the main buildings, we were interested in some recent developments: a study centre for the nursing college, with computer suite and library, and a separate training centre for medical laboratory technicians.  There at the entrance to each building was a plaque, indicating who had provided the money for the development.

Study centre plaque.
Laboratory for training medical technicians.
A three-way partnership which includes AMREF (African Medical and Research Foundation)
Many industrialised countries support developments in Uganda and a huge number of Ugandans benefit as a result.  
  • Since 2000, Ireland has given more money to Uganda than to any other country, for example supporting education, the Poverty Action Fund, governance and HIV/AIDS.

  • Japan has developed a Northern Uganda Development Program which supports the resettlement of internally displaced people, improves roads and trains government officials.

  • Germany supports northern Uganda by helping to develop modern energy services which decrease pollution and, hence, climate change, increase efficiency (eg through energy efficient cooking stoves which reduce consumption of firewood), improve quality of life and support local businesses and vocational training.

  • The EU, the single biggest donor, is developing water, sanitation and hygiene services in both rural and urban areas across the country.  It also helps young people to develop vocational skills for employment.

  • A number of countries provide support to the Ugandan government for roads development. Partners include the African Development Bank, the World Bank, Denmark, Norway, Japan, Ireland and the UK. 
A couple of days ago the UK's Department for International Development published its Operational Plan for the next four years.  The UK has committed £390 million in development aid to Uganda: a fair whack and a 16% increase on previous spending plans. Of this sum, the biggest share (£122m) will go to health, followed by wealth creation (£102m). £78m will used for fighting poverty and hunger, £74m will target governance and security and £13 million will be used for humanitarian aid.

So, in practice, what exactly are UK taxpayers paying for? The highlights make interesting and, to be honest, pretty impressive reading.  They include: 
  • helping 1.35 million women get access to modern family planning services;

  • getting over 100,000 school drop-outs back into school, including 66,000 girls;

  • providing four million men and women with safer, better and cheaper ways of  saving and borrowing money;

  • helping 400,000 people in Karamoja move away from reliance on emergency food aid;

  • providing cash grants to another 600,000 chronically poor households, whose circumstances prevent them from working for a living; and

  • working with Ugandan businesses and government to make the most of opportunities created by regional trade across East Africa.

 Ms. Rintoul, who heads the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) in Uganda, said:  “While the UK Coalition Government has committed to keeping its promise on levels of aid, this decision has been taken at a time of increasing pressure and austerity in the UK.  It is therefore imperative that the money we are giving to Uganda is used efficiently and transparently and delivers tangible and worthwhile results for Uganda’s citizens.”

The point Ms Rintoul is making is very important.  Readers of this blog will know a bit about our frustrations with the blatant corruption within public services in Uganda and the devastating effect this corruption has on the lives of the most vulnerable in the country: the poor, the sick, the young and the women.  However, we hope you have also picked up something of our pride in some of the work which is being done by the governments of developed nations.  The UK’s funding is intended to help meet the needs of the country’s poorest people, address underlying causes of poverty (i.e. not just apply Elastoplast) and tackle the constraints of economic growth.  The aid will target the health sector in particular, where the funding can make the biggest impact in improving the lives of women and girls.  You may recall the disgraceful statistics for women’s health, particularly during pregnancy and childbirth. 

Ms Rintoul said, “In addition, we shall help address the underlying causes of poverty through job creation, offering financial services, access to education and employment for women and girls, and by increasing accountability and transparency.”
Ms Rintoul said that future funding will depend on how successful the government is in tackling corruption and ensuring efficiency.  While increasing overall levels of aid to Uganda, the UK government has significantly reduced the proportion which is delivered through budget support, a mechanism which will enable it to exert greater control over where the money goes.  In other words, it will be more difficult for corrupt politicians to put it in their pockets.   The UK’s reduction in budget support to Uganda is therefore one response to western concern about the Ugandan government’s poor record on tackling corruption - and protecting human rights.   Although at least 20% of the aid is expected to be channelled direct to the government, this is a notable reduction on the figure of 40% or so a year or two ago. More of the aid will go into project support which is more easily monitored. After all it was only in November last year that the UK slashed £7.5 million from its budget support to Uganda following the Ugandan government’s reluctance to deal with the CHOGM corruption scandal.  Scarcely any of the high-level officials involved have been taken to court for misappropriating the funds.  As is usual in such scenarios, it is the tiddlers who get caught while the big fish swim away.  Coincidentally, Vice-President Bukenya who was replaced only last week, was suddenly issued with a legal summons, though some newspaper reports state that there were far more serious offenders.  However, that is by the by.
The new aid allocation is part of a global review of the UK’s bilateral aid. You may wonder why Uganda should deserve such a generous package.  Well, who knows.  We can only guess.  Why not have a look at a map.  To the west is DR Congo, a volatile country with enormous mineral wealth.  Uganda itself will shortly become an oil-producing nation.  To the north is South Sudan, about to become independent from its northern Big Brother, which has also, unfortunately, just decided to invade some of its territory.  Some instability, then, on the northern border of Uganda. 

