Owning cattle is not everything

The traditional longhorned cattle of Ankole grazing in the savanna grasslands of the Ankole-Masaka corridor

Print roccuThe careers team of Uganda Christian University recently visited secondary schools in districts along the Ankole-Masaka cattle corridor, guiding students on how to make the right career choices Alex Taremwa writes.

At one of the schools in Kiruhura District, in response to a speaker’s emphasis of education, one student rebutted, “For us we have cows at home.”

This utterance sent the class into wild cheers. Although funny at the moment, it is symptomatic of a bigger problem that needs urgent attention. Why?

According to the National Livestock Census (2008) conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, the national cattle herd was estimated at 11.4 million, of which 2.5 million (22.3%) was in the western region. Thanks to the prolonged drought, foot-and-mouth disease, economic hardships, among other calamities, this number has reduced by almost half.

Kiruhura District also has the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in Uganda, especially among adults. This is accompanied by poor housing systems, very low living standards, and low literacy levels caused by parents preferring to leave their sons out of school to graze cattle.

For a student, therefore, to forsake their future in education for a herd of cattle does not augur well for that person’s future, and also the future of the community.

Such an act is caused by lack of strategic foresight and judgment, which has held the country backwards.

The thought of inheriting what generations have left behind often clouds the creativity and limits the potential of the young people, stopping them from creating their own fortune.

They forget that it is easy to lose a kraal of 80 cattle to an epidemic or a strike of lightning, like was the case in Kyenjojo District recently, but it is impossible to lose an academic qualification.

Although I appreciate the cultural significance that different societies attach to certain activities, it is time to change the model of transformation in order to attain better results.

Why should a family with 200 head of cattle sleep in a dark hut and cut trees for firewood yet they can use bio-gas from cow dung to cook and light up their home? 

Why should one have to trek about 30km to the river in search of water and pasture when they can paddock their huge chunk of land or grow pasture for use during the drought?

Is it not time we re-assessed some of the cultural norms handed down to us by our fore-fathers, especially the ones that have been overtaken by events in our generation?

Even a Primary Six pupil will tell you that bush a burning is harmful to the environment or that drinking unboiled milk causes diseases.

In Kiruhura, pastoralists burn their bushes at will and drink their milk in the kraal, unboiled.

A parent will argue that his son/daughter will not go to school because he (the parent) has made a life without education. Is this steady progress?