Namagembe Hilda Irene Bugembe is a recent graduate in Development Studies from Makerere University in Kampala, one of the most prestigious universities in Africa.
How do you identify yourself?
I’m a Ugandan from Buganda culture.
What Baganda clan are you?
What languages do you speak, and when do you speak them?
I speak Luganda and English. I most often use Luganda when I’m home, but when you go to Kampala, like an office or someplace, and you meet someone you don’t know, you just use English because Kampala has so many languages. The only language you can have [for] all is English. English is spoken more in Kampala than in any other place [in Uganda].
When you’re moving around a town within the Buganda kingdom, do you first greet people in Luganda or English?
I usually use Luganda.
What do you like about Kampala?
Being a capital city, you can find anything in Kampala: different offices, main offices, shopping, different kinds of people.
When you go to the residential areas of Kampala, you find people living together but speaking different languages. Kampala is where the whole of Uganda comes which is different from other places in Uganda. I think in Kampala it is easy to make friends and socialize.
People come to Kampala with the determination to work. They have to let go of their comfortable life. Being hardworking, you must have the behavior to cooperate with everyone which is different from other districts in Uganda.
How do you afford living in a capital city?
To really stay in Kampala in good conditions, you really need to have a job that works, that pays really well. It is really very hard. You have to rent out a place. There are hostels for the [Makerere] campus, and you pay [per] semester, but when it comes to really renting out other places in Kampala, if you’re not staying with the campus hostel, it is really expensive because the houses you can get, like a really good house which is self-contained, the cheapest is around 350,000 Ugandan shillings minus water, minus electricity. For teachers, that could be a whole salary. If you’re not really working, you cannot stay in Kampala.
Even buying stuff, like food, is so expensive. I was buying tomatoes and some sell two for 1,000 shillings. People really will even stop eating. It is very hard these days to stay in Kampala.
What do you dislike about Kampala?
The chaos. Sometimes having all different kinds of people from Uganda in the same place can have its disadvantages.
What do you want America to know about Uganda or Ugandans?
In Uganda, we have certain cultures, and most of them do not like each other. So, you may find a muganda and a munyankore not conversing. The issue is tribalism. Really, Ugandans are hard-working. I think the only problem that really limits Ugandans from being independent is the tribe stuff. People don’t want to bring it up, but it is really a problem that when people bring in applications – even if they were going to just choose randomly from people – if I’m Namagembe, I’m the boss – you look for some name like, starting with “Na” (common prefix for baganda females) or “Sse” (common prefix for baganda males). If it is the westerners, they will look for westerners. I went to a hospital in Kampala and it only had the westerners (Banyankore): the cleaners, even the sick people.
Have you experienced tribalism?
In school, you make friends, and you have groups. You find the Baganda alone, the Banyankore alone, reading books and going out. Even in the working area, you still find something like that.
What do you think can be done to minimize tribalism in Uganda?
My friend was once telling me – I was staying in Rwanda – “I think African countries really need more colonialism.” Not like the way-back colonialism, which was there before. Because right now, there is nothing. They have the colonialism, but we need the other one, where we have leaders from out. The one leading the country would be not from the east, not from the west, not from the central. That person can really develop the country.
The tribalism would [still] be there. You can’t really stop tribalism. If that happened, at least development would not be on one [tribe’s] side. “I come from Masaka, I must develop Masaka.” “I come from Mbarara, so Mbarara must be developed, be the best.”
I think that would work, if someone would come from nowhere and say, “you are going to work and develop all roads in Uganda, not settling in one area.” That is development.
Would you like to see each tribe be it’s own…?
No. Maybe if it was different states like America, but I don’t think the states have tribes. It is still one tribe, the same people.
Another problem we have is the language. Right now in Uganda, Luganda would be easier to learn. I think it is understandable somehow.
Do you think you would feel the same way if you were from a different tribe?
No, but at the moment, if I was from the west, I would agree. Because you find that if you look at Makerere University campus, people speak Luganda. You may find a northerner speaking Luganda fluently; they have just spent three years [in Buganda], and now they are fluent. You can’t even believe that they have just come to the central region. But I don’t know about the western language.
Currently [western Ugandans] are very many; you see them everywhere. Before, they would only stay in the west, but now the President has brought them out. You see them in Kampala, Masaka, everywhere. But still people are not learning their language so fast.
