Today was our first day in Uganda. Since we arrived here late at night, this morning’s bus ride brought with it reality: We are finally here! As we drove to MUBS at 8:30 this morning, we all got a glimpse of Kampala in the daylight. Everyone scrambled for a window seat, eager to look out on the culture so different from our own. We were in awe of the juxtaposition of the mountainside on our left and the hustle-and-bustle of the capital city on our right. It was a truly beautiful sight.
Our welcoming at MUBS could not have been more warm and friendly. We were greeted by smiling faces with a breakfast of fresh fruit and toast. In speaking with the MUBS students, I realized how much we will learn in these next few weeks. The students here really aren’t much different from us; they are all eager to share their culture, learn about ours, and meet new friends.
We got a chance to meet with the principal of MUBS, Wasswa Balunywa. He told us that this trip will impact how we relate to others and how we view the world. He said one thing that really stuck out to me. As he spoke a bit about the country, he said, “There is not much wealth around, but people are happy.” That is beautiful. In the United States we put so much emphasis on money; your income determines your success. I love being in a place where the emphasis is on happiness rather than wealth. The people here love their country. They are proud of its beauty, its people, and its traditions.
The issue of wealth has caused a few barriers in the MUBS program. They wish to travel to visit us at Drake, but finances have kept them from doing so. Thankfully, they hope to be able to put together a program for next year. They would also like to have more online education opportunities, but their computer to student ratio it one to every ten. This differs completely from our schooling in the United States. Each student at Drake has his own computer, and almost everything is online. We use BlueView for nearly all student affairs, and many of our classes use online resources. This technological barrier would completely alter the way our education system operates. As they gain more technology at their university, they will be able to expand their online resources. Expanding resources brings about new opportunities and discoveries, which provides a chance for change and improvement. The administration at MUBS has goals and a vision for the program. They are working towards sustainable development by seeing flaws in the system and finding ways to improve it. We have already seen the mature and intelligent young people that attend this university, so I can only imagine what their students will be like as the system continues to improve.
After a delicious lunch provided by our gracious hosts, our next stop was the Ugandan parliament. Their overall governmental system is much similar to ours, with three branches: judicial, legislative, and executive. I learned about their political parties from some of the MUBS students. They said that there are around eight major political parties, making elections very hectic. The National Resistance Movement is the ruling party and is most greatly represented in Parliament. The students were talking about their frustration that since there are so many parties, no one is able to compromise. If each party had a broader platform, they could cut down the number of parties competing and work toward a common goal within the government. Having so many different viewpoints is detrimental because time is spent arguing and not acting.
Parliament is lead by the Speaker of the House and is similar to our House of Representatives in the sense that each district, like each state, votes on their representatives. One main difference, though, is that each district votes for a male and female candidate. I love the idea of an almost equal representation of males and females in their legislative branch. Another big difference is the high number of members of Parliament. There are 112 districts with two representatives each (male and female), along with representatives from other special interest groups. These groups represent things like the youth, women’s rights, or the disabled. The members total around 350. While the benefit of this system is that so many people are represented, a problem is that there are so many members. Much like their political parties, having so many different members with different viewpoints can lead to long discussions with little conclusion.
On the topic of sustainable development, the government is a vital place to start. Narrowing down the number of representatives or trying to combine political parties may help create more effective debates. The man who gave us our tour of Parliament was talking about riots that break out occasionally. He discussed the difference between a demonstration and a riot, stating that demonstrations can get a point across respectfully, while riots result in chaos. The best part of the Ugandan Parliamentary system is that they listen to the people. Each group has a voice in legislature. While this is commendable, sometimes so many different voices drown each other out and result in a stagnant society. Change is what sustainable development is based on. The development of a society that adapts to what the people need and improvement of things that are unsuccessful. Providing civil education for citizens and modeling how to inspire change and express differing viewpoints would be extremely beneficial. If people know how to argue respectfully and effectively, more will be accomplished and improvements can be made.