Similarly, the Ugandan Government’s Youth Livelihoods Programme offers capital to youth groups who propose a business idea that could sustain them over time, but many rush to submit an application and then they take that money – which is meant to be a repayable loan – and just split the cash and eat it all immediately, without ever investing in the asset of a business that could continue generating profits to take care of their needs in the long term.
The youth of Ibanda and others who know the Ugandan situation better than myself keep telling me that youth here are only looking for a short cut to get rich. They want a life like their role models, whether it is Patrick Bitature or Kim Kardashian, but they do not want to go through the years of struggle that got successful people to where they are. Patrick started by travelling from Uganda to Kenya and back just to resell a few kilograms of sugar. His Simba Telecom empire began with a modest downtown hustle of selling phones, one by one. Kim Kardashian was a lowly personal assistant, organizing Paris Hilton’s closet, before she could afford to adorn herself with designer apparel.
One night, we returned to the Bitature residence in Ibanda after a Project 500k workshop and we were joined by Honorable Abbas Agaba (Kitagwenda MP and former President of NRM’s Youth League) and the State Minister for Works, General Katumba Wamala, who were in the area planning a new road. Of course, as the conversation flowed, these two could not escape our questions about the role of Government in solving the youth mindset problem. It soon became clear that this is not just a youth problem, but a national crisis.
Our discussion took the long route through the territory of Parliamentary greed, public ignorance, the archaic education system, flawed expectations of the electorate and the failings of a free and inclusive democracy. We talked of the tabloid take down stories, buying votes with soap or soda, and the distinction between campaigning and actually running a country. My Whitehead Comm teammate Florence Kakatshozi and our colleague Shakib Nsubuga shot one difficult question after another at these representatives of the country’s Government, and they indulged us generously, late into the night. General Wamala pointed out that, with time, things sort themselves out. After all, he said, when he was our age, he would not have been confident enough to sit at a table with an old man like he has become and have a conversation like this one. I asked him how he manages Government work when people are always coming to him for handouts, and he said that, to some extent, one must swim with the tide or drown.
Our group was split on how to proceed: do we meet people where they are – enticing them with incentives and facilitation, hoping that once we draw them in we can wake them up – or do we stubbornly refuse to fall into this unsustainable trap and take a more principled approach? Nataliey Bitature insisted that we refuse to play into a losing game by appealing to the mindset of just wanting cash today and to hell with tomorrow. She is a woman of robust principles. Others argued that this was not practical. We must appeal to the existing mindset in order to change it, and these people need money now. But if we reward begging, won’t that just reinforce the problem?
Standing on principle vs. being practical – it is a tricky balance. How to we shape a better world without isolating those who are not ready to embrace a better way? That is of course assuming that patronage and handouts are wrong, and it is better to work toward “a greater good” – using resources efficiently, equitably and ethically to build a more productive and empowered citizenry. Am I wrong?
How do we gently wake the sleeping to join us on a marathon, when it is so much more comfortable to stay in bed? That is my job, so let me get on with it… But if you have any ideas, please comment below before you go. I value what is in your head more than what is in your wallet!