Further to the north and east is Somalia, one of the most unstable countries in the world.  ‘A failed state’ is the usual term applied to Somalia.  It exports terrorism around the world, including to the UK.  Uganda and Burundi are currently carrying out peace-keeping operations in Somalia.  Every so often Ugandans read about the deaths of soldiers in Somalia in the same way that Britons read about the deaths of soldiers in Afghanistan.  Last week, the heads of state from Uganda and Burundi were meeting the Somali head of state at the very pleasant Speke Resort in Kampala.  We know: we had to go through the most amazing security checks to get to the pool!  One of the outcomes of their discussions was that perhaps the Somalis didn’t need the Ugandans and Burundis there anymore.  Who knows how genuine that statement was, or whether it was just another ploy to get a bit more money from the USA and Europe.  We, however, tend to be less cynical and are just glad that because of western aid more Ugandan children will live and fewer mothers will die.  And, perhaps, a few more European and American women and children will live too.

Anyway, the UK’s aid to Uganda does not come without a price, whatever the motives behind it.  That price is back at home: a significant backlash about the justification for extending aid at a time when the UK itself is suffering.  Not many Ugandans realise or care about the pressure which right wing politicians and voters put on any UK government, whatever its political complexion, which is committed to providing aid to developing countries.  This pressure is particularly heavy just now because of the UK’s own financial problems and the cuts to public services which British citizens are experiencing right across the country. The UK apparently has the third biggest budget deficit in Europe. 

So, it is all very interesting just now.  Just think about it.  Only last week, papers across the world reported that President Museveni was blaming the BBC, and other international media companies, of being ‘enemies of Uganda’s recovery.’  And here is the UK the following week providing substantial resources to save the lives of Uganda’s citizens and help them to get jobs so they can feed their children.  As even the Daily Mail had to admit, Britain is expected to be the only major country to meet an international target to spend 0.7 per cent of its annual income on aid by 2014, an increase of 34% overall, £12billion.  It’s a strange, strange world, but sometimes, just sometimes, one is proud to be British.

PS. You may also like to read the book The Man with the Key has gone by Dr Ian Clarke, which describes the early years of the Kiwoko hospital which he founded at the heart of the Luwero Triangle shortly after the bush war.

Monday, June 6, 2011

We go, we go, Uganda Cranes we go!

As my good friends know, I am not a football fanatic.  Indeed, I am ashamed to admit it but I have only been to three games in my life, and one of the three is the subject of this blog.  However, I know enough about football from the front pages of newspapers to be aware that it is not entirely unknown in any country for the police to intervene to deal with rowdy crowds.  We British are used to the sight of long-suffering police putting up with boorish behaviour and doing their best to contain and restrain.  Uganda does things slightly differently.  Here, it's the long-suffering crowds who deserve the commendations.

Kampala woke up in a state of excitement on Saturday.  Namboole Stadium, not far from where we live, was due to host its home team, the Cranes, playing against Guinea Bissau in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.  The Cranes were the favourites and long before kick off time at 4pm, the sound of vuvuzelas could be heard right across the city.  Shortly after lunchtime, our minibus joined the crowds of matatus and boda bodas streaming out of town along the Jinja road towards Namboole.  The crowds were in great spirits.  Packed three or more to a boda, they blew their whistles and sounded their horns, some standing on the seats, 'musical' instrument in one hand and bottle of waragi in the other.  No arrests for 'ride-and-hoot'on Saturday!

