Friday 30 May 2014

Reduced to a kneeling generation

There has been a social media buzz over the kneeling youth leaders from Uganda’s ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) before President Yoweri Museveni. Youth from the political opposition have been disparaging their counterparts for stooping so low to kneel as they beg the president for material favours.

Following the kneeling incident Francis Mwijukye, an opposition youth winger, posed mind-blowing questions: “How can Mr. Museveni reduce our generation to this? How can we allow to be reduced to this by a power hungry creature? We have brought ourselves to this! How can the majority of Ugandans (Youth), the most educated, and the most energetic (Youth) be powerless to a level of kneeling down for presidential envelopes?” 

NRM youth leaders from Central Uganda kneeling before President Museveni this week.
Kneeling is a custom. We kneel in prayer as sign of reverence to the Creator. In most of Uganda’s culture, kneeling symbolizes submission, respect, obedience and appreciation. It is sometimes people in subordinate positions that kneel for seniors. At traditional functions like marriage initiations the bridegroom’s people have to kneel before the parents of the bride as they seek audience with their in-laws. Also people can kneel as they greet others. This is commonly done by women in many African cultures.

As for politics, kneeling is a new low. In July last year, President Joyce Banda of Malawi caused a stir when she knelt to greet fellow president. She knelt to greet Tanzania’s president Jakaya Kikwete. People questioned the wisdom of a president kneeling before another president. Her response was swift. “It’s African for a woman to greet a man kneeling,” she said. Feminists are vehemently opposed to this arguing it dehumanises women.

Yet, we continue to witness men and indeed even older men kneeling before President Museveni.
While it’s perceived that young people in many Ugandan cultural settings kneel before elders to show respect, I highly doubt if those that kneel before President Museveni do it mainly for this reason.

We are consistently witnessing a situation where people kneel before the president begging him to continue offering himself to lead Uganda. Strange? In February, Evelyn Anite, a youth legislator from Northern Uganda knelt before Mr. Museveni beseeching him to stand for president in 2016. Evelyn’s act, was condemned by feminists as pulling women back in the fight for equal rights with men.

But, Evelyn’s action is not isolated. In 2004 the elderly Livingstone Katenda Luutu who was then the Kalangala resident district commissioner stunned the public when he knelt down in mud before President Yoweri Museveni begging him to stand again for another term. In 2005, then Bugabula South MP Salaam Musumba, now an opposition politician, knelt to greet Museveni and begged the president to give her constituents safe water, electricity, health and education. These social services are entitled to any Ugandan because they pay taxes and therefore don’t require one to beg their leader.

Evelyn's kneeling and resolution to have Museveni stand as a sole candidate for NRM in 2016 elections has caused a storm within the ruling party. The youth leaders from Kampala and Northern Uganda denounced the resolution as undemocratic. This led to arrests of some of the youth opposed to the resolution. To calm the storm, President Museveni decided to meet youth from each region separately. It is during such meetings that the president's public relations team released a picture of youth leaders kneeling to show their allegiance to him. The picture has attracted social media backlash drawing comparisons of regional presidents meeting youth where youth are not made to kneel.

President Museveni addressing youth from Western Uganda this week.
Looking back, the kneeling NRM youth leaders portray the vulnerability of young people at the altar patronage politics. Uganda’s population is currently estimated at 34million. At least 52% of Ugandans are 15 years and below. Worldwide, Uganda is the leading country with the youngest population of 78 percent below age 30 years. Currently about 6.5 million (21.3%) Ugandans are between 18 – 30 years. The number of young people in Uganda is projected to grow to 7.7million by 2015.  Majority of Uganda’s youth are unemployed and are willing to do anything to survive. Some purported youth leaders have become self-seekers.

Youth unemployment is alive with us. Some studies say 8 out of 10 youths in Uganda are unemployed. It's a time bomb that needs to be detonated before it explodes. I don’t think kneeling to seek favours from the president is a sustainable way to solve challenges Ugandan youth face today. Projects that are meant to empower youths to become self-reliant and economically independent should be genuinely implemented.

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