Talk – AGM 2015

Challenges and Opportunities in Uganda Today

Summary of a talk given at the UCA AGM aimed to increase awareness of issues of which development agencies and charities should be aware and to stimulate prayer. The talk was based on 2 months’ experience back in Uganda in October-November 2014.

National

  • Amazing development – society transformed as compared with the 1980s: especially in Kampala, but in all major towns.
  • A widespread longing for a peaceful transition of power (for the first time since independence) whenever Museveni ceases to be President: people may take heart from the recent peaceful handover of power in Nigeria
  • Spiralling population growth – as a result people are flocking to cities looking for work. Good AIDS education but relatively little sex education. There is less and less land available: (imagine 10 acres being divided between 4 sons, 16 grandsons, etc)
  • Investment in business, industry, etc: much from South Africa (shopping malls), Holland (flowers), China & India – but there appears to be relatively little coming from Ugandans themselves. Foreign investors often want to employ their own graduates, leaving only more menial jobs for Ugandans.
  • An explosion in higher education, but large numbers of graduates are unemployed or have only short term contracts with NGOs.
  • Mobile phones have transformed communication. There are many good/improved roads though road quality remains variable. Materials for development are available at reasonable cost.
  • While most people in rural areas probably have some more material provision (e.g. they are more likely to have access to clean water and to have reasonable clothing and dry housing) many of them may well have a basic lifestyle not dissimilar to that of 30-40 years ago.
  • Across society polarisation between the rich and the poor has increased.

Church

  • With each area wanting its own bishop, new dioceses continue to multiply – often with very basic financial provision
  • There are many new/refurbished church buildings, some of them most impressive. Increasingly, funding for this comes from within Uganda and church congregations are taking their responsibilities for this seriously. (Fund-raising auctions for this purpose are a normal feature of many churches’ life and held after the morning service: sometimes by the time the auction is over the memory of the content of the service has begun to fade!) There is not yet a corresponding seriousness about payment of clergy and other church workers nor about pensions.
  • There is a growth in variety in worship and a greater sense of freedom. Some new liturgies, produced under the auspices of UCU, are being trialled.
  • There is an increased awareness of green issues and very significant tree planting is being encouraged in some Dioceses.
  • The Church has enormous educational responsibilities – church schools, chaplaincies, etc. It is not yet in a position to be able to give a major lead on issues like family planning, though some church-run health centres are offering some services.
  • (Not included in the original talk, but rightly raised as a very significant issue): enormous funding of Islam across the country is coming from Saudi Arabia – huge numbers of new mosques are being built together with other financial provision.

Relational

  • Building relationships is crucial. Giving time to people & relationships is as important as ever. We need to allow time for the cultivation of these relationships – our western cultures continually lead us to forget that these are the essential building blocks.
  • For relationships between the Church of Uganda and western churches the GAFCON factor is very significant as many in the Church of Uganda feel that churches in the West (of whatever perspective) have often tried to put pressure on them to follow a particular line. This can make open discussion difficult since ‘critical friendship’ can be perceived as a threat. So real friendship has to be very clearly established first and those of us from the West need to make it clear that we wish to be equally open to insights from the Ugandan context.
  • There is a need to remember that in Ugandan cultures things that are written can carry a much greater gravitas than those that are spoken and so to be very careful just how things are written.
  • Ultimately, if things are to be owned in Uganda, policy and decisions have to be the responsibility of the Church/groups in Uganda. The aim must be to work in partnership not as neo-colonialists!
  • Feedback and accountability are essential for long-term effectiveness but (especially in the light of the above) often difficult to achieve. Only when time and effort have led to a good relationship being healthily developed are proper feedback and accountability likely to become possible.
  • It is only common sense – given the number of (often small) charities and churches involved in Uganda in different ways – to acknowledge that there is enormous value in learning from the experiences of other charities and of Ugandan organisations: we hope that the resources made available through Uganda Networks will be a catalyst for such sharing and learning.

 

Michael Hunter        April 2015

NB The views expressed here are the personal views of the author and not necessarily official views of the UCA.