Geeska Afrika Online

Uganda’s secret: We put our kids through hell to make them stars

A few weeks from today, many of you will have watched the world’s next big movie hit called Queen of Katwe. Many in East Africa will watch it not only because is it set in Uganda but also because Lupita Nyongo is starring in it.

But I assure you that is just the beginning. We are set to give the world many more such blockbusters. For Queen of Katwe is a true grass-to-grace story of the slum girl Phiona Mutesi who became a top chess player, and we have no shortage of grass in Uganda. And while Mutesi had to be found in a big slum, other talents are already confined in schools where we subject them to worse-than-slum conditions to test their survival capabilities.

At Luuka Primary School in Busoga region, over a thousand pupils have been living for several months using overflowing pit latrines. One of these days, a bright kid from Luuka might reveal to the world how a human body can be conditioned to resist cholera and typhoid, a potential breakthrough for WHO to celebrate.

But before the headmaster of Luuka school irons his old suit to go collect the WHO award, he had better look over his shoulder because other rivals may beat him to it.

At a primary school in Kinoni-Nakaseke, in the former Luwero Triangle where the five-year bush war was fought, a headmaster had been keeping a batch of textbooks donated by the World Bank in a pit latrine.

The Bank has been running this multimillion-dollar programme to supply textbooks to Ugandan schools and the headmaster says since nobody built a book store for him, he decided to allocate one pit latrine to store the books. It is not clear why he did not give the books to the kids to keep and read as long as they can.

Anyway, the headmaster has been strongly defended by parents and the area MP for his innovativeness and he may well get international recognition before his Luuka counterpart. The two headteachers face a stiff challenge from their Greenland Junior Academy counterpart farther to the east in Pallisa district.

This head has already narrowed his search for candidates for a scientific breakthrough to two kids aged 8 and 12 who have been confined in conditions worse that a latrine. For eight long months, this Pallisa headteacher has detained without trial the two kids, a boy and a girl, so the experiment caters for both sexes.

The school also succeeded in enacting typical jail conditions including providing bedbugs to feast on the blood from the little bodies. Usually, the ultimate punishment for defaulting on school fees is to be locked out, not locked in! The experiment was going into the ninth month when the meddling Uganda Police stormed the school jailhouse and released the little prisoners.

The two little ones can now provide useful biological data on human endurance of extreme jail conditions, contributing to the stock of the world’s scientific knowledge – quite handy in times of terror and hostage taking.

So while you head to the cinema to watch Queen of Katwe and celebrate Mutesi’s triumph as well as the rise of her fellow teenage compatriot Madina Nalwanga, brace for more stories to come out of Uganda. We just know how to subject kids to extreme conditions that turn them into stars.

Joachim Buwembo is a social and political commentator based in Kampala.



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