Uganda was only a teenager - 18 - when I was born. Yesterday, it marked its 49th year of independence from its surrogate mother - Britain - which came October 9, 1962. Before independence, Uganda was under British rule and care for 68 years - since 1894.
Yesterday, when I came off the island and arrived in Jinja late morning, I was not aware of the important holiday. But when I saw two large groups of soldiers gathering on one of the streets, I became concerned. "What is going on?" I asked my boda (motorcycle) driver. "It's Independence Day," he responded. Later as I shopped in one of the local supermarkets, a celebratory band marched past, performing an upbeat tune and parading proudly down Main Street.
Later in the day, as I watched one of the news stations report on the day's festivities, a question was asked. It was along the lines of "In 49 years since independence, do you think Uganda has made great strides as a nation?" I knew I personally couldn't answer that question. I wasn't born when the nation was birthed in 1962, and really had little knowledge of the country until my first visit in 2006, only five years ago.
By the way, it was on Uganda's Independence Day, Oct. 9, 2006, that I left the U.S. for my first trip to Uganda. : )
Throughout the day, I pondered the station's question and what my response might be.
Uganda is a beautiful country in East Africa, thus earning it the exquisite title of "Pearl of Africa." The people, their tribes, their languages and many of their cultural ways are beautiful. The green, fertile, rolling landscape is breathtaking. The mighty Nile, which flows north to Egypt, finds its source in the massive Lake Victoria. That "Source" is just a few miles from where I sit now.
Looking toward the "Source of the Nile" - where Lake Victoria empties into the Nile River.
Majestic and unique animals, vivid flora, varying landscapes, bright blue cloud-filled skies, star-studded nights...Uganda is truly breathtaking in so many ways.
Sometimes I think the people don't realize how much they really have. Uganda is extremely fertile. It has two growing seasons and crops grow about 2 to 3 times faster than those in my home state of Oregon, which is much farther north, is colder, wetter, and has only one growing season.
Ugandan Tea Fields
A radio station reported yesterday that the Buganda king (yes, there is still the presence of the pre-Britain tribal kingdom), was asking young people to return from the cities and work the land once again. In my humble opinion, Uganda must develop all of its resources - both the natural and the man-made - to succeed in the coming years. Yes, the land must be developed and cared for, and yet the young people need to learn other trades and skills in order to lead Uganda into the future.
For Uganda to survive and thrive, it must get past some serious issues that can stunt its growth:
Corruption is like a serious contagious virus here. Hardly any time passes before you hear of someone - a government official, a worker, someone entrusted with valuable resources, and others from all classes and statutes taking what does not belong to them. Unfortunately, Christians, including pastors, have not been exempt from this sin.
In a recent conversation on corruption with the island school's Headmaster, he noted that when people are in a job or position they often want to get the most from it as they don't know how long they will be there. It is a "survival mentality" - "take everything I can get now, as I don't know what I will have available tomorrow." They seem to abide by the Scripture, "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die." (Luke 12:19)
However, many seem to steal out of genuine or at least "perceived" need.
In a recent situation that was somewhat close to me, a young woman took some money from a house she was employed at. She then used some of it to buy a phone for her father and pay school fees for younger siblings. She did not waste it all on herself, but sought to assist her family. I am not condoning theft at all, but I find it interesting the reasoning that propels people to steal and practice corruption.
What they may not realize is that why they are picking pockets, someone is likely picking theirs. Corruption is a vicious cycle that must be broken.
This small country has the third highest growth rate in the world. Last September, Uganda's population stood at 33.8 million people - about 9 times that of Oregon's 3.8 million. Comparatively, Uganda's land area is about the same size as Oregon. The median age of a Ugandan is 15. The average woman here gives birth to seven children.
Lingira Living Hope's Senior 4 Class
The "Pearl" is rich in young people. Schools often have a hard time accommodating so many students. Jinja Senior Secondary School here in Jinja, has a student population of about 5000 and is said to be the largest secondary school in East Africa. To ensure Uganda survives another 49, 50, 75 years, these young people must be trained to lead. Many schools are doing a good job of shaping the young men and women, but there is always room for improvement.
One last area that I believe Uganda needs to develop to succeed, is to truly gain independence.
This small country is one of the most talked about when it comes to foreign and humanitarian aid, missions efforts, and other forms of help. My mission agency, Global Outreach International, has its largest group of missionaries - 20+ - in Uganda, more than any in other place in the world. There are likely a couple of hundred missionaries based in the Jinja area alone. And I know many others are located in other parts of the country.
Awhile back I came to the conclusion that Uganda is "spoiled." Spoiled in the fact that it has received so much help that it has forgotten how to care for its own. When a mzungu or foreign presence is around, people often shirk their God-mandated responsibilities. In our child sponsorship program, we frequently have to remind our students' families and relatives that we have not taken over care of the child - they are still responsible in so many ways.
A Ugandan girl
I am not saying that past or current help is not needed in Uganda. Many here are suffering and do have genuine needs. But those of us on the ground must be careful not to practice paternalism - doing for others what they can do for themselves. Finding that fine line can be very difficult here.
Uganda must learn, at some point, to begin standing on its own two feet. This begins from the top down. The president, the members of parliament, and others in authority - they must set the example. But it can also begin in the humble homes and villages throughout this land.
Discipleship class graduates - Training island leaders in God's ways
I am proud to be working with SHIM, a ministry that focuses on coming alongside the nationals and equipping them to recognize and fulfill their God-given potential and responsibilities.
It is in God's Word that we find the "recipe for success" that Uganda so greatly needs.
"He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." - Micah 6:8
"And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?" - Deuteronomy 10:12-13
"Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the Lord swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth." - Deuteronomy 11:18-21
Happy 49th Anniversary, Uganda! Indeed, may the years ahead be those of Divine success and blessing!