An election promise, a first for Africa, a hope for a better future. The Ugandan government in cooperation with private donors will begin offering free secondary schooling for high performing children. Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s “President” of 20 years, made a promise in his re-election bid to offer free secondary schooling for needy students. The education ministry has said there has been a high demand for secondary school after universal primary education was introduced in 1997. Of the 350,000 primary school students only about 40% are absorbed into the secondary school system due to the need for help at home, lack of funds to attend, or a number of other reasons. Incredibly the Japenese government will be providing teaching expertise and a grant from the African Development Bank will allow for the construction on facilities. This is an amazing development in Africa with the role of advanced education moving to the forefront. I am glad that Mr. Museveni has recognized the importance of secondary schooling. I can see this as a great hope for Uganda’s future and Africa’s future. While I was in Uganda, in 2002, we traveled to so many schools. Schools which were small brick structures with open squares for windows and doors, schools which had maybe a few benches and possibly a black board, schools that were jam-packed with young children who had walked many miles (as far as 8 miles) without shoes, schools where one teacher had as many as 80 students. We visited so many schools and met so many inspiring and dedicated students. They really wanted to learn, when you compare that to students here in the US, there is a drastic difference in academic drive at such a young age. With all the schools we visited there was just one that continues to stand out in my mind. Near the end of our time in Uganda we visited an orphanage and montessori school for children affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The children welcomed us excitedly, sang welcome songs, performed dances, and then demonstrated their academic poweress. These students could read, point out many countries on the map, and do simple math among many things – take note these students were only preschool age! Preschool and they already knew where they were in relation to the globe, where the US was, how to add 10 and 2, and how to sing and dance their traditions. And yet even with so much hope, there is a great despair. Being HIV/AIDS orphans means that more likely than not most of the students are also positive for HIV. These children have no access to medications or treatments, they do not possess great financial means to survive. And I wonder, are these inspiration little geniuses alive today? Did they make it past their fifth birthday as many do not? Will they be able to benefit from the free secondary schooling program?
Late last year there was great hope that people would cease to be exploited by their governments. That has now been called into question in Botswana. The San people, more wrongly referred to as the Bushmen, were granted the rights to their ancestral lands, which now reside on the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR), in the Kalahari Desert. However, even though the Botswana high court determined that the San were forcibly removed to make way for tourist and economic development, when the San went to begin rebuilding their community they were turned away at the gates being told that they did not have clearance. Governments will no longer exploit their people? There is hope and fear for the future. Another great hope for Africa is the appointment of Tanzanian Foreign Minister Asha-Rose Migiro as Deputy Secretary General of the UN. Today she became only the second woman in history to be appointed to the position. The AU special envy on Sudan welcomed the appointment as do I. There is hope that African issues will remain a top priority for the UN in the years to come.
In less hopeful news, there is increased violence in Chad due to the Janjaweed’s attempts to drive people from their homes. Spilling over from the Sudanese conflict in Darfur, this conflict is beginning to threaten the regional security of Central Africa. Is that not enough to intervene? In a recent poll (because they are so reliable, and I can’t remember the source) 64% of Americans support sending US troops into the Sudan to help qwell the violence. I agree, what a better use of our massive military budget – saving lives, repairing the US’s tattered image, and bringing peace to so many people. Behold, emerging on the US political scene. . . Barack Obama! An American born of a Kenyan father who was an immigrant and an American mother, Obama brings a beautifully refreshing and hopefully new approach to American politics. Besides speaking to the people, Obama also has a great place in his heart for Africa. With his father being from Kenya it makes sense. Just last year the Illinois Senator went on an African tour visiting South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Chad – discussing the issues of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the growing violence in Darfur, refugees from the Sudan conflict, the Kibera slums, and Africa becoming a new haven for terrorists. I wonder if he is in favor of the Africa Command? Obama presents a great hope for American political reform and rebirth, but also Obama presents a great hope for Africa and bringing about a more focused and effective and involved US African Policy that is not afraid to invest in the continent.