I think [tribalism] would be better if English remained the national language, but still you get the problem where you can figure out someone’s tribe just from hearing them speak English. For the Baganda and the east, you can speak English and people don’t know, but for a northerner, you can speak English and they know you’re from the north. But still, English brings us together.
Did you study anything besides development at Makerere that you felt was really important?
Human rights. I may say it touched me a lot. According to Uganda, it really needs to be tackled.
Were your professors mostly Ugandans?
In Development Studies, they were all Ugandan. It depends on the faculty of the schools because when you go to the school of Journalism, I think most of them are foreigners because they study different languages.
What was the reaction at the University when Trump was elected?
It was really like a shock. It was a big blow, as if we were Americans. We know how you people felt and it was the same here. We went silent for some time. We were not believing because we expected something went wrong. We had some hope. We thought they are going to discover something, but until the day of that…
It is still a nightmare. You’d think you would wake up and it would be like Donald Trump is over, but you have to wait four years.
What are your professional goals?
I want to get a good job. I really want to work in an organization that looks to help people. My main goal and dream is really to go back to the village where I came from and to really help those people.
How would you help the people back in your village?
First of all, there is a government school for the village, but the government is not really giving what it is supposed to give. Then, there is the water problem. The government has given them water, but they can’t afford it.
Without money, there is nothing that can go on in development at all.
You’re looking for a job in development, but if you could try some other job, what else would be interested in doing?
I would be a banker or a teacher. When I was growing up, I really wanted to be a teacher. Mom and Dad were both teachers. But I think from experience, I’ve seen how students treat teachers, so I’m really like, “Oh god!”
Being a banker is also connected to development. Generally, I would want to have an office. Another job I would want is reaching out to people, going out and meeting people, teaching people. Like as you see in organizations, bankers move to places.
What are your personal goals?
I dream of having a family some day, but I want to do that after I try to help out somehow.
Do you see yourself continuing to work after you’ve started a family?
Yes. I want to get a job I can work my entire life.
What do you do in your free-time?
I usually watch TV. I watch a bit of wrestling – I really like Roman Reigns – he is American. There is John Cena, Triple H. I like The Rock, but he is no longer in wrestling. Then I watch NCIS – I love that. I watch Scorpion – it is about geniuses. I watch detective movies, Jack Reacher…then some animation movies. I go for sports: football, volleyball, and some jogging.
Did you play sports at Makerere?
Yes, but not much. I would play some football, volleyball, and jog around, but I don’t jog here [at home].
We’ve started jogging in the mornings, and we wonder what people think of us.
That is how people start to say you are “civilized,” starting to do things you guys do. Actually we know all the Americans, all your color, that they are supposed to jog. Jogging is part of them.
What do you love about Uganda?
It doesn’t have a lot of strict laws. A law comes today and tomorrow it’s over. It is, I would say, like a free country; you can do anything you’d love to do. Anything. The laws are there, but they are not working. They give people a lot of freedom.
I was still a student and I was just free because at campus you’re free to do anything, so I think when you get to the working class it is really tough.
What do you want to change about Uganda?
The laws of Uganda would be put to work because we have laws, but they really don’t work. I was in Rwanda for two weeks. Those people obey. Each rule that was put by the government is really obeyed. Even the taxi-men, the boda-bodas, they really obey, even these ones driving the bicycles. In Uganda, I’ve not seen a rule that is working. They are really supposed to use paper bags. Even at the border of Rwanda, the only thing they check for are the caveras (plastic bags) – they really check your bags to make sure you don’t have a cavera in your bag, so if you have it, they give you a paper bag, and you change everything because people are buying bread in Uganda and pouring it in the paper bag when they reach the border. So you see it is really, really, working, and [Rwanda] is so clean because there are no caveras.
What are your hopes for Uganda 20 years from now?
First, I would hope that we change government. If the 20 years are to come and we still have the same government, I don’t think we would have much changed. We’ve been there for 30 years. I can’t say the government has not worked. It worked, but it reached a time and stopped working. It is now spoiling what had worked, so if we could only change the government, I think we would try. I don’t think we would really develop or add much, but at least some stuff would change.
