Today the National Resistance Movement (NRM) celebrates 29 years since they came to power. January 26 1986 is quite significant to a section of Ugandans, myself inclusive, for many reasons; for die-hard “Movement” supporters it is a time to celebrate the day the liberators took over Kampala. For many like myself, the day brings back eerie memories. It so happens that on that same day my, then, 21 year-old dad was part of the NRA rag-tag force that was marching on Kampala and searching every nook and cranny for pockets of resistance from the Tito Okello junta. In his battalion, I suppose, were many younger folks – some my age or even younger. They are commonly referred to as “kadogos”. Close to three decades later, all that we get to hear of the class of 1986 are commander tales. Indeed, books have been written by NRA/M commanders detailing the revolution through their own eyes. From the president to Pecos Kuteesa to Matayo Kyaligonza to Eriya Kategaya and finally to the latest account of the same revolution (some call it a biography) through the eyes of Kizza Besigye by Daniel Kalinaki. Little do we know of the fate of the “kadogos” – what became of their lives. Many of these would go on to fight numerous other wars, in Rwanda and the Zaire. Many also succumbed to HIV. Their story left untold. This is the question I put to Kalinaki when I met him over coffee with a couple of friends weeks ago . Apart from efforts by Daily Monitor (and then Managing Editor Don Wanyama) to trace the effects of the NRM/A revolution on a young generation of fighters’ children, aptly named Children of the Revolution, in a series than ran last year, much emphasis has been put on the stories of the commanders – those that have fallen out of the system, killed or been killed. Daniel’s answer was rather swift, “History is always written by the victors,” and commanders throughout history have tended to overshadow the foot soldiers. He was right. Well, that NRM of 1986 and the revolutionary zeitgeist that drove young folks like my dad to put their lives, careers and future at stake by picking up arms against government, have all but withered. Many folks my age have given to apathy, binge drinking, and sports betting. Employment prospects are next to non-existent. The wheels of the revolution have moved on and–it seems–trampled on the very future of its children. That great Kenyan writer and activist Ngugi wa Thiong’o would rightly remark in his controversial book, Devil on the Cross: “Happy is the traveller who is able to see the tree stumps in his way, for he can pull them up…so that they do not make him stumble,” he continues further in the book, “until you know where the rain drops started hitting you, you can never know where you dried“. Where the revolutionary train was de-railed is a question that has troubled many of us lately. It is a subject we shall return to later. In a book, maybe. Makerere graduation In the last week we saw the 65th graduation at Makerere. I happened to be at the University on the three days of the graduation (in the library, thanks to my research project and a cache of books delivered weeks earlier). Perusing through the dailies on Wednesday, I was delighted to see the names of one of my “tutors” and colleague from my almer mater listed among the best performing students at the college of Engineering. Back in high school we had this uncanny obsession with holiday classes and since the school would not allow it – they had passed a stern warning to any teacher who would be caught carrying out holiday classes – we had to resort to form six vacists. Ponsiano was very good at Mathematics and Physics (is it surprising he got a first class in Engineering?), and yours truly was limping in that area – or so I thought. By the end of his vacation we had covered two thirds of the A’level syllabus for Physics and Mathematics. I would ace the two subjects later at my A’levels and be ushered to Makerere on state sponsorship. Also graduating this week were two of my former teachers (with masters in Botany and Mathematics) and my own Chemistry lecturer – a very friendly lady – who bagged herself a Ph.D in Chemistry. Quite a feat, huh? For most of the graduates, no sooner will the dust have settled on the parties, and the last crumbs of graduation cake swept off the table, than the stark reality of unemployment will kick in. The number of graduates being churned out by our universities yearly seems to grow exponentially while that of the job opportunities is growing arithmetically, if not declining. There’s talk of today’s graduates not being up to task, unskilled and being “un-employable”. So many theories and explanations have been strung together to explain this… The closest I came to the answer was a book am currently reading; a memoir by world renowned biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins notes in a speech delivered to his former school, Oundle, in 2002, “What matters is not the facts but how you discover and think about them: education in the true sense, very different from today’s assessment-mad exam culture.” To give context to the above, Dawkins’ class teacher had asked the class if any of them knew what ate Hydra. He went on, desk to desk, asking every kid. No one could tell the answer. After asking the same question to the last boy in the corner, the class turned to the teacher for the answer. He didn’t know the answer! At least that’s what he told them. Later on, it would occur to Dawkins that he had had the most important lesson: he was being taught to think and become inquisitive. It is such delivery that is lacking in our education today. Dawkins summarizes it well in the same book, “The purpose of a lecture should not be to impart information. There are books, libraries, nowadays the internet, for that. A lecture should inspire and provoke thought.”
What has dogged our education system is the continued “spoon-feeding” of students and lack of emphasis on wholesome intellectual growth. Most of our graduates today a secondarily ignorant – apart from their fields of study, they know next to nothing in the other fields. Reading is for passing exams and reading materials, library cards are thrown outside the window as soon as they graduate. Oh, and finally, it’s liberation day. I did not go to Soroti. The last such celebrations I attended must have been close to 15 years ago, I was a kid then. I might catch the celebrations on TV – for the march past ceremony and the band. Their tunes and well-rehearsed moves invoke a nostalgic feeling–there was a country! Back then when celebrations like these were truly national and not about a bunch of dry-banana-leaves-clad folks dressed in yellow head to toe, trying to out do each other in singing praises of the president like the court dancers of old. Old men fall over themselves (literally) to show their “undying” support for the sole candidate. I do not have the gall for such, so I’ll tune in close to the march past, reminisce in the good old liberation songs. A beer or coffee do with friends later in the evening, and that will be just about it. Aluta Continua!