Vuvuzela at the ready.
Hitching a ride on the back of our mini-bus.

Ever watchful police, water cannon at the ready.
On arrival, we all trooped up to the main gates, clutching our tickets.  Just as in the UK, bizarrely attired young men mingled with sedate-looking families, toddlers clutched their siblings tightly by the hand, mothers balanced their babies on their hips, all in good spirits, all just walking along.   Just about an hour to go, so plenty of time to get in.  Or so we thought.  However, those in charge thought rather differently.  Despite the fact that already a lot of people were in the stadium, just as we got to the tall metal gates, they were slammed firmly shut.  The crowd waited patiently in the hot sun.  Ugandans are used to waiting.  A young man fainted, to be hauled off by his friends.  Minutes passed, fifteen minutes, half an hour.  A gate inched open and was pushed back into the crowd.  Predictably there was an immediate movement towards it - not a surge, just a change of direction.

Good-humouredly ambling along.

Waiting patiently.

Still waiting.
And then, there they were, the police.  Uganda has quite a variety of uniformed men.  There are the ones in blue camouflage - presumably so they can hide against a cloudy sky.  There are the sinister black-uniformed security police.  There are the police in khaki and red berets - military police, for Uganda is quite accustomed to using its army against its own people.  And then there are the Robocops, ten feet tall and armoured from head to foot.  Namboole Stadium was lucky: it had them all.

Looking purposeful.

Are the police really needed here?
Immediately the crowd stepped back, and back, and back.  I started feeling a bit squashed and slightly rattled, while Stuart stood square and solid in front of me.  'Don't mess with me, ' said his demeanour, 'I used to be a hooker (of the rugby variety).'  Brave young men remonstrated, waving their tickets in the air.

And then, a quick movement, and out came the 'canes', long pieces of wood (not bamboo, as I used to think).  Down they came on people's heads, shoulders or whatever was in reach.  The cane closest to me had a nail projecting from the end.

'I don't think it's a good idea to take pictures,' said Stuart.  I stopped.

'Police, don't beat!' came a cry from somewhere.

By this time, there were just minutes to go.  The police forced the crowd back from the gate.  Two or three landcruisers lurched forward and barged towards it, their passengers too important to be excluded like the rest of us.

We looked up at the nearest Robocop.  'Can you help us? We've got tickets for the VIP stand.'

He looked down.  A thought flickered through his brain: mzungus, better let them through, or there might be trouble.  Privileged by our skin colour, we were ushered through the gates, hearing them bang shut behind us.

There is very little to write about the rest of the afternoon.  The stadium was packed, a mass of yellow and red.  If Guinea-Bissau supporters had managed to make it to Kampala, they were not making themselves obvious.  The crowd were in good form, impeccably well behaved, clearly enjoying themselves and applauding enthusiastically at even the most pathetic attempts at a goal.  The cacophony of whistles and vuvuzelas battered our ears and left them throbbing.  The nearest to misbehaviour was at half time when a foolhardy young man rushed onto the grass and was hauled off by about thirty policemen: well, they needed to find something to do.

Policemen strategically placed among the crowd.
Packed stadium, Cranes on left, G-B on right
'Man in the hat' preparing to greet them on the far right.
We had a great bird's eye view.
Not even the players misbehaved.  There were hardly any fouls and no melodramatic writhings on the ground.  The only wobble was when a petulant David Obua threw his shirt down by the Cranes' bench and stomped off, miffed at being substituted in the second half - he must have learned that sort of behaviour at Tynecastle.  The cheers turned to boos, but not for long: people were enjoying themselves too much.   The game was not exactly sparkling.  However, the Cranes eventually managed a couple of goals and the crowd roared ecstatically.  The end came, the music started and the dancing began. Bobby Williamson could have the freedom of Kampala. Even the police looked happy.

And we were happy too.  Despite the best efforts of the law-enforcers to goad them into violence, the fans had kept their cool, determined to enjoy themselves. Whether or not that will be the case when Uganda plays Kenya (cf Scotland v England) will be a story for another time.

Not the most inspiring chant, but sung with great gusto.