I don’t think [tribalism] can end, but if it would, it would really bring development. When you are studying development, you look. Some places are more developed than others. When looking at Mbarara, really it is. I just passed there. You may think it is the capital city right now. The development is there, and if we change government, and the president is from Kampala – like the central of Uganda – still it would be the same stuff. So, I don’t know what would be the solution to that.
We struggle with the word, “development” because…
It’s really a big word. It may be personal, international, national, or social. Every aspect needs development. It may not be physical development that people can see, because things can perish. Even the mind needs development. If something goes bad [in the development of the mind] you can start something else, and that development in a person is creating habits. Development would also come with being creative, so that you can develop in any way in any situation, so that you can come up with something that is going to take you up.
In part, we struggle with the word “development” because we don’t like when someone says, “the United States is developed” like it’s finished, because the United States still has so much growing to do.
They may say America is developed because of the percentages of people that can afford things as compared to the percentages of people that can afford things in other countries. People may say it is developed because its development sustains it for years and years unlike our countries. If you put up a government school [in Uganda], it is not really development because pupils are already out of school by Primary 7 (seventh grade) where they go back to the village to do the same thing.
Which term do you prefer to describe countries: “low-income” or “developing”?
When we talk about development, it is not about money. Even when you are defining underdeveloped countries, they tell you, “these are people that don’t earn one dollar.” When I was studying about development, it really wasn’t about the real cash because someone may have stuff. For sure in Ugandan villages, if people really have food, like their farmer’s group, even if they don’t have cash, they’re not going to move to town and need transport. I wouldn’t want to define underdeveloped countries like countries that have people earning below one dollar.
What would it take for you to say, “Uganda is developed”?
I wouldn’t define Uganda as developed at any moment. When I look at the development of a country, I would not really look at the people, or the poorest person, but I would look at what the person is accessing. Generally, if we really had good hospitals and schools, people wouldn’t really need to earn a lot of money. I would define a country by underdeveloped sectors.
What do you think can improve development in Uganda?
Uganda gets a lot of people and students graduating. My course at the university had over 1,000 students, and if all of those people are going into the development area, then there is a problem of job creation. I don’t know whether it is a government problem or we the people’s problem.
By the time you get out of school, and you really don’t have a connection, you may take some years without a job. Then there are those who don’t even have a degree, but because of connections and tribalism, they may get a job. That is a big problem in the working area, I think.
These days the youth are striking. They study and get degrees, but they can’t get a job. The jobs seem to be there because we have so many organizations. When it comes to the [government] ministries, there are jobs there. I was doing an internship in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
What do you think of the policy in Uganda where government workers are forced to retire at age 60?
First, the policy was 55, and then it was extended to age 60. Now, you see the president extended to 70, so I don’t know. I think it no longer works. I think it only works for health and education. Then others cannot quit because it is their organization and they work there and they are still getting a lot of money.
I think when people really grow up, they should retire. If those people are still working and people are getting out of universities every year, then there are really no jobs. If the government would enforce the law, it would really work.
I don’t know if it’s because people become professors when they are really old, but if there was an age limit for working, [Makerere] would have new professors. They are in their 80s and they are still teaching.
Another problem with vacancies in Uganda is that they are always looking for 5 or 10 years of experience, but most people applying don’t have that experience because we are out of school.
Do you feel like development in Uganda is moving in the right direction?
In my opinion, it is really going the wrong way. I look at development in a country through sectors. If the government would concentrate on education or health or roads and they would really concentrate on it, if we only had one successful sector, then you would see something. Actually, development is not going wrong or right. It has no direction.
So you think the government should focus development on only one sector?
I would really recommend that. If it would really concentrate on education, it would really help. I don’t think they would just develop it if they are not getting money out of it. But they swindle this money, and they swindle that one. If they put in education and they really know we put a lot of money there and it was swindled, at least you would see that.
Do you have a sector in mind?
Health. I don’t think education can really go on without health.
Are there any sectors you feel are currently better or worse than others when it comes to development?
They have the same problems. They are really the same level because you look around: the health, the main hospital itself, is really a bad state. The government really doesn’t know what is happening because problems are talked about in this year, the next year, they are there, and nothing is really done. When you look at Mulago Hospital, it has been the same way for over 10 years and there is nothing moving on.
