Uganda’s new graduates – the Coca-Cola degree

Last Saturday, I was amongst the speakers at a graduation ceremony in Uganda – at a village called Nakabugu, in Luuka district.

I have known the graduate Sekezi, right from her early years. It was quite an awakening for me to have seen a mother conceive a child, carry her for nine months, go to school and twenty plus years later graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business – major finance and accounting.  With Sekezi’s coming of age, I have witnessed full cycle, the growth of a child from birth (pregnancy in this case), to graduation and adulthood.



The seat for the graduated and its dangers – The Coca-Cola degree Pic Credit:

The guest speaker at the graduation event, Dr. Daudi Kazungu Kantale, a renowned practitioner of all things social, economic, and political gave a rousing speech to the guests and indeed Sekezi.

My take away from Dr. Kazungu’s speech: ‘that Sekezi, the graduate, was joining a frustrated group.’ When the guest speaker uttered the words ‘frustrated group’, it dawned on me that even as we celebrated Sekezi’s graduation and coming of age, she may be in for a shock – frustration….really?

Yet, I can’t help but ask why a girl in her early twenties, well educated, raised by religious and extremely hardworking parents stands the risk of frustration?

At the graduation event, I got the answer to the above question.  Moreover, the answer has nothing to do with which group Sekezi may end up joining upon graduation, but flawed societal beliefs.  If as Dr.Kazungu said, Sekezi and other graduates are to join a frustrated group, they are a symptom of a bigger problem.  The speakers at the graduation event exhibited a cacophony of beliefs and expectations of the young that appear superfluous from where I stand.  Flawed education theory is indeed the problem that is causing frustration among the youth

Sekezi, in the eyes of many that spoke at the graduation party, the majority creme de la creme of Busoga, should be all the below:

  • A successful white-collar worker that walks into a job somewhere and is a success from the word go
  • Someone’s missus and of course happily married
  • That with the Bachelor’s degree that got bestowed on Sekezi, instant success and status would accrue

To many at the graduation event, a degree equates to success. It is such thinking that places debilitating burdens, social and economic, on to our children. Moreover, burdens for which we may not have prepared the children to deal with. Our education system is skewed towards the academic, at the cost of life-skills. Are we asking our kids to grope for their success?

When I stood up to talk, I was quick to caution against creating a world of make-believe. With over 70% of the youth in Uganda unemployed, should we not be taking a different approach? Should we not be asking what wrong we are doing? Should we not be asking what is broken and needs fixing? All weekend, I continued to reflect on the guest speaker Dr. DK Kazungu’s message: ‘Sekezi is another statistic added to the frustrated group.’

Of course, I wasis elated that Sekezi graduated and showcased how education in Africa can be the difference between emancipation and slavery in particular for girls. Yet, right on Sekezi’s face, I told her that the degree she had worked hard to acquire is a ‘commodity’ – degrees in Uganda and East Africa, in general, have been commoditised.

Today’s Degree is no different from standard Coca-Cola beverage that is sold the world over including at small Duuka’s in East Africa. Many Universities award degrees. You can even buy a degree online. Just like we have the Coca-Cola beverage product range, we also have the ‘degree’ product-range – online, virtual, distance, on-campus, Ugandan’s are familiar with the Nkrumah Rd. degree, etc.

Truth be told, a degree in 2016 is a commodity like Coca-Cola; one may opt for the ‘full’ or ‘lite’ Coca-Cola. However, those that sell more Coca-Cola differentiate themselves from the rank and file.

How does Sekezi push herself into a position of relevance, if not preeminence?

Sekezi will need more than the degree designation and paper it is written on, to turn into a responsible and successful global citizen.

The extra’s to the degree, and sadly not always taught at school, are elaborated below:

  1. The knack to question the status-quo and push the boundaries. Follower-ship that has been the norm in colonial African education needs to be replaced with creativity and exploration. For Sekezi to invent and explore, she requires ‘critical-thinking’ skills.
  2. The knack for questioning the status quo should include Sekezi disavowing the white collar job culture. Instead of seeking a job, Sekezi should create a job. Stuff like this scares the young!
  3. Tenacity has to become part and parcel of Sekezi and her generation. Perhaps, these children get frustrated, to go back to Dr. Kazungu’s message, because they give up quickly, especially when they fail. Failing, and in many instances multiple at times, shall always accompany ultimate success. The need to deal with the stress caused by failure is a core skill that Sekezi has to acquire
  4. Ethics – the ability to steer clear of all the vices that have undermined society and its productivity in Uganda. Steering clear of corrupt tendencies, the wish to quickly accumulate wealth and moreover at any cost, short-termism, etc
  5. And finally the belief in self – Sekezi should learn to be what she is and that in her and her daily learnings, she has what it takes to succeed – this is a fundamental requirement on the road to success

Are schools, parents, and all other education stakeholders doing enough to prepare the ‘new’ graduates for the ‘new’ world? If yes, why do we have such high youth unemployment numbers in Uganda? Something is broken and needs fixing!

The quagmire – how to stop adding to a generation of Ugandan’s with the Coca-Cola degree

Congratulations Sekezi – you did us proud; but there may be just a little more that needs to be done!

Categories: People, You, the Leader!

Tags: , ,

11 replies

  1. Thank Gabazira for your constructive presentation, you and me as part of stakeholders have to be very specific and grounded to that education to our young generation quite basic. Otherwise, telling it at the graduation days it leaves them frustrated. Thank you


  2. Well thought out. We need to think out of the box and equip the young generation not to be job seekers but job creators.


  3. I missed the graduation party but usually at such parties I give celebrants an analogy of the “blue and red waters”. For one to swim in blue waters, the extras to the degree you mentioned in this blog must be taken seriously. Congrats Ms. Sekezi


  4. I wish “Sekezi” and her likes get a chance to read and understand this blog! Unfortunately, because of limited access to internet, she might!!



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