Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: Compass: A Young World; Crossing Continents: Living with the Dead

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: Compass: A Young World; Crossing Continents: Living with the Dead

Article excerpt

Imagine living in a country where the average age is under 16 (in the UK it's currently 40 and increasing) so that everywhere you go you're surrounded by teenagers. It sounds exhilarating. Such optimism and energy; the sheer vitality of young blood coursing through the streets. How brilliant, too, for a country to be unfettered by how things have always been done, no elders to restrain them, hold them back, warn against change. But nothing is that simple. For The Compass: A Young World (Wednesday) on the World Service (produced by Mike Gallagher), Alan Kasujja took us to his native Uganda to find out what it's like to walk down a street where no one shuffles along, wearied by the years. In the capital, Kampala, we can hear the colour, the life force, captured on his microphone. His voice, too, betrays the impact of being there.

Kasujja says that every time he comes back, 'I start to feel a bit mature,' in contrast to those he meets. But he doesn't sound it. His enthusiasm is infectious, his presenting style refreshingly different. He visits a school in Kampala, where he meets Oscar, who's 19 and wants to be a lawyer. He's been an orphan since he was 13 and has had to fund his own education, 'disappearing' every so often to make some money. He looks quite melancholic, says Kasujja, abruptly changing the direction of the conversation.

'Do you cry?' he asks.

Oscar replies, without pausing, 'Yes, sometimes.'

'What do you cry about?'

'I cry about the challenges I'm having.'

Seven out of ten pupils drop out of school because there's no money to pay their fees, their parents have died and it's all up to them. Education is not free beyond primary school because there are just too many students. Oscar makes peanut butter (from a recipe learnt from his mother) and every so often takes time off school to keep his business going, roasting the beans, making the butter, finding new customers.

Outside Kampala the situation is much worse. Kasujja goes to a small village on the shores of Lake Victoria where he finds adults sitting around playing dice while the children are out on the lake in fishing boats trying to earn some money. Their children don't seem to have much of a future. It's much worse for young girls, who outnumber boys, many families having four or five daughters to just one son. Many of them stop going to school on a regular basis as soon as they start menstruating because they have no access to sanitary towels. …

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