The Development of Professional Counseling in Uganda: Current Status and Future Trends

Article excerpt

The Republic of Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa covering 241,038 square kilometers with a population of 33.4 million people (U.S. Department of State, Bureau of African Affairs, n.d.). It is about the same size as the state of Oregon, in the United States, but with a population 10 times larger. It is bordered by Kenya, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, and Tanzania. Uganda has an equatorial climate modified by its altitude (1,000-1,500 meters above sea level) with rainfall that can reach 2,000 millimeters per year (Government of Uganda, 2008).

Uganda is a country with diverse cultures and several ethnicities. There are 17 ethnic tribes, the largest being Baganda (17%), Banyankole/Bahima (10%), Basoga (8%), Bakiga (7%), Banyarwanda (6%), Langi (6%), Acholi (5%), Bagisu (5%), Lugbara (4%), Banyoro (3%), Batoro (3%), and Karamajong (2%; U.S. Department of State, Bureau of African Affairs, n.d.). There are 45 individual languages and dialects in Uganda, with English as the official language. Other widely spoken languages include Luganda and Swahili. The main religions are Christianity (85%), Islam (12%), and other faiths (3%). Uganda's population is predominantly rural with a high density in the southern regions. The World Bank (n.d.) indicates Uganda as a low-income developing country with a gross domestic product of $17 billion in 2010. It is an agro-based economy that produces coffee, tea, cotton, bananas, potatoes, millet, and corn.

Present-day Uganda began with the establishment of a protectorate by the British over the kingdom of Buganda in 1894. In 1962, Uganda gained independence; was granted self-rule; and, in 1967, was proclaimed a republic (Leguineche & Ibingira, 1991). Uganda became notorious for its human rights abuses during the military dictatorship of Idi Amin (1971-1979) when thousands of Ugandans were killed. The current president, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni (1986-present), brought relative stability with democratic reforms and improved human rights. However, the present government has been riddled with civil war, where, for 30 years, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has waged a guerrilla war from bases in northern Uganda, the DRC, and South Sudan. In addition, the circumstances of corruption, poverty, instability, and diseases, especially HIV/AIDS and malaria, have led to poor mental and general psychosocial ill health.

* The Development of Counseling in Uganda

Counseling in Uganda can trace its roots and foundations in three areas: the nonformal guidance system offered in the traditional culture, clan, and family; guidance and counseling offered in schools for choosing subjects and careers; and counseling offered to curb the 30-year epidemic of HIV/AIDS (Senyonyi & Ochieng, in press).

Traditional Culture and the Nonformal Guidance System

The traditional cultures upheld their legacies and passed on what was important through the nuclear family, extended families, and the community. These, in turn, were expected to meet the needs of guidance and support of members at fundamental life events, such as pregnancy, birth, adolescence, marriage, and death. The parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, elders, and members of the community had clear roles and responsibilities for the well-being of the community. Traditional religions played their part in that counseling was performed in accordance with cultural and religious beliefs. This traditional counseling is more community oriented, unlike counseling in Western countries, which tends to be more subjective, personal, and tailored to the individual. However, this very important role of family and community support is disintegrating with fast-growing urbanization and individualism, hence the need for professionalized counseling (Senyonyi & Ochieng, in press).

Guidance and Counseling in Schools

The Ministry of Education and Sports (MOE) established a policy in 1968 on guidance and counseling to streamline counseling in schools (MOE, 2004). …