In a little over a day I will be in Africa. Let me rephrase, after a life time of caring about a continent that I have no real connection to, and dedicating years of my life to study the politics and culture of specifically West Africa, I will be arriving in Uganda in a couple of days. I will be experiencing the hospitals, clinics, villages, prisons, slums, natural preserves, market places and church services with all of my senses. In many ways this feels like a conclusion, or at least a dream being fulfilled. I am not sure where this journey will lead or what new dreams it will create, but I do know I feel at one in my heart right now.
As happy as this voyage makes me (to do wonderful work, medically and for the Lord), I am reminded of the huge problems and why this region struggles. Uganda’s economy has many social battles that keep it from using rich resources to provide for the very large and very young population. Ugandans have a high rate of illiteracy, especially among woman. In political science, it is a researched fact that countries with an educated female population strive. Women foster more involved communities and more aware generations that strive to better their nation through civil action. These women make better nutrition and health decisions, and are more prepared to “plan” families and give back to society through great work.
The planning of a family is a huge factor. Uganda is third in the world as far as population growth, with only Nigeria having a greater birth rate. The average Ugandan woman has 6 children! This is a heavy burden that has kept the nation from caring for its citizens, especially those under 15, which make up half of the population. I have been told the Ugandan youth have no hope for the future and spend their time in useless pursuits on the street. Each day, the capital streets are filled with “walk to work” protests against rising prices. The majority of work is currently in the agriculture field, which the geography is not suited for. 2011 has been the driest period in the Eastern Horn of Africa since 1995. Certain districts do not have enough water for their people or livestock and face starvation without relief.
This decade needs to fulfill the promise of more investment in Uganda’s oil and mineral rights. Sadly, the continuous rebel attacks and the President’s tight grasp on the government has prevented political freedom, including the arrest and beating of opposition Members of Parliament. At a time when the discussion should be about promoting peace, to ensuring each citizen has employment and opportunity, and protecting all types of culture in Uganda, the social focus has been on outlawing homosexuality. Photos and names have been listed on front pages of newspapers, as recently as last fall, resulting in the disappearances and even murder of an activist.
The media has made many claims that the new Western generation reaching adulthood is more globally engaged. I, perhaps, am just another white chick going to Uganda for a week to feel amazed. Hopefully, this is just the cynic and devil talking. There are two things that I have heard most when sharing about this trip. One is be safe. It makes me sad that Uganda, after so many decades of independence, is still tarnished by a fear associated with an entire continent. With God’s love and the world’s well-intentioned charity, I hope each country is challenged to make real progress and to break their own oppression. The other response has often been, what a wonderful place to experience a warmth of spirit, with such life and uniqueness. I hope Africa lives up to these expectations. I am sure I will tell everyone, upon my return…Uganda deserves better and its people are progressing to an even better life.