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Alas, poor student, I knew him well, he put the piglet back in poverty



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There is an obsession with poverty in Uganda that is difficult to understand in a land where everyone aspires to be rich. The way Ugandan youth flaunt their poverty is a case in point.

And it didn’t start yesterday. In the late 1980s, a movement of “Needy Students” sprang up at Makerere University. Although the majority of the students who made it to the then only university were from relatively “able” families that had seen them through expensive secondary schools, the Needy movement attracted so many members that when it fronted a candidate for the student guild presidency, he won with a landslide.

The Needy association soon lost credibility though, as tends to happen with populist revolutions, and faded away.

But the youth have continued to flaunt their poverty to gain access to the great and good of the land to demand a share of the cake – which they get, fight over and go back for more.

Earlier this decade, we saw the emergence of NRM Poor Youth, composed of youth loyal to the ruling party but who do not have a comfortable livelihood. They started making strange protests against corruption, against emoluments of Members of Parliament, against anything that smacked of inequity.
And they did it in style. They would buy a number of piglets – these don’t come cheap, by the way – and release the squealing creatures in high places unexpectedly. Sometimes they would write the names of the important person they were protesting against on the animals’ sides.

In 2015, they came out strongly to urge former prime minister Amama Mbabazi to stand for president against his long-term ally, President Yoweri Museveni. The NRM youth introduced the practice of prostrating before their desired leader, in a country where many people disapprove of men kneeling before traditional leaders. They would prostrate before Mbabazi’s wife and Mbabazi himself.

Then one day they abandoned Mbabazi and defected to the mainstream NRM. Then some of them went back to Mbabazi. And so on and so forth, with their only constant ideology being the proclamation of their poverty.

At one time they turned up to demonstrate at the US embassy, demanding that then president Barack Obama and their Mr Mbabazi save them from poverty.

They were beaten up thoroughly by Ugandan police; one video showed a youth being dragged by his feet as his head followed, bumping on the tarmac.

The poor youth seemed to have gone quiet after the elections of February 2016, but now they are back.

Last week, they released a few piglets in front of the Bank of Uganda, which is being probed over commercial bank closures, and took off. It transpired that they have now shed the NRM tag and are called Uganda Poor Youth Movement.

But the organisation seems to also be called the Uganda Youth Power Movement. It is hard to tell which is which because, as police maintain, it is an illegal organisation.

And what do you do with an illegal organisation? Arrest its leaders, of course. So the UPYM secretary general, one Ben Sebuguze, and a few others, have been in detention for some time now. If the P now stands for Power, then it could be a move to compete with Bobi Wine’s People Power.

Anyway, seeking power seems to be getting more attractive than being poor. The other day, when Bobi Wine was in America seeking treatment from injuries inflicted by torture, government people went to his stronghold ghetto of Kamwokya in Kampala and offered loads of cash to the poor youth there.

The youth firmly turned down the money, saying they wanted power so they could be the ones giving out the money.

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