Affirmative Action – The Double Aged Sword


The principle of Affirmative Action gained credence in the 1960s at the height of the civil rights movement in the United States as attempts to make progress towards substantive, rather than merely formal equality of opportunity for those groups such as women or racial minorities/youths which were underrepresented in significant position of society.


In Uganda, trends analysis of involvement and participation in leadership and decision making since independence shows that youth were mostly marginalized and their involvement seen only as beneficiaries of programmes/services rather than as active participants in the development process.


Representation of youths through Affirmative Action has been one of the “big things” Ugandans have been thankful for about the current government of President Yoweri Museveni,  credited with having been responsible for enabling a larger number of youth to enter decision making organs including the Parliament of Uganda, district and sub-country councils. This has tangibly made Affirmative Action  prove to be the fastest mechanism for increasing youth numbers in terms of visibility, causing a dramatic increase  in “empowered youths” ensuring a critical mass of at least  girls attaining government sponsorship for university education and a few getting a piece of the national cake- The youth fund.


While some say Affirmative Action has empowered youths and should continue to be promoted, I have this inner arguing voice that Affirmative Action could be A DOUBLE AGED SWORD. On one hand, it has not only obliged the youths to settle for less but increased laziness as the youth work with less passion and vigor for they see no examples set forth to look up to, but rather wait for tokens and on the other hand, one may say it’s for the benefit of those who provide these spaces, seeking out youths who will readily accept their hegemony for selfish interests because they do not merit their positions.


It’s regrettable to say that since my Primary two, I was told that we are the future leaders. Can you imagine we even crammed the youth anthem without a deeper understanding of the meaning “We young women and men of Uganda”!!, a theory that has left many waiting for that time when we shall be told “you are now the leaders of today”, a theory that has left many producing children like factories, carrying loads like horses and tilting land like tractors and to make it worse making demands to be given special attention as though all they need is consideration.


Too much dependency on Affirmative Action as the only way we look to might make us have youths in power without power but serving power and this is worse than their absence from power because it legitimizes the inequalities within structures and denies youths the rights to complain.


If only time could hold still, then we could rethink through the songs we sang, relieve each past moment without Affirmative Action being created because the songs only seemed rhythms. But the clock continues to tick and before long, the present and the future have embraced, leaving behind what is true- the memories of a beauteous yesterday of Gods intention of humanity and working with the youths in Bible times like Miriam, Mary, David and above all Joseph to liberate His nation that without him would have faded like a blushed twilight of the day.


We cannot say we did not use Affirmative Action to bring youths on board, but I flexibly  say that Affirmative Action has not fully achieved its intended goal of having youths empowered in political, social and economic areas with ultimate intention of having the disadvantaged visible in decision making process.


With the current situation, I feel that a relevant tool for youth empowerment would be role models.  It helps us to know that we can be successful by learning the experience of those who were ones youths and are where they are. We learn and are encouraged to become far Excellency by emulating our heroes and our kind of people who have succeeded


In the words of Tom Peter, an American business management writer:

“Real leaders don’t have to ask people to follow them; people naturally want to follow great leaders. The focus of great leaders is not getting more people to follow them, it’s getting more people to be like them or even better. Developing more leaders within your capacities starts with your intentions, whether you are a formal or informal leader, you need to have a clear vision. Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders”


Michael Oromait –  the former Usuk County MP, (RIP) did not leave the words of Tom peter to theory; he mentored his daughter (Proscovia Oromait) who now stands to be the youngest directly elected legislature in the Parliament of Uganda. Why then wait for Affirmative Action to empower us, if we can have a person like Michael Oromait (RIP) who sees it necessary and more real in mentoring youths who will run to his footsteps when he leaves.


And neither does Dr. Miria Matembe leave it to chances: she has traveled places, talking/mentoring youths on how to be assertive, confident and knowing who they are in God while holding on to integrity as a mark to transparency with “tough LOVE”.


Role models might give the biggest supporting hand to Affirmative Action through creating   a supporting and enabling conditions under which young people can act on their own behalf and on their own terms rather than at the directions of others.  We can acknowledge that we have or can create choices in life, make positive differences in life, are aware of the implications of those choices, make an informed decision freely, take action based on that decision and accept responsibility for the consequences of these actions rather than act so defensively or be lured to do things which may cause development a sham.


Although many may say Affirmative Action is a crucial tool in the fight for equal opportunity, it’s too little too late. We have moved places, we have heard people murmuring whether the youths we call “empowered” merit or are where they are because they are disadvantaged to its name.


We seek not just freedom but opportunity, not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result.


In a whisper to the youths;

We need to be careful on the rules governing some tokens, otherwise it may be counterproductive or discrimination by just another name.


We have walked a journey, a journey we started with Affirmative Action but seems we are reluctant on knowing how much distance is left ahead……..THERE IS A LONG ROAD AHEAD.


Written By:      


Ms Racheal Okuja  was awarded for her exceptional articulation in support of Affirmative Action as a tool for youth empowerment. Racheal participated an essay competition for the youth as part of 50 years of Uganda’s independence celebrations with the theme/topic: “Is affirmative action still a relevant tool for youth empowerment?”  Through this competition UWONET aimed to promote and showcase innovative thinking by the youth of Uganda. Award handed over by Ms. Kebedech Ambaye Nigussie, the Ag. UN WOMEN Country Representative for Uganda

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