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The race that ends at nothing

Chasing life: There is an invisible race that we are all running in Uganda. It has all the elements of a hegemony. We are playing a game to some place we cannot tell, it is a moving goal post, the destination is not clear, nonetheless we participate in the race.

From the time one is born in Uganda, the race begins. Many are cut off from this race at birth. It is a midwife forgetting to carry out an important procedure, or not noticing some abnormality early on. But some still survive this stage and get onto the game of life.

School comes around. It is about grades. It is about the school. As kids graduate into primary school, we have taught them to love the graduation ceremony. We teach them that it is all about the highlights, the paper, not the lessons. Who cares how well you understood your science? The big thing is to pass with Aggregate 4.

After the PLE chapter, the race to get into the best of secondary schools begins. If the secondary school cannot be abbreviated, that is already a problem. It is Budo, SMACK, SHACK, SUNSAS, GONGOS, you get the mix?

It is Senior One, the kids learn about the chromatography paper, amoeba, vernier caliper and all that is essential to passing one’s exams. In Uganda, education is not to enrich the student’s minds, it is to pass exams and get to the next level. Schools these days even have ‘academic pangas’.

At the end of every third term, those deemed not worthy for the school are ‘chopped.’ It is not that you have high-performing schools, it is because you have schools that are efficient at the chopping process. They do not want bad grades to get reflected on their names.

For candidate classes, schools will advise those with poor grades to find another place for the Uneb exams. “Yes, you can attend all the lessons with us, but when it comes to registration for Uneb, you must find another exam centre.”

Then Senior Six comes around, it is time to score points, it is time to choose the best university, the best course. Again, it is about the cliché courses; engineering, Law, medicine, you know the drill. We do not care if you are passionate about medicine, if it is prestigious, we are sending you to medical school. No wonder we end up with doctors without a passion to save lives but to survive through that which they dread.

The race does not stop at university. Because, there are handouts to consume. You can dodge a lecture in Uganda, but do not forget to buy that handout from that specific photocopier. Every lecturer owns a photocopying machine, and that becomes the source of all their handouts and assignments. What about retakes? We sometimes use these to get even with the student. Rumour has it that some lecturers employ algorithms. They don’t need to mark the assignments, you can employ a Monte-carlo simulation to figure out everyone’s marks.

Finally, the university graduation day comes around. Many do not make it to this day for reasons that are entirely out of their control. What happens when marks go missing? You must buy the gown from the university at a specific price. All for a chance to have your name read among thousands of other graduates.

Done with university? The race for jobs kicks in. The people who have spent years in one job will motivate graduates to give up on job-seeking and instead become job creators. You will have lecturers of entrepreneurship without a single business to their name.

For some a job opportunity comes around. “You can come work for us, but we shall pay you a salary of 500K and this is inclusive of your transport and meals.” We expect you to be grateful because it is hard out there. Take this job as a gift from heaven. Let’s also warn you, occasionally you may go months without a salary. But we expect you to show up at work with the energy and drive.

By the way, for the girls, we need a man. Yes, you brought the first degree but now we want the marriage degree. The race is not about to stop. It becomes a race to get married. And for the man, it is the race to answer the question; “what are we now? Where do you see this going?” We have people being forced to get married with ambitious wedding budgets. We need a wedding shower. We need a certain type of car. A certain kind of photography. It is time to send out those wedding messages and invite your nursery school OB to the wedding meeting launch.

Is the race done? Far from it! We also must get you living in some good neighbourhood. It is now the era of apartments. It is not just any neighbourhood, you must find something in Kyanja or better in Muyenga. But the one thing that is not changing for most in this race is the income. The lifestyle gets upgraded faster than the income. Before we know it all, people look for all dubious means to meet this lifestyle in the hope that one day, they will eventually win the race. But we all know where this race ends…. To nothing!

Twitter: ortegatalks

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