Takeaways from My Recent Trip to Uganda

From May 6 to 13, I, along with Crossing Borders (CB) external consultant Johannes Nordentoft, visited Uganda (also known as the Pearl of Africa). The purpose of the visit was to meet our Localizing the SDGs project partners: Open Space Center in Uganda, Ghana Community Radio Network (GCRN), and Circus Zambia (CZ). OSC was our excellent host. As the title indicates, the aim of the project was to localize efforts to achieve the global goals in local communities. The project was motivated by the conviction that localizing the SDGs in local communities and youth is the surest way towards achieving them. After three years of implementation in Ghana, Uganda, and Zambia, the Kampala event was the concluding action experience, sharing with the partners to reflect on the experience and look ahead. GCRN was represented by the local evaluator Lawrence Naikouur and youth leader Edwin Gogu, CZ was represented by Executive Director Charlotte Groen and local evaluator Eric Mwansa, while OSC was represented by Team Leader Wakibu Bunnya, Program Managers Nakato Rehema Sessimba, Tamale Joel Baliruno, and Kakaire Ashraf, and local evaluator Namuwonge Brenda. I had the honor of representing Crossing Borders, the project lead.

Program Activities

Our activities comprised field visits to several project sites in different districts in and around Kampala and Jinja. We also visited the Prime Minister’s office, where the SDGs secretariat is located, and met with the head of the department and program head. After that, we had focus group discussions with members of the SDG Youth Task Forces and individual youth leaders. After these activities and observations in the various districts in and around Kampala and Jinja, here are the most important takeaways from my experience:

  1. Like most African countries, Uganda is rich in human resources, creativity, abundant natural resources, and resilience. Generally, the overall situation is improving and is better compared to 5, 10, and 60 years ago when the country gained formal political independence. The improvement is visible in the attitudes, behaviors, and drive of the youth. They exude polite self-confidence and determination, they know what they want, and are eager to take a seat at the table. Most of the youth have access to vital information using their mobile phones and are rapidly developing their entrepreneurial mindsets and skills. However, they need a youth-friendly policy framework, a supportive economic environment, lifelong learning, training, and decent employment.
  2. More than many other countries, Uganda is blessed with a youthful and rapidly growing population, with youth constituting over 75% of the nearly 50 million inhabitants.
  3. For the youth, the priorities are decent jobs, life skills, relevant education rooted in their cultural and economic realities, and having their rights mainstreamed in the development processes of the country at all levels. They want to participate in addressing the issues that affect their living conditions and civic rights.
  4. With an increasing population, number of vehicles and boda bodas, and hyper-economic activities, safe and efficient infrastructure like roads are urgently needed for the highly mobile young population. Decent and affordable housing, clean energy, sufficient and sustainable food production and local processing, and accessible public healthcare are other necessities. Thus, there are huge opportunities for fair investment which need to take local needs into high consideration. The Chinese are already there building physical infrastructures such as the new highway between Entebbe and Kampala.
  5. Uganda is landlocked but very fertile and blessed with abundant and vital water and agricultural resources, such as Lake Victoria, which is 72,000 sq km, plus the world’s longest river, the Nile, which starts its journey in Uganda. One can almost grow anything in the country year-round, which perhaps prompted Churchill to call the country the Pearl of Africa. With sustainable management, Uganda can feed not only herself but many other countries as well.
  6. Most of the people in Uganda were born and have grown up under the same president. Hence, many of them have a hard time imagining life under another leader. As change is the only permanent thing in life, sooner or later the current leadership must give way to others.
  7. Like many other African countries, the key to sustainable development, peace, and prosperity in Uganda lies in having strong, fair, democratic, and citizen-centered institutions. Institutions that cater to the real needs of the citizens, fulfill their legitimate aspirations to participate, and have their needs, rights, and perspectives mainstreamed in the national development and governance policies and practices at all levels. Such policies include the localization of the SDGs in the local youth and communities as the surest way towards achieving them.

Garba Diallo, Director of Crossing Borders

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