What I talk about is the roads, the infrastructure. They are really trying, but still it is taking years to construct those outlets from Kampala town. It is taking a year, and going another year…I don’t know whether the money’s there. I think if they would really start working on the road after they have made the budget and they have estimated that in this period we shall be done, but it is also causing a lot of traffic jams. They are really trying, but still.
How do you see development related to charity and aid?
It is very important and helpful. Imagine if Uganda was not getting aid. What would really be going on in Uganda? It is very, very important to a developing country.
The only problem with aid is the government. [Aid] can only come through the government unless there are non-government organizations. World Vision is really working. They are really giving out the aid, and people are receiving it. They would really bring stuff for students. They are happy, but they don’t have parents. I would really prefer the aid to come through non-government [organizations].
The documentary Poverty, Inc. describes examples where the United States has donated rice and shoes to countries and really hurt their economies. What do you think about that?
I was thinking of aid in terms of money. Cash charity is the best form of aid. You find people who have land and have really started growing the rice. Recently, they were talking about bringing in the China rice, but it really brings in problems.
If people only want to give charity not in terms of money, then they can really buy the rice from Uganda and give it out, then that would also be making sense. The rice is there, even if most people cannot have it. If people wanted to give shoes, they could buy them in Owino Market and give them to kids in the village.
Peace Corps invests a lot of money into its volunteers. Would you rather Peace Corps just give that money to Uganda?
Giving money makes [the recipients] really, really lazy. We should only get something [from the Peace Corps] to help [Ugandans] get money, but I know Ugandans don’t want to work together as a village because it has been tried and it does not work. It favors some people and not others.
What do you think of giving money to someone who is begging?
They are not related to development because that is something you are going to do today and it is gone, so tomorrow you will not have it. When we talk about development, it’s something you’re going to have to keep doing to take you forward.
Most of the people who beg [for] money in Uganda…when I’m walking I don’t really give [money]. It’s not because I don’t have and wouldn’t like to give, but I don’t think it is really right. If someone comes to the streets and he’s given [money], he will think it is a job, and he will still come back tomorrow. That is not development at all because you’re getting something you’re going to use right now.
We encounter these dilemmas often in our service. Do we give something that is unsustainable, or do we withhold it to encourage the person to seek sustainable alternatives? For example, if a colleague asked us to type something for them…
Typing is really not development. From experience, when we were at campus we used to have groups. You get one person [who] types the work. That person is gaining, but you people are not because reaching class, you are going to present, but you don’t know the answers you are going to present. That is really not development because there is nothing you put in your head; there is nothing taken. You might have at least gained some. It is not really development. And here you’re going out, you’re going to work.
A friend was given a job, and she was saying she was going to work as a secretary. They gave her an essay to type in one hour and she was like, “oh my god, I’m scared.” She didn’t type and even said she didn’t know how to save, so you miss that job just because of the skill.
What would you like the international development presence to be in Uganda?
I think we would need more non-government organizations. Someone would start up organizations for creating jobs. Here, someone begins a company and they already know who they are going to employ.
What do you think about NGOs that create jobs for Ugandans but are American-owned?
I know they get the benefits, but I think about the individual development. If you’re working for the organization, they’re still going to pay me, and I’m going to use the money. The people are also benefiting because they are working and paid salary. I think development would start with the people because if the government is gaining the money, we the people are not gaining. You look at the government organizations and ministries and they don’t really give money to people even when you look at salaries. When you come to the organizations, the NGOs, they really give good salaries, and people really like working there.
The Peace Corps is a development organization that has been in Uganda for more than 50 years. How do you feel about that?
I may say they have worked to develop [Uganda]. My argument with the NGOs would be they really work with the people; they’re about the people’s development. When you look at World Vision, it’s not like it will come one day and put up a big hospital. It may bring the medicine to the people or something like that. It may come to the village and find people who need help, homes. They provide beds. Sometimes it is not sustainable, as [NGOs] bring material stuff.
So a foreign NGO can be in Uganda forever as long as they are working with the people, building relationships, and developing people?
Yes because people are still working with them.
How would you summarize your philosophy of development?
In my view, development needs to start within the person, within the people. We would not always expect development from giving hands. We ourselves should have the development in mind to keep development moving.
I would describe development as a well-being of people, not to a country because people make the country. This is where people are really good socially, economically, and physically. When they’re happy, they’re getting enough for themselves, and that keeps you moving because development is moving forward.