AUGUST 1, 2010: Tribal Associations Give Students a Sense of Belonging

Tribal Associations Give Students a Sense of Belonging

SOURCE: The Monitor

By Japheth Obuku

The 1995 Constitution recognises 65 indigenous communities in Uganda as at February 1, 1926. This implies that Uganda as we know it today has been built using tribes (nationalities) as the building blocks. It is in this context that we should study the recently reported Gulu University authority's ban on tribal associations, 48 in number, at the campus.

According to the university's vice chancellor, Prof. Nyeko Penmog, the era of tribal associations is long gone and their students should instead embrace academic associations to help grow their minds intellectually.

For a moment, the vice chancellor seems to make a point. Institutions of higher learning should act as nursery beds to nurture a wholesome human resource replete with skills and knowledge to unlock opportunities for them. The world has turned into a theatre where individuals and entities that are endowed with the ability and will to break fresh grounds are the decisive actors. But it might prove intricate to attain such endowments if the so-called elite become hostages to parochial anxieties such as tribe or ethnicity.

Mr Barack Obama, for instance, would not be the President of America, the most powerful nation in the world, had he remained cocooned in the belief that he was an underdog from a 'despised race'. Equally, Nelson Mandela would not be the inspirational figure he is today had it not been for his assuaging vision.

Therefore, it is crucial that institutions of higher learning churn out graduates whose penchant for superior ideals are manifest. However, banning tribal associations raises pertinent queries: In what context are tribal associations outdated? Isn't the university merely treating the symptom, not the disease? Has the institution bothered to know why a student, admitted on academic merit, find it attractive to belong to a tribal cluster?

Certainly, the proliferation of tribal alignments in higher institutions of learning should not surprise anyone. The political configuration in Uganda today incontestably glorifies tribes.

It should interest the university to ascertain how depressingly this country has been balkanised. Today, nearly every tribe or clan is agitating for a district status - and the government - perhaps for political expediency - is too eager to grant them their wish.

The dearth of nationalism/patriotism has also compounded the problem. Outlawing tribal associations implies denying students the only reliable platform that offers them a sense of belonging. Besides, tribal credence these days is one of the easiest ways to attain groceries. What with decentralisation, where sons and daughters of the soil, take up top jobs in their districts. Even some high profile government appointments are made on the basis of one's nationality.

It is also vain for only one institution to ban tribal associations. To avoid being misconstrued, the ban should have been a government policy to encompass all higher institutions of learning.

Nevertheless, not all is lost to Gulu University students. They can still stay physically fit, intellectually vibrant and scholarly focused if they formed and participated in sports, debating as well as academic clubs/associations. A gifted student footballer, for instance, has numerous openings. Considering that football is a democratic, engaging and unifying game, joining a football club can catapult them to the national and global limelight.

Meanwhile, higher institutions of learning need to know that their students are sometimes driven to coalesce along tribal lines due to diminishing options. Therefore, institutions should endeavour to source prospects both in and outside their campuses for their students. In the circumstances, the ball is more on the institutions' court to groom students to be better and responsible citizens.

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