Giving due credit. UPC thought ahead and attempted to implement something - UPE - that no African or other developing countries were doing. By 1971, Uganda was home and envy of most African countries in education; Makerere University was the Harvard of Africa but 27 years after the NRM rule, check its global rating.
The NRA/M has found a new voice in Ms Sarah Kagingo. Because of the way she churned reports from NRA/NRM legislators ‘retreat’ at Kyankwanzi , some prefer her to Mary Karooro Okurut and Ofwono-Opondo.
Thanks to her industry, I read a quotation from General Yoweri Museveni’s speech in Butaleja recently: “When UPC was campaigning in 1962, they said, when we are elected we are going to introduce free education. They were in government from 1962 – 1971, they did not talk about free education again, yet education is the core of development.”
This is false and misleading. UPC provided free university, tertiary, commercial, technical and A-levels and; district scholarships for best performing PLE pupils and orphans in O-level. I studied in Mwiri on these scholarships from Tororo District (which included Butaleja at the time)!
There was more quality, comfort, immediate, ready and guaranteed jobs after graduating. Up to when NRA stormed Kampala, some students struggled because they had more than one job offer.
Students got travel allowances every end of term (semester), the amounts depended on the distance to home districts. It did not matter whether they took trains, hiked rides from relatives, friends, and their parents drove or they spent holidays around. Text books were free and so were stationary. I once sold a ream of paper (my allocation), in order to visit my nieces at Mt. St. Mary’s Namagunga.
Then there were student allowances; boom, (not bombs), given every term. I know a lady who saved and built for her parents a house, transforming their household. That home is a few miles from Butaleja.
I am sure Museveni’s parents did not pay for his Dar-es-salaam university education in the 1960s. He got even a better deal: On returning to Uganda he quickly got a job in the President’s Office, although neither the president nor his senior officials knew him. That is how it should be; non-discriminatory education as a core for development.
Meanwhile, UPC built Tororo Girls School with US support in order to promote girl-child education and Bukedi College Kachonga, in Butaleja.
If Mr Museveni was talking about universal primary education (UPE), still he was wrong. This programme was due to start in 1972 - 10 years after independence –but the government was overthrown in 1971. When UPC was re-elected in 1980, it re-committed itself to UPE starting in 1991 – 10 years to plan and ready the country. The 1985 Okellos and NRA coup again, intervened. Truth telling is a human challenge, yet a liberating experience. Records must have it that UPE was an initiative of UPC, which should have started in 1991; not 1997 with foreign money.
UPC thought ahead and attempted to implement something - UPE - that no African or other developing countries were doing. By 1971, Uganda was home and envy of most African countries in education; Makerere University was the Harvard of Africa but 27 years after the NRM rule, check its global rating.
In a related conversation with Dr Milton Obote, in 2003, he emphasised that his first government was to fight three cancers: Ignorance, poverty and disease. Provision of quality and universal education for all, economic emancipation and quality health care provisions for all. On all these fronts, his governments score a modern A+.
Obote explained that at independence, they recognised that higher education was more expensive for parents so government started with them, while building and rebalancing the economy in favour of majority Africans. So for the first 10 years only, parents would pay for primary and part secondary education – subsided anyway – before government fully took over. Government grants ensured quality even in the most rural schools. The best pupil in the whole of Uganda came from Nagongera – Mahanga Primary School. My childhood admirer, Namusisi with her friends Nakalembe and headgirl Nampewo were all young wealthy pupils who left Kampala to seek decent, competitive yet rural education in Sesera Girls, Nagongera. Faith schools were required to open-up and stop religion-based admission.
In 1984, with an upswing in the economy despite NRA’s terror war, OECD countries urged the government to start UPE in 1986. Obote refused, sticking to his timetable, saying the programmes would only start when we had enough schools, teachers, capacity, facilities, resources and scholastic materials to ensure quality was not compromised. That is a practical vision! In early 1980s the government opened up so-called ‘third’ world schools in most sub-counties and expanded others.
Colleges of commerce
Uganda colleges of commerce like Tororo, Kabale, Soroti; technical schools like Barinyanga – a few miles from Butaleja, National Teachers College Nagongera are examples. Most of these institutions remain in shells. They were to have been built and equipped to modern standards. It was expected that by 1991, there would be enough institutions to absorb students, upward capacity – as the economy expanded without compromising quality and almost guaranteed jobs. These were locally thought-out without donors – to build ghost schools – anyway, ‘Millenium Development Goals’ never existed then!
If Mr Museveni was talking about a UPE where, in a Kisoko school, teachers cannot ‘bend’ because of being surrounded by 150 children in a class; that is not what UPC was talking about in 1962. In Paya Primary School where Museveni was a couple of years ago – built in 1960s; the roofs are off and the latrines flow; that was not UPC’s idea in 1962.
Leadership is about honesty, humility, modesty and being exemplary. When it comes to education in Uganda, it is UPC’s record to beat.
The writer is a political critic and a columnist with New